Wednesday 26 April 2017

Five major food myths that could be making you fat

Cast your potatoes aside for a more nutritious main? Or stocked up on granola bars to beat the 4pm slump? Not so fast, says dietitian Orla Walsh, who's here to separate truth and fiction when it comes to what we should and shouldn't eat

Cast your potatoes aside for a more nutritious main? Or stocked up on granola bars to beat the 4pm slump? Not so fast,!
Cast your potatoes aside for a more nutritious main? Or stocked up on granola bars to beat the 4pm slump? Not so fast,!
Health & Living dietitian Orla Walsh. Photo: Marc O’Sullivan
It appears that coffee may reduce the risk of heart disease, liver cirrhosis, gallstones, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes
Most granolas will supply 50pc of your RDA for sugar in one 50g bowl
Fresh potatoes are the only major carbohydrate grown in Ireland

Orla Walsh, Irish dietitian

Let's be clear... health is a jigsaw.

There are a lot of pieces in that puzzle that make up the picture of good health. No one piece, be it carbohydrates, protein, fibre or fat, determines overall health. They are all essential to the end result. Often these snippets of misinformation about food science can have large consequences to health. Due to the growing interest in food and the abundance of unqualified people preaching on what they consider good nutritional practices, there are a tonne of myths out there. These fallacies, both good and bad, need to be debunked!

Myth 1: Is coffee bad for you?


The quick answer is that it doesn't appear to be bad for us. In fact, there is plenty of research out there that suggests coffee is good for us. Although people are quick to criticise when guidelines change, let me explain why it's difficult for nutritionists to be sure on guidance and why healthy eating pointers change through time.

Generally, when deciding whether something is good for you, you conduct a study where you either give the substance to people or you don't, and the subjects don't know whether they got the intervention in question or the placebo. This leads to a fairly straightforward case of it works or it doesn't.

With coffee, most of the research is from looking backwards through time and seeing if conditions and diseases are more or less likely when people consume it. This can be tricky. For instance, coffee was seen to increase the risk of lung cancer. However this may not be coffee's fault, but rather the cigarette that is smoked while the person drinks their coffee.

Nonetheless, when looking at studies, it appears that coffee may reduce the risk of heart disease, liver cirrhosis, gallstones, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and perhaps even dementia.

However, many of the studies do suggest that coffee is beneficial as long as you don't drink too much of it. In fact, it has been shown to reduce the risk of dying - from anything - if your coffee intake is described as light to moderate. My advice is to enjoy a few cups a day, but don't drink it after 4pm as it is likely to interfere with sleep.

Myth 2: You don't need to diet, you just need to 'eat clean'


I'm afraid this one isn't true. Although weight loss is more complicated than energy in versus energy out, it's a good place to start. If you eat too much food, you'll put on weight. If you don't fulfil your nutritional requirements to run your body, your body will malfunction. This can have detrimental effects on health in the long run.

For example, some of these trendy fads suggest removing dairy from your diet. However, if you remove dairy without replacing the nutrients that you've just taken out of your diet, a nutritional gap will form. This particular gap will put you at risk of developing the brittle bone disease called osteoporosis.

It comes as a surprise to many to hear that osteoporosis can lead to fatalities. The risk of death from osteoporosis is increased by the thinness of the bones. If you don't feed your bones, you will lose them, so be sure to feed them regularly.

Nonetheless if you do wish to remove dairy from your diet, my advice is to fill in the nutritional gaps with the likes of oily fish, tofu, soy milk and soy yoghurts.

Myth 3: It's important to go on a detox diet


This isn't true. Your liver and kidney does a wonderful job at detoxifying your body. If perhaps you feel like you need to detox after eating a lot of chocolate, then do so by giving up eating chocolate for a while. If you wish to detox after having too much alcohol over the weekend, then do so by giving up alcohol for a while.

Your liver and kidneys work by filtering the blood and removing bad toxins from our body naturally. If someone is trying to sell you something, such as a book or product, to help speed up this process, walk away, and spend your money on more fruit and veg. Fruit, vegetables and water help your liver, kidneys, skin and gut to naturally detox.

Myth 4: Potatoes aren't good for you

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This isn't true. Potatoes are little nutritional powerhouses. In fact, they're one of the few sources of carbohydrates that people tend to eat in the correct portion. A medium potato has about 165kcal. This is about half the calories of a typical portion of pasta.

Fresh potatoes are the only major carbohydrate grown in Ireland, and thus have fewer food miles and definite advantages in terms for freshness and nutrient availability.

Carbo-phobia is alive and well, but carbohydrates are an essential nutrient in the body. Carbohydrates' main function is for energy, however, it must also be noted that they are the only energy source that are readily available for the brain to use. Therefore, adequate carbohydrate intake is essential for brain function.

The best choice of carbohydrate is one that is natural, a source of fibre, and low in fat. Potatoes tick all these boxes. Potatoes are also:

1. A great source of potassium which helps to maintain normal muscle function and importantly, normal blood pressure.

2. An excellent source of vitamin C which helps with the absorption of iron from plants and supports the immune system. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant.

3. They contain a variety of B vitamins which help with your metabolism.

4. They are also naturally low in fat, sugar and salt and are naturally gluten-free.

5. What's more, they're low in fermentable carbohydrates, making them kind to the guts of many.

My advice is to revert back to the traditional potato, meat or fish and two veg dinners on a few nights of the week.

Myth 5: Granola is healthy

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There's rarely a week that goes by that I don't have to correct someone about this. Think about it: you get the oats, you fry them in fat and you add in a load of sugar. Does that sound healthy? In fact, most granolas belong in the 'treat aisle'.

Many companies will try to disguise the sugar within the ingredients by calling it honey, syrup, raw cane sugar etc, however it is still just sugar and most granolas will supply 50pc of your RDA for sugar in one 50g bowl. What's more, the fat that is used in the making of granola is quite often palm oil, which is not good for your health.

It doesn't end there I'm afraid. Many breakfast cereals that deem themselves to be healthy aren't either. For example, a small portion of rice puffs contain the same amount of salt as a packet of salted crisps.

My advice is to opt more often for the traditional bowl of heart-healthy porridge. If you want to sweeten it, add your fruit before you cook it. The likes of bananas, pears and apples taste sweeter when cooked, a reason they're added so regularly to cakes.

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