The world of nutrition can be a very confusing place and it's easy to get caught up in the newest fad diets and quick fix 'weight-loss' products. This week we're busting some of these myths, to help you make better food choices...
- FRESH VS FROZEN
A question we get asked all too often; 'Is frozen fruit and veg as healthy as fresh?'. Over time, from farm to fork, the nutritional value of fresh produce deteriorates. Supermarket vegetables can be kept in storage for months before being put on the shelves for consumers. We would strongly advise sourcing local, seasonal produce as much as possible. Frozen fruit and veg can be a superior choice in terms of the nutritional value and quality, as they are frozen very soon after harvest and therefore, retain higher levels of vitamins and minerals. They also have a longer shelf life, are less wasteful and more cost-effective. Be careful when preparing - try to avoid boiling and instead, opt for steaming, stir-frying or roasting.
- GLUTEN-FREE IS HEALTHIER
Unless you have Coeliac Disease (CD), there's no medical reason to eliminate gluten from your diet. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease affecting 1 in 100 people in the UK. It is caused by a reaction where the immune system mistakes gluten as something harmful and as a result, creates antibodies as a protective mechanism. This causes damage to the gut and other organs and the only treatment is a strict gluten free diet for life. Recently, there has been a lot of scaremongering surrounding gluten in the diet - claims that it will damage your gut, produce toxins in your blood and some suggest going gluten-free as a way to lose weight. It's the exclusion of gluten-containing foods and therefore calories, which may lead to weight loss - not gluten itself! Gluten free products often have a lower nutritional value - lower in fibre and protein and are definitely higher in price! By going gluten free unnecessarily, you could be opening yourself up to a range of nutritional deficiencies (calcium, thiamine, iron, folate and more).
So for people with CD, yes, gluten is very harmful and eating gluten free is extremely important. For those who do not have a medical need to do so however, eating gluten free is unlikely to be beneficial. Gluten is not unhealthy, fattening or harmful!
- LOW FAT = HEALTHY
Contrary to popular belief, a low-fat diet is not necessarily a healthy one. Fat is a vital macronutrient that provides us with essential fatty acids and aids the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K). The main types of dietary fats are saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are used and needed for bodily functions, they have been associated with lower blood cholesterol and are primarily found in oily fish, plants, nuts, and seeds. Saturated fats are generally found in highly processed foods and animal products - fatty cuts of meat, butter, cheese, confectionary, etc. On average, the UK population consume too much saturated fat. Government recommendations are that saturated fat intake is no more than 10% of your daily energy intake.
Choosing a ‘low fat’ product is only necessary if it helps reduce your intake of saturated fat, the fat associated with high cholesterol and heart disease, or if you are looking to reduce your calorie intake. If you do choose these products, it important to read the nutrition label to make sure the fat hasn’t just been replaced with sugar, which is often the case. Although full-fat versions are higher in calories, they are generally more nutrient-rich, helping you feel fuller for longer and ultimately, reducing the amount you eat throughout the day. This is not to say you should choose full-fat versions over low fat, but always read the label! If the low-fat version has been packed full of sugar, then think again!
- CARBS ARE BAD
Carbohydrates are an essential part of the diet, yet they are frequently misunderstood. There are two forms of carbohydrates in the diet; Simple - sweets, jam, and fruit Juice, and Complex - potatoes, bread, and pasta. Both carbohydrates and protein contain 4 calories per gram, compared to fats which contain 9 calories per gram.
All types of carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) in the body and stored in the muscles with water, as glycogen. Glucose is the bodies most readily available source of energy so it is very important that we get an adequate intake and depending on our individual needs (daily activity, body mass, etc), the quantity required varies. Carbohydrates are also a primary source of fiber, (we need around 30g per day), as well as several other essential nutrients such as calcium, folate, protein, thiamine, and iron. Carbs are not something to be afraid of and they will not cause weight gain, in fact, they contain the same amount of calories per gram as protein -only overall excess energy intake will cause weight gainl.