There is a lot of controversy in nutrition and it often seems like people can't agree on anything - which makes choosing healthy options, well, a little bit tricky sometimes. Thankfully we have dietitian Orla Walsh to do the hard work for us, as she leafs through the most commonly held myths to find out the real truth.
Myth 1: You need to eat protein at all meals
This is true. Protein is a bit like water in that you can only absorb and use a certain amount at any one time. Therefore it needs to be spread out evenly across the day.
Protein feeds your muscles and bones. Muscles and bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding. Not drastically, it's a slow process, but it is constantly happening. That's why they are referred to as 'active tissues' and are responsible for the bulk of our metabolism. This is also why boys get to eat more than girls, as they're generally taller and stronger. The more muscle and bone tissue you have, the faster your metabolism goes. If you don't feed your active tissues, they don't work at their fastest speed, so this will affect your metabolism in the short term. If you don't feed your muscles enough protein at each meal you end up losing muscle, thus slowing your metabolism in the longer term.
When it comes to being 'older', the research on protein is somewhat offensive! If you're over 30 years of age, you need to be wary of sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass and muscle function. It is estimated that you lose approximately 1pc of your muscle per year after the age of 40 years.
Despite what the odd gym-bro will tell you, with regards to protein it's not the case of the more the merrier. However we definitely shouldn't under eat it. In fact, it's a bit of a goldilocks scenario where there is a recommendation that is just right. Your protein requirement at each meal increases with inactivity, age and the amount of muscle in your body.
Enough protein per meal
• Chicken/turkey breast
• 200g Greek yoghurt
• Tin/ fillet of fish
• 2 eggs & some beans
• 1 pint milk (soy or animal)
• 3 slices of meat
• 300g tofu
• 150g Quorn
• 1 ball Mozzarella
• 200g cottage cheese
Myth 2: Vegetables are always better raw
False. A lot of people worry about the quality of their vegetables. Which is great. However half the Irish population don't reach five portions a day. It's estimated that only one in three people reach this target. Therefore the issue for two out of three people isn't quality, its quantity. Even if you are someone who reaches the five a day target, your issue is STILL quantity. The newest evidence is supportive of 'the more the merrier'. However, if you're comfortably getting over five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, eat lots of different colours, eat more vegetables than fruit, have a varied intake of these healthful plants, then focus in of the quality.
The answer to the question is that some nutrients can be destroyed by the cooking process, while some nutrients are brought to life.
So the theory that raw food has a superior nutritional value over cooked food is not backed up by evidence. For example, a study found that cooking enhanced the nutritional value of tomatoes helping the antioxidant lycopene be more available to the human body and even made the total activity of the antioxidant increase. Another study in the The British Journal of Nutrition found that by cooking asparagus, the antioxidant activity, total phenols, quercetin, rutin, B carotene and letein + zeaxsntin contents increased by 16pc, 23pc, 98pc, 32pc, 24pc and 25pc respectively. Now I know you probably aren't familiar with these little nutrients, but take it from me that this was a good thing! It's well known that vitamin C is easily destroyed when cooked. And in this particular study it did shown a negative impact on vitamin C. Nonetheless, we do tend to eat plenty of this nutrient. So from a nutrition standpoint, a combination of both raw and cooked food provides the most health benefits.
Myth 3: Mushrooms have no nutrition value
False. Mushrooms are a simply fabulous fungi! An 80g portion (about four mushrooms) will give you about 1g protein and 1g fibre in a tiny 10 calorie package! What's more, for those conscious of their carbohydrate intake, they have less carbohydrate per serving than most other vegetables. Even broccoli, a gym-goers staple, contains more carbohydrate that mushrooms!
Apart from their macros, mushrooms have been shown to have their fair share of disease - fighting properties. For example, vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is found in very few foods, and for this reason, Irish people can often be deficient. Vitamin D is necessary for bone health and to support the immune system. Dietitian's suggest people take a supplement of vitamin D each day. Recently, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine discovered that eating mushrooms containing vitamin D2 can be as effective at increasing and maintaining vitamin D levels as taking a supplement. This is great news. However it's difficult for the consumer to know how much vitamin D their mushrooms contain, while they know the number when they take a supplement. In order for the mushrooms to contain a lot of vitamin D, they need to be exposed to UV light. Once they are exposed to sunlight or the necessary UVs, they seem to make vitamin D in a similar way to how our skin makes vitamin D. Nonetheless, this is good news for mushrooms as they're one of the few vegetarian sources of this important vitamin.
Myth 4: Fruit is really high in sugar
True. But it's much more complicated than that. A portion of fruit may contain 8-20g of carbohydrate from fruit sugars. This is about 2-5tsp of sugar. Every four jelly babies contains 20g of sugar or 5tsp of sugar. To compare their sugar levels in real terms like this is somewhat ludicrous.
Firstly, every piece of fruit will reduce your risk from dying, of anything, by 5pc a day. The same can't be said for sweets, or the other carbohydrate sources for that matter. Fruit contains so many special nutrients that together work together to protect the body from illness. So fruit is good for you.
Secondly, 'free sugars' are different from the 'intrinsic sugars' found in whole fresh fruits and vegetables.
The World Health Organisation guidelines (2015) report no evidence linking 'intrinsic sugars' to adverse health effects. The same can't be said for 'free sugars' present in the likes of sweets, honey, syrups, sugar added to food or fruit juice.
Lastly, let's compare whole fruit and fruit juice. Sugars are described as intrinsic if present in whole fruit, as they're within the confines of the cells of the fruit. When fruit is juiced it is then considered to be a 'free sugar'. When we drink juice, we often take in more total sugar than when we eat a piece of fruit. You can drink down the juice from four apples in less than 30 seconds, but one apple would probably take more than three minutes to eat. So not only is the sugar a 'free sugar', but you're also drinking down more sugar. Put it this way, every two gulps of fruit juice is equivalent to eating 1tsp of sugar off a spoon.
What's more, a lot of the nutrients are left behind in the juicer once the fruit is juiced. Adding to this, apple juice is less filling than eating an apple, thus potentially leaving you to eat a greater total of calories across the day.
Health & Living