How to make Gwyneth's secret to looking good work for you and your fave LBD
Nutritionist Paula Mee reveals the truth about 'taboo' foods and eating habits.
Which one of us has not pounced on the latest health fad in the hope of attaining the perfect shape? But when celebrities endorse their new "secret" to physical perfection, we are rarely getting the full story – such as the fact that beautiful body has got less to do with the goji berries and more to do with hours in the gym.
In the run-up to the festive season, we're all concerned about losing a pound or two in order to look our very best in our favouite LBD. So here we dispel some commonly held health myths and put some "taboo" foods back on the menu.
1 Choose low fat food and you will lose weight
This is a common mistake. Always read the labels. Those packaged low-fat products have to contain something else to make them taste good and that is usually some form of sugar.
As well as being relatively high in calories, they are often low in nutrients and fibre. Nutritionist Paula Mee says in order to lose weight you have to consume fewer calories than you burn. "You have to be in calorie deficit."
2 Fruit juice and smoothies are a valuable addition to a healthy diet
We often reach for a "healthy drink" instead of a can of fizzy stuff when we are trying to "be good", but drinking smoothies and blended fruit juices can have the unintended consequence of massively increasing our sugar consumption.
Retailers have reported a boom in the sale of juicers as part of a trend that began in California and grew with the endorsement of celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow. But a smoothie from one leading brand, with berries and acai superfood, also contains 34.3g of sugar in a 250ml bottle. This compares with 39g of sugar in a 330ml can of Coke. However Gwyneth recommends a mix of kale, apple and mint. So choose your tipple wisely.
3 Eggs are bad for your heart
Eggs do contain cholesterol in their yolks but most healthy people can eat one a day without problems.
According to Paula, eggs are not particularly high in fat or dietary cholesterol but they have a "very high biological value and contain a lot of nutrients we benefit from".
For most of us, eating cholesterol doesn't have a huge impact on raising our blood cholesterol. But remember that we should limit our cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg daily (less than 200 mg for those with a history of heart problems or diabetes or women over 55 and men over 45).
4 Carbohydrates make you fat
Loading up on sugary and refined-carbohydrate-rich foods, such as white bread, pasta and doughnuts, is neither good for your figure or your heart. But if you cut out so-called "good-carb" foods, such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, you're missing out on your body's main source of fuel as well as vital nutrients and fibre.
Paula says that "potatoes are seen as evil". Yet they contain important nutrients such as vitamin B and potassium and have more fibre than brown rice. However, she urged people not to pile their plate high with potatoes or pasta unless they have a very active lifestyle.
5 Fresh vegetables are always more nutritious than frozen
It depends. "Frozen can be more nutritious because they are harvested and picked when they are young and they are frozen immediately, so they retain a lot of their goodness," says Paula. On the other hand, if your fresh carrots or peppers have been languishing in the fridge for a week, some of the vitamins may have been lost.
6 Microwaving kills the nutrients in food
"That has not been shown to be true," says Paula, although she warned against eating food straight from the microwave as it is still cooking.
Whether you're using a microwave or a gas/electric oven, it's the heat and the amount of time you're cooking that affect nutrient losses, not the cooking method. The longer and hotter you cook a food, the more you'll lose certain heat- and water-sensitive nutrients, especially vitamin C and thiamin (a B vitamin).
Because microwave cooking often cooks foods more quickly, it can actually help to minimise nutrient losses. Paula recommends steaming as "probably the best type of cooking" to avoid nutrient loss.
7 Avocados are a fatty food and like all high-fat foods should be avoided
Paula says avocados do contain more calories and fat than a lot of other vegetables "but it is good Mediterranean fat". They also contain a lot of other nutrients and are a delicious addition to salads. She stresses: "It is not about a no-fat diet. We should maintain a 2:1 ratio, eating twice as many good as saturated fats."
Another food that unfairly gets a bad press is the humble banana. Paula says "a lot of people still think they are hard to digest but they're not, especially as they get riper". They are a rich source of fibre, B vitamins and potassium, which helps with blood pressure.
8 I have a weight problem because I eat wheat or dairy foods that my body can't process
If foods are not metabolised, calories would not be absorbed and this would lead to weight loss, not gain. However, Paula says some people can't digest certain foods and this leads to water retention and discomfort. "Reducing wheat intake can help them to overcome that, by having oats for breakfast."
9 Grazing on mini meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism up and helps you control your weight better than eating fewer, larger meals
Yes, our metabolic rate increases slightly each time we eat but snacking between meals can leave us reaching for unhealthy products such as crisps, sweet foods or pastries. So choose healthy fillers such as a handful of nutritious nuts or a banana (see above).
10 You crave certain foods because you're deficient in one of the nutrients they provide
Not unless you're an elephant – they are attracted to "salt licks" or mineral deposits that supply nutrients they need. Human food cravings tend to be more about satisfying emotional needs and cravings tend to occur when your diet is restricted or boring.
There is one nutrient deficiency that's clearly associated with cravings in humans: iron. But instead of longing for iron-rich liver or steak, people, such as pregnant women, who are severely deficient in iron stores, tend to crave things like ice cubes, clay or even cement.
Paula Mee is a nutrition consultant (BSc, Dip Dietetics, MSc in Health Sciences, Dip Allergy, MINDI).