Busting diet myths

Friday, April 21, 2006
No carbs after five will help you lose weight. You need to eat meat to get enough protein. Myths about food and nutrition still dominate many people's eating habits. So how is your nutrition knowledge? Do you know which popular nutrition ideas are, in fact, fiction?

Myth one: chocolate is bad for you.
Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants, which help 'mop up' free radicals that can damage cells in our body. In particular, the flavonoids found in dark chocolate can assist in heart-disease prevention by increasing our good cholesterol and reducing blood pressure. Eating chocolate also triggers the release of feel-good endorphins in our body, which is why it boosts our mood.

However, as chocolate comes with sugar, saturated fat and caffeine, it is still a good idea to limit the amount of chocolate you eat to a small amount of dark chocolate now and then.

Myth two: avoiding carbs after 5pm will help you lose weight.
There is nothing magical about not eating carbs after 5pm. A search of more than 4800 scientific journals failed to find one study that supports the theory that carbs need to be cut after 5pm in order to lose weight. In fact, the overwhelming majority of research shows the best way to lose and maintain weight for the long term is to follow a low-fat, high-fibre diet based on whole plant foods as minimally processed as possible.

While a 'carb curfew' means that less healthy carb foods that are high in saturated fat and kilojoules — like biscuits and ice cream — are off the menu, it doesn't take into account the role that healthy carbs play. Foods like brown rice, wholemeal pasta and wholegrain breads provide us with energy and reduce risk of serious diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Myth three: you need to eat meat to get enough protein.
Eating a variety of protein-rich plant foods each day will give your body all the protein it needs for good health. Nuts, seeds, legumes and grains are all good sources of protein. The key is to simply eat a variety of these foods every day to make sure you get the best balance of essential amino acids. Soy protein is a particularly high-quality plant protein that provides all of the essential amino acids we need in the one food. And compared to meat, plant protein foods offer the additional benefits of thousands of phytochemicals that protect against disease.

Myth four: skipping breakfast helps you lose weight.
While it may seem logical that skipping a meal, and therefore eating less food, will help with weight control, this is not true. Research has shown that skipping breakfast slows your metabolism. This means you are less efficient at burning up the energy from the food you eat and are actually more likely to snack and overindulge during the day on foods that are less nutritious and have far more kilojoules than a simple bowl of cereal.

Myth five: all fats are bad for you.
Healthy fats are essential for good health and have been shown to protect us from a range of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, avocados, sunola and canola oils. They also include omega-3 fatty acids found in linseeds, soybeans, dark green vegetables and oily fish. Healthy fats have been shown to help decrease total cholesterol levels, while omega-3 fats in particular have been shown to have many other health properties, including reducing blood pressure, slowing the hardening of arteries and assisting with inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

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