Whether it’s scrolling Instagram or flicking through newsfeeds, we’re constantly being fed messages to make sure we eat healthily. But what does good nutrition really mean, and how can we separate the myths from the tips actually worth following? Jenna Farmer speaks to the experts to get to the bottom of some of the most common nutrition myths to separate fact from fiction
When it comes to eating healthily, we all know the general rule of having our five a day and drinking plenty of water. But when trying to keep up to date with the latest nutritional advice, it can seem as though superfoods are changing all the time, and a week won’t go by without a new trend hitting the headlines. Is it any wonder many of us feel clueless? How can we know which tips are valuable, and which ones we should take with a pinch of salt? Our experts unravel these common nutrition myths to help you sort facts from fiction.
Myth: Low-fat foods are healthier
Reality: Any trip to the supermarket will leave you bombarded with low-fat alternatives to the staples. But high-fat foods don’t always deserve their bad reputation. For example, you may read about high-fat foods being linked to heart attack risk, but one study published in the Lancet found your total fat intake isn’t actually linked to your risk of cardiovascular disease. Many healthy foods are high in fat but are still super healthy, such as avocados and oily fish. These are both rich in omega 3s, found to support brain health.
In turn, lower fat equivalents aren’t always what they seem. “With food and drinks that are labeled low-fat or even fat-free, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good for you, in fact it can be the opposite. They often come with more salt and sugar than the real deal,” says nutrition advisor Simone Thomas.
Myth: Opt for sugar free dupes
Reality: Research has found many of us eat double the amount we should. However, sugar isn’t always the enemy – it’s actually found in a whole range of healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables. These foods also contain other beneficial nutrients as well as fibre (which can slow down the absorption of sugar, which is why eating a whole apple would have less impact on your blood sugar levels than drinking a cup of juice).
“Processed, low-sugar products from the supermarket come with their own health concerns – sugar is replaced with artificial sweeteners in these foods, and these can lead to changes in gut bacteria, and continued sugar cravings. A better option is low sugar fruit, such as berries that contain other nutrients, or raw honey that contains B vitamins and iron,” says nutritionist Hannah Hope.
Myth: Everyone should take a multivitamin
Reality: Whether it’s to help with your energy levels, or for better skin, should we always reach for the multivitamin? Well, not necessarily. According to the NHS website, most of us don’t need to take a multivitamin if we’re already eating a balanced diet. There are exceptions to this rule: for example, in the winter months it is recommended that most of us consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Other than that, there’s no evidence it makes you any healthier.
“A better option would be to get these vitamins and minerals through your diet by including more vegetables, fruit, oily fish, wholegrains, and good quality meat and dairy,” says Hannah Hope.
Myth: Gluten-free is better for your health
Reality: A small percentage of people will need to follow a gluten-free diet to feel well. For example, they may have coeliac disease (an autoimmune disease which impacts one in 100 people) or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. However, there are no health benefits for going gluten-free unless you fall into either of these categories (and if you suspect gluten causes you problems, it’s important to speak to your GP before ditching it).
While there are lots of healthy foods that are naturally gluten-free (such as veggies, fruit, and fish), swapping your regular bread for gluten-free isn’t necessarily healthier. In fact, one study has found that opting for gluten-free means you miss out on the consumption of wholegrains, which may increase your risk of cardiovascular conditions.
Myth: You need to switch to decaf
Reality: How often do you feel guilty about your morning coffee run? Turns out, you really don’t have to. For most adults, it’s perfectly safe to consume 300mg (around three cups of coffee) a day. In fact, caffeine actually has some exciting health benefits; it’s been found that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of diabetes, and it may even lower your risk of heart disease.
“Caffeine can have positive influences on mental performance. It can increase alertness, wakefulness, prevent memory loss, and improve cognitive function,” says Hannah Hope.
However, if you drink more than three cups a day, cutting down could be an idea. “High doses of caffeine can also lead to effects on the cardiovascular system, such as palpitations and arrhythmias, as well as inducing anxiety. I recommend no more than two caffeine-containing drinks before midday,” Hannah adds.
Myth: I need to do a detox diet to to be healthy
Reality: How often have you read about the latest detox or cleanse to help you look or feel better? But, our body can detox all by itself.
“Food does not ‘detoxify’ our body. Our body has natural cleansing and detoxifying mechanisms that are much stronger than any food or supplement,” says dietitian Karine Patel, founder of Dietitian & Co. “Our liver produces enzymes that convert toxins into waste, and our kidneys filter and remove this waste. In healthy people, the liver and kidneys function well, and there is no accumulation of toxins.”
Myth: Egg yolks are bad for you
Reality: While it was once believed that eggs raise your cholesterol level, this is now an outdated philosophy. Research has since proved that eating one egg a day doesn’t increase your heart disease risk at all. “This really is a health myth hangover because eggs, including the yolk, are good for you, and are not to be avoided!” says Simone Thomas. “Eggs are a food powerhouse and are packed with protein, as well as offering healthy fats, potassium, vitamin B12 and D. They’re also an amazing source of zinc and selenium.”
The reality is that there’s no one quick fix for better health and wellbeing. But understanding the truth behind nutrition claims can help you make the right decisions for your body, and enable you to eat a well-balanced diet.
For more information on nutrition, visit the Nutritionist Resource or speak to a qualified nutritionist.