It seems like every other day there's a new headline warning about another food that's going to cause serious or chronic disease, or a new celeb diet claiming it's the one true way to trim down and stay in shape. The constant contradictions can be confusing!
So, what should we believe? Here are eight of the latest health myths that you don't need to listen to:
We should only eat the egg white
For years we've been hearing about the issues with eggs and cholesterol. It's been taught that it's healthier to skip the yolk and only use the egg white. The truth? The yolk is where most of the nutrition is! Studies show that the cholesterol in our food doesn't affect our blood cholesterol -- it's food with high levels of saturated fat or trans fats that do.
Whole eggs are low in saturated fat and are a good source of protein, vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids, and also work to balance our hormones. Eating the whole egg also keeps you fuller longer, which prevents mindless snacking throughout the day. The egg substitutes that we've flocked to are egg white-based, but read the labels for added colour and additives. Get back to cracking those eggs!
Gluten-free is the way to be
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. A gluten-free diet is essential for those with Celiac disease or gluten allergies, however if you don't have these issues, gluten-free is not going to give you additional health benefits. Gluten-free products often lack vitamins, minerals and fibre, and are far from low-calorie or healthy.
They have added fat and sugar to improve the texture and taste. For example, gluten-free pasta has three times less fibre and double the sugar; gluten-free bread has double the fat; and flour has more carbs and four times less fibre and protein. In addition to this, GF products can be double the price of regular goods.
A wrap is healthier than a sandwich
It seems when everyone went low-carb crazy, sandwiches were out and wraps were in. They appeared as a lighter and healthier option -- but take a closer look:
Tortilla = 300 calories / 7g fat / 730mg sodium
Bread = 180 calories / 3g fat / 220mg sodium / double the fibre
In addition to the higher amounts of calories, fat and sodium, the wheat in wraps is also more processed, which can cause a quick rise in blood sugar levels that affects insulin and weight. And those coloured wraps that claim to be made of spinach? There might be a hint of the vegetable, but they don't have additional nutritional value and can contain artificial colour and flavouring. To top it off, wraps can often contain double the filling than your good old sandwich.
Ancient grains are always good
The term "ancient gain" is a fancy way of describing 100 per cent whole grains that have been around for centuries. You'll recognize some of these golden oldie grains - kamut, quinoa, farro, amaranth and spelt. If eaten on their own, these grains are healthier than refined grains. However, when added to commercially packaged foods, they're often excessively processed with added sugar and fat added and less nutrients.
- Quinoa bread - The first ingredient is not quinoa, but whole wheat flour. You need 100 per cent whole wheat to have the maximum health benefits.
- "Seven-grain" granola bars - Claims of "multi" grains and whole grains are not 100 per cent whole grain.
- "Quinoa" cereal v. Corn Flakes - Actually has double fat, saturated fat and sugar. The quinoa is not 100 per cent whole grain and is processed.
Covered in yogurt
When looking for a healthy snack, yogurt-covered fruits and nuts can seem like an easy way to get an extra boost of the good stuff. Not so fast! These "yogurt-covered" treats are dipped in something far from a healthy plain yogurt.
This "yogurt" coating is mainly confectioners' sugar, along with hydrogenated oil and yogurt powder, leaving you with five times the fat, 20 times the sugar and the double calories of regular yogurt. To jazz up your fruits and nuts, just mix with a plain Greek yogurt instead!
Gotta have agave!
Not long ago agave was being hailed as the ultimate alternative to sugar. Just ask Dr. Oz! Why? Agave doesn't spike your blood sugar initially, so it was thought to the best sweetener. However, turns out it contains more fructose than these other sweeteners, even higher than high fructose corn syrup! This can lead to an increased risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and liver damage. So what to grab when wanting something sweet? Try molasses, honey or a Stevia sweetener. In general, cut back on any sweeteners.
Naughty nightshade vegetables
Nightshade vegetables are a plant family that includes eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Recently there's been a lot of chatter about the potential link of these veggies to a wide array of health issues, from arthritis to migraines.
So, where does the bad rap come from? A quick look online can find much discussion alleging nightshade vegetables contain a toxic alkaloid compound called solanine, a defence mechanism in some Solanaceae plants that protects against natural threats such as insects. Not true! Eggplant, peppers and tomatoes do not produce solanine. However, when potatoes turn bad and go green, solanine can be produced -- so avoid green potatoes!
There hasn't been any evidence that links nightshade vegetables to worsening arthritis pain or migraines and these veggies provide many health benefits. What kind of nutrition do these veggies provide? Potatoes are high in vitamins B6 and C, and also contain phytonutrients, a source of antioxidants. Eggplant is also source of phytonutrients and a good source of fibre. Tomatoes and peppers have antioxidants that lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. If you do want to eliminate them from your diet, make sure you supplement these nutrients from other foods and sources.
