Here, nutritionist Daisy Whitbread explains the truth behind some of the common myths surrounding health, nutrition and weight loss.
Myth 1: carbs are ‘bad’ or ‘fattening’
Carbohydrates are one of the three food groups the body needs to function properly, their main role being to supply us with energy. Complex carbohydrates such as wholegrains are one of the best sources of fibre, which actually helps control appetite by keeping us feeling full for longer due to its ‘bulkiness’. In addition, these foods provide important vitamins and minerals and eating more of them reduces the risk of the major lifestyle diseases.
Cutting out carbs does lead to weight loss, but this is mainly because when you cut out an entire food group, you significantly reduce the overall quantity of food or calories eaten!
My advice: choosing the right carbs is important, not cutting them. The ones you can lose are the refined carbs such as white bread, white pasta, pastry, white rice, cornflakes and sugary foods. Instead eat wholegrains such as oats, quinoa, spelt bread and pasta, brown rice, rye bread and buckwheat. Sweet potatoes, other root vegetables, beans and lentils also supply super-healthy carbs and loads of nutrients. All fruits and vegetables are in fact classified as carbohydrates, so this really is a healthy group!
Myth 2: fat makes you fat
Like carbohydrates, fat is a key food group and an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. The essential fats are so called because the body cannot produce them and they must therefore be obtained through your diet. They are the ones we all know are good for us, with oily fish being the best and olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocadoes as other good sources. These fats do not make us fat, because they are used for important bodily processes. They are also great for skin, hair and nails and may even help improve mood.
Fat has what’s known as a high satiety value, which means that eating some fat actually sends signals to your brain telling it that you have eaten enough, which can reduce the chances of overeating.
Even saturated fat (found in meat and dairy), which for years was thought to raise cholesterol, is now believed to be harmless in moderation. Another healthy fat is coconut oil, also high in saturated fat, but the plant-based form - it has a host of health benefits including potentially even encouraging weight loss.
My advice: there is one type of fat we do need to avoid - trans fats. The easiest way to do so is to avoid deep-fried foods and cheap, processed foods (check labels for hydrogenated fats and oils). Eat saturated fat from unprocessed, good quality sources - such as organic meat and dairy - in moderation. Coconut oil is brilliant for cooking with and eat plenty of the essential fats, especially oily fish.
Myth 3: if you exercise you can eat what you want
Not true! Weight loss is 70-80% down to nutrition and only around 20-30% exercise. Exercise is great for keeping weight off and maintaining a healthy weight, but to lose weight you have to address your diet. Many people make the mistake of thinking they can lose weight by simply doing more exercise without changing their diet and others reward themselves after exercise with a meal containing twice the calories they have just burned off!
My advice: the winning combination is of course both diet and exercise together, which have a synergistic effect - but do make sure you get your diet right if you would like to lose some weight.
Myth 4: skipping meals and fasting is a good way to lose weight
Skipping meals, especially breakfast is a big mistake - people who eat breakfast and who eat regularly throughout the day are healthier than those who skip meals. You can read more about the health benefits of a good breakfast here. Eating regularly keeps your blood sugar levels balanced which in turn balances your mood, concentration, appetite and energy levels.
In addition, some people associate snacking with being unhealthy which is also a myth. Going for too long without eating can lead to over-eating at meal times. A meal can only give us energy for around 4 hours, so healthy snacks in between meals are important. Healthy snacking actually helps to balance our appetite and energy levels.
My advice: regular eating is the foundation of good nutrition, it’s the first thing I get clients to focus on before we even look at what they are eating. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day plus one or two small, healthy snacks such as fruit or a handful of almonds.
Myth 5: Low fat and diet foods are a healthy option
The vast majority of these foods are highly processed, full of sugar (which is much worse for health and your waistline than fat), often packed with artificial chemicals and low in nutrients. They are generally more a product of ‘clever’ marketing than providing genuine health benefits.
Many people also believe that swapping to diet colas and soft drinks is a healthy change. Although lower in calories, these are high in artificial sweeteners, which have been associated with health concerns. There is also evidence that consuming sweeteners encourages a sweet tooth, which is not particularly helpful if you are trying to be healthy.
My advice: avoid diet foods and instead eat more foods which are naturally lower in energy such as fruit, vegetables and pulses. Try sparkling water with a squeeze of lime instead of fizzy drinks and if you need a ‘pick-me-up’ instead of a cola try green tea, which contains a little bit of caffeine for energy and boosts metabolism.