Sunday 13 October 2019

Five surprising food myths that could be impacting your health and weight

Dietitian Orla Walsh separates the fact from the fiction.
Dietitian Orla Walsh separates the fact from the fiction.
Dietitian Orla Walsh

Orla Walsh

Is organic food better for you? Are eggs bad for you? Finding out the truth about what's good for you is a minefield - so dietitian Orla Walsh separates the fact from the fiction.

Myth 1: avoid foods that contain E numbers

An E number is a reference number given to a food additive that has passed safety tests and has been approved for use in the European Union. Therefore an E number isn’t something unsafe and or something to be avoided. Despite many people assuming all E numbers are unnatural, some additives are artificial and some are natural.

The additive could be added for many reasons. For example: Antioxidants may be added to a food to stop the food/drink from going off or changing colour.

≠ An additive may be added to enhance the colour of the food/drink. This is not always achieved with artificial colourings but rather spices found in your press such as curcumin (E100).

≠ Pectin (E440), as found in apples, may be added to prevent foods from separating and to give it a nice texture.

Just because a food contains an E number, doesn’t mean that it’s not okay to eat. If it wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t be allowed on the ingredients list. That’s why we have food safety regulatory bodies! Whether or not the food is healthy is another story and nutritional guidelines come into play to help you decide.

Myth 2: Organic food is more nutritious

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Myth 2: Organic food is more nutritious

In 2009 I remember sitting front row at the announcement of a study that showed that there was no nutritional benefit of organic food. It was at a time where it was all the rage and eating organic food couldn’t be any trendier. There was uproar. At the time that the study was conducted, from a total of 52,471 articles, they only identified 162 studies. And of these 162 studies, only 55 were considered a satisfactory quality to include in the review. They stated that there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuff.

However in 2014, another analysis of the available literature was done. This newer study showed that organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic comparators across regions and production seasons. This can’t be ignored. The frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops. As for the antioxidants, polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19pc higher, respectively. Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.

What is important to note is that there are many aspects of farming that will impact the nutritional quality of a crop. For example, leaching, sunshine, wind, rain etc... Additionally, the bottom line remains the same... it’s not practical to suggest as a dietitian for people to only eat organic food. The majority of Irish people don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables therefore the first issue to solve is quantity not quality.

Myth 3: You should take Vitamin C to reduce the risk of  the common cold

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Dietitian Orla Walsh

People have been talking about whether or not Vitamin C is good at preventing and treating the common cold for 70 or so years. It’s estimated that there are over 200 viruses which can cause these symptoms such as a runny nose sore throat, cough etc... Since it’s a virus, antibiotics won’t work, so other treatments like vitamins are considered.

There was a big review done a few years back to find out whether vitamin C reduces the incidence, duration or severity of the common cold and whether it made a difference if you took it continuously or when you feel a cold coming on. They looked at all trials that used a significant enough dose (>200mg) and had a placebo comparison. A placebo is when someone thinks they’re taking the supplement, but they’re not.

In total, 29 trials, that included 11,306 people, showed that taking vitamin C regularly didn’t help prevent you from getting a cold. However if you are someone who exercises at a high level, a review of 5 studies suggests that vitamin C halves the risk of you getting the common cold. As for taking it to help you get over a cold, a review of 31 studies concluded that if you took vitamin C regularly it helped reduce the time you spent suffering from the cold.

Myth 4: Making your porridge on water is healthier than making it on milk

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Myth 4: Making your porridge on water is healthier than making it on milk

Generally speaking, this is a myth. For a meal to be balanced it needs to contain carbohydrate, protein and colour. If you were to come to my house and I was to put down a plate of potato in front of you, you’d think that was weird. If I put down a plate of potato and vegetables, you’d wait for me to serve up your meat, poultry or fish. This is because at dinner time we expect a balanced meal. The potato is the carbohydrate, the meat is your protein while the vegetables is your colour. Therefore, if you eat a bowl of porridge that is made up of oats and water, you’re just eating a bowl of carbohydrate. You could argue that this is similar to eating a bowl of potato at breakfast time. If you were to make your porridge on oats and milk, and then add some berries, your meal becomes more balanced as it contains carbohydrate, a protein source and some colour!

Myth 5: Eggs are bad for you

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Myth 5: Eggs are bad for you

This isn’t true. How eggs got such a bad rep was in 1970, the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee advised the general public to consume less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day. They thought cholesterol in food raised our blood cholesterol levels. As an egg contains nearly the full 300mg target, eggs were a natural target. We were then told to limit our egg intake. After this, more and more research began to emerge showing that dietary cholesterol played only a very small role in increasing blood cholesterol.

Eggs are a healthy food. They naturally contain many essential micronutrients necessary for optimal health including vitamins B2, B5, B12, folic acid, biotin, as well as iodine, phosphorus and selenium.

In addition eggs can be one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D. They’re also a great source of protein, are affordable and versatile. An egg provides about 80kcal, which is the same amount of calories as an apple and thus not a big deal calorie-wise. Healthy chickens produce healthy eggs so do try and buy eggs from a chicken that enjoys a nice life. 

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