'I see women who want to lose weight, yet they’re skulling into their wine regularly' - Irish dietitian on food myths
An Irish dietitian has described the fight against misinformation about food and nutrition as “difficult”.
Dr Mary McCreery, a dietitian in Blackrock, Co Dublin, recalls in particular a documentary from the BBC which claimed that potatoes contained more sugar than coke.
But potatoes are naturally low in sugar, she says. A medium potato has about 165kcal, which is about half the calories of a typical portion of pasta.
But Dr McCreery tells independent.ie today that myths and untruths are constantly being fed to the public about our more traditional foods like potatoes and bread. For those who don't have food allergies, bread and dairy are essential.
“Over the last couple of years and months, we’ve seen the exposure of non-qualified people promoting foods that are good and bad, and giving people the idea that they’re following a healthy diet but they’re not.”
“I see clients who’ve given up milk and dairy, and they’re using nut milks, and they’ve given up bread and all carbohydrates in the belief that they’re eating a healthy diet, but they’re not.”
“It’s difficult trying to fight the sea of misinformation.”
“In the UK they were trying to claim that there were 16 teaspoons of sugar in potatoes which was completely wrong. There’s no sugar in potatoes, just the same as there’s no sugar in bread, so to actually point out and publicly state that… it’s so, so difficult to fight against that sort of stuff.”
“There’s a myth that bread is full of sugar and full of fat, but there’s no sugar in bread and there’s no fat in bread.”
People mistakenly make the wrong food swaps when losing weight, Dr McCreery added.
“People are saying ‘I’m not going to eat my chocolate bar but I’ll have a protein bar instead,’ but if you’re trying to lose weight it’s not going to make difference. The only way to lose weight is to reduce the number of calories you consume.”
“People say ‘I’m not going to have bread, I’m going to have nuts instead’, but they’re still eating the same amount of calories.”
“People who really want to lose weight often say ‘I’m going to eat healthy’, and then they don’t understand why they’re not losing weight, it’s because they’re still eating the calories.”
Or, she adde: “People say I’ve lost lots of weight and given up bread. But no one food can be responsible.”
Recommended weight reducing diets can involve eating less bread, but it shouldn’t be ruled out completely, Dr McCreery said.
“I’m a great believer in trying to readdress misinformation, and one of the myths is that food is bad. When I was in college, if you went into a weight reducing diet, you reduced bread to four slices a day. Now of course we’re eating less bread, so if you were to reduce it now it would be much less.”
“It’s a food that’s been around for thousands of years. It’s such a nutrient-rich food. We get B vitamins and protein, so I cannot understand why some people have this idea that bread is bad.”
“Bread is international. Every single country in the world has bread. Look at countries in the Mediterranean like France and Spain where you had lovely crusty breads with every meal. For anyone to say that bread is bad for you, that’s not true.”
“As nutritionists, we never label good or bad foods - we say that your diet is good or bad. The quality of our food has never been better but unfortunately there’s what we call “the worried well”, and the idea that we need to be thinking about supplements in our diet, and things like that, but there’s not. That’s all marketing.”
“Carbohydrate is the main energy-giving food. Eating carbohydrate is going to give you energy, we would not recommend no-carbohydrate diets, we recommend that you eat very well, three meals a day, your breads, potatoes, pastas. You definitely have to have the dairy in there, low-fat yoghurt or low-fat milk.”
She added: “The amount of women that want to lose weight and then they’re skulling into their wine on a regular basis. Alcohol does need to be reduced if you want to lose weight.”
Social media influencers, who are not qualified dieticians or nutritionists, have more clout than professionals, Dr McCreery said.
“We have the National Dairy Council and Bord Bia who will try and promote healthy eating as much as they can... but I don’t know why it is that the social media bloggers seem to have more [influence]; someone who has no training in nutrition can become an expert in it. It is baffling. I cannot understand it. People like cooks seem to think they’re an expert in nutrition.”
“This cult of clean eating which would be orthorexia where people are afraid to be eating what they perceive to be bad for them, but they don’t have the training and what they perceive to be good or bad mightn’t be, that’s why it’s so frustrating.”
Dr McCreery explains five common misconceptions around bread
· Bread is fattening
There is little or no fat or sugar in bread. A slice of bread has the same number of calories as a large apple.
· Bread causes bloating
Bloating is the new description for “I feel fat” or “I feel full”. There is simply no evidence that bread causes bloating. We are meant to feel full after meals, but if you are over-full then maybe you ate too much food! A review of the topic by the British Nutrition Foundation¹ concluded that there was no scientific evidence that regular consumption of bread caused bloating or digestive problems.
· Bread is unhealthy
Contrary to what some may believe, bread is good for us and is an excellent source of proteins, vitamins especially the B Vitamins, Thiamine, Niacin, and Folic Acid; minerals (Calcium and iron); fibre and complex carbohydrates. It is also low in sugar and fat.
· Bread is low in essential nutrients
Bread is healthy as it contains many nutrients such as iron, calcium and B vitamins. Some varieties are also fortified with vitamin D and seeds such as Chia, adding Omega 3 to the nutritional content, making bread a major contributor to the nutrient intake of the Irish diet. Variety is the key to getting a balanced and nutritious diet. Because bread is such a versatile food, it can be included at all meals to provide energy. Toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and as a side at dinner. Bread can and should be included in your diet at least once a day.
· Bread makes your energy levels drop
Although, if consumed alone, white and wholemeal breads cannot claim to have a low glycemic index, most of the time bread is combined with protein and fat: when it is eaten with a meal or as a sandwich, for example. This combination means that the carbohydrate is digested more slowly and glucose enters the bloodstream at a slower and more stable rate.