All about the alkaline diet
Here's a science class refresher: a pH balance is a measure of acidity. Anything below a pH of seven is considered "acidic," and anything above seven is "alkaline" or base. Water, for example, has a pH of seven and is neither acidic nor alkaline. The human body needs its blood to remain in a slightly alkaline state.
So, what's all the fuss about eating alkaline? Supporters of the diet claim that the food we consume can alter the acidity levels in our bodies. The thought is to avoid foods like meat, wheat, refined sugar and some processed food, as they cause your body to over-produce acid, which can supposedly lead to health problems such as osteoporosis or other chronic conditions. Some also claim alkaline diets combat cancer.
The diet supports eating almost all vegetables, fruits and legumes, and most seeds and nuts (but no peanuts, cashews or walnuts) as a main part of the diet. That all sounds good. While many of the "no-nos" are foods we should be avoiding anyways, meat, eggs and grains contain amino acids and essential vitamins that your body needs, and cutting all of these out can lead to deficiencies. On top of this, there's no real evidence to back up these claims -- what we eat doesn't affect our blood pH levels, and even if one's urine pH changes, it's not clear if diet affects that at all.
Remember the old adage: "Don't believe everything you hear." Listen carefully, do your own research from credible sources, talk to your doctor and then make an educated decision.
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Late night snacking can lead to weight gain, but it's not due to the time on the clock. The trouble is, snacking after dinner can lead you to eat more calories than your body needs in a day, especially if you're having high-calorie snack foods and sweetened beverages. If you usually get hungry late at night, try eating dinner a little later. Still hungry? Sip on water with a squeeze of lemon, or go for small portions of healthy choices like whole grain cereal with milk, a piece of fruit, or plain air-popped popcorn.
Cutting carbohydrates might help you lose weight in the short term, but it's mostly because you are eating less food and fewer calories. Drastically cutting carbs means you'll miss out on the nutritional benefits of healthy choices like whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
Both organic and non-organic foods are nutritious and safe to eat when you're making healthy choices based on Canada's Food Guide. Many factors affect a food's nutritional value, such as where and how it was grown, stored, shipped and even how it was cooked.
A gluten-free diet is the only healthy way of eating for people with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, but it's not necessary for everyone else. Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye, and any foods made with these grains. Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, or you are allergic to one of these grains, you don't need to avoid them. Whether the grain you choose is gluten-free (such as corn, rice, millet or quinoa) or not, enjoying more whole grains is a healthy choice. For good health, make at least half of your grain choices whole grain each day.
Sea salt, just like kosher and gourmet salt, has about the same amount of sodium as table salt. It is not a healthier choice. Too much sodium can be harmful to your health. The differences between sea salt and table salt are taste, texture and how they are made. Table salt is mined from dried-up ancient salt lakes. Some table salts include iodine, a nutrient that helps prevent thyroid disease. Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater and tastes different depending on where it's from.
Energy drinks might make you feel a short burst of energy, but it doesn't last. Energy drinks usually contain lots of sugar; in fact, one energy drink can have up to 14 teaspoons of sugar. Most energy drinks have caffeine, and too much caffeine may cause unwanted side effects such as rapid heartbeat and insomnia. These drinks are not recommended for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women, and should not be consumed with alcohol or in amounts more than 500 ml per day. The best way to get energized is to eat well, be active, stay hydrated and get enough sleep.
Sorry! No food has superpowers to keep you healthy on its own. Even if a food is bursting with a beneficial nutrient, your body needs more than that to be healthy. Unfortunately, there's no official "superfood" definition, and the term is sometimes used to market trendy, expensive foods, like goji and açaí berries, that don't always live up to their superior claims. And some basic foods that aren't called "super," such as apples, can be equally nutritious, less costly and more widely available.
Getting a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table doesn't take as much time as you think. Simple, nutritious foods can make tasty meals, and planning meals in advance lets you use your time wisely. For example, try making "planned extras" (leftovers on purpose) that can be used for another meal, or make big batches of food on weekends.
Food costs is an important issue for many. With some planning and wise choices, you can create tasty, healthy and affordable meals. To get the most value, choose foods that are big on nutrients and low on cost. Many healthy staple foods can be lower-cost items, including bulk flours and whole grains, in-season fresh produce, eggs, legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils), powdered milk, and sale-priced frozen or canned vegetables, fruits and fish.
There is no food that burns fat or makes you lose weight more quickly. Weight loss diets that focus on single foods, like grapefruit, cabbage soup or celery, are restrictive and lack nutrients needed for good health. It's true that when you eat only one type of food, like cabbage soup, you might eat less and take in fewer calories than you need and maybe lose weight at first. But in the end, these diets are boring, don't create healthy habits you can stick with, and don't help with long-term weight loss.
Some processed foods, such as whole grain pasta, canned light tuna and plain frozen vegetables, are healthy choices. Others provide few nutrients or are high in calories, fat, sugar or sodium and should be limited. Some examples are deep fried foods, salty snacks and packaged baked goods such as donuts and croissants.
Canadian milk meets strict government standards so it's safe and healthy. Canadian dairy farmers give their cows the best diet and health care so they produce quality milk naturally. Growth hormones to stimulate milk production are not approved for sale or permitted for use in Canada. Just like humans, cows sometimes get sick and need medications like antibiotics. If this happens, the cow is identified and milked separately until she is healthy again. Her milk is properly disposed of for a mandatory length of time, to allow for the medication to get out of her system. Milk, organic and non-organic, is a safe, nutritious choice.
Multi-grain isn't always whole grain. Multi-grain products include different grains, but they may not be whole. You'll get the greatest health benefits from eating whole grains. To make sure a food is made with whole grains, look on the food label's ingredient list for the words "whole grain" in front of each grain name.
There is no truth to the claim that everyone needs exactly eight cups of water a day. Water is important for good health and it is your best choice to satisfy thirst, but other liquids are also hydrating. The amount of water you need to hydrate your body varies daily and depends on factors like your gender, physical size and how active you are, as well as environmental factors like heat and humidity.
Nothing beats the taste of fresh produce in season. But frozen and canned produce can be just as nutritious since it's usually picked and packed at the peak of ripeness when nutrient levels are highest. Frozen or canned produce gives you benefits beyond health. It allows Canadians to enjoy a variety of vegetables and fruit year-round and is a practical choice for people living in remote areas.
Just because a food is low in fat or fat-free doesn't mean it's healthy. In fact, a lot of foods that are low in fat are definitely not healthy choices, such as candy, pop, low-fat cookies and fat-free frozen treats. While these foods may have little fat, they can still be high in sugar and calories and offer few, if any, nutrients. There are, however, some foods that are higher in fat and a healthy choice, such as fish, avocados, nuts, seeds and nut butters.
You will not get diabetes from eating sugar. It's wise, however, to limit your sugar intake. Foods that are high in sugar, such as cookies, candies and soft drinks, are often low in nutrients and high in calories. Diets with too many calories can lead to weight gain, and being overweight is one of the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Protein alone does not build muscle mass. A strength-training program, along with enough calories from healthy foods, recovery time and sleep, are also needed for building muscle. Sure, you need protein, but overdoing it adds extra calories and won't build bigger muscles.
Fruit is a healthy choice. It's true that fruit has naturally occurring sugar, but it is also chock full of vitamins, minerals and fibre that are important for good health. Choosing more vegetables and fruit, naturally sweetened by Mother Nature, can help you maintain your weight and reduce your risk of developing chronic disease.
Nutritionally speaking, they are all pretty much the same. While some people consider brown sugar, honey or agave syrup to be more natural, they are still sugars. All are concentrated sources of calories with very few other nutrients. Your body can't tell the difference between them and white sugar. In fact, your body handles naturally occurring sugar in food or processed sugars and syrups in the same way.
Pregnant women are commonly told they are "eating for two." In reality, you need just a little more food, during the second and third trimesters, to get enough nutrients and calories to support a growing baby. Two or three extra Food Guide servings each day are often enough. Aim to eat three balanced meals with nutritious snacks.
Dietitians eat all sorts of different foods, even chocolate, french fries, chips and candy...on occasion. Dietitians believe that healthy foods are delicious foods. And we also believe that there's nothing wrong with the occasional treat.
It's a popular belief that tea is dehydrating because it has caffeine, but the level of caffeine you get from drinking moderate amounts of tea, even strong tea, doesn't dehydrate you. Tea is actually 99.5 per cent water and counts towards your fluid intake for the day, so it can help keep you hydrated.
Mayonnaise can be included as part of healthy eating. In fact, Canada's Food Guide recommends that we consume a small amount (30-45 ml per 2 to 3 tbsp total) of unsaturated fat each day. This includes oil used for cooking, salad dressings, soft margarines low in saturated and trans fats, and mayonnaise.
Canadians eat too much sodium, but the salt shaker is not the biggest culprit. Over 75 per cent of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods, packaged and ready-to-eat foods, and restaurant meals. Only about 11 per cent comes from salt added when cooking at home and salt you shake on at the table. The rest of the sodium you get occurs naturally in foods. To limit the sodium you eat, choose fewer pre-packaged convenience foods and restaurant meals and enjoy more lower sodium foods that you can cook at home.
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