Five 'healthy eating' myths dispelled
There is so much health and wellbeing information published online, it’s hard to distinguish between accurate nutritional guidance and what wellness warriors with no formal education declare to be true. Deakin University Associate Professor Sarah McNaughton is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and nutritional epidemiologist. She looked at five trending pieces of nutritional advice for us, and separated fact from fiction.
1) ‘Vitamin supplements are as good for you as the food they’re found in’
Assoc. Prof. McNaughton explains, ‘Vitamin and mineral supplements are generally only recommended if your underlying diet is not adequate. For most people eating a balanced diet in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines is the best way to get the right amounts of vitamins and minerals.’ She says people with balanced healthy diets shouldn’t need to also take supplements.
‘Vegetables and fruits have a whole range of phytochemicals and other nutrients such as fibre, which you may not get from supplements, so just taking a supplement won’t really match them.’ She adds that some vitamins can have toxic effects when they’re taken in excess, whereas it’s hard to overdose on real food. ‘Cooking and eating real meals has benefits such as enjoyment and social interaction. Food is not just fuel,’ she says.
2) ‘Fruit (except some berries) is full of sugar and bad for you’
Some of this statement is true. Fruit does contain sugar and berries do have less sugar than some other varieties. But fruit isn’t the enemy. Assoc. Prof. McNaughton says fruit is packed with nutrients and compared to many other foods, fruit has a lot less sugar. ‘The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults consume around two serves of fruit per day, and we know that only about 26% of people meet this recommendation, so most people are not eating too much fruit,’ she says.
The danger, Assoc. Prof. McNaughton explains, is choosing fruit juices over whole fruits, because juicing can remove some of the beneficial nutrients and also cause over-consumption of fruit. ‘If you’re looking to cut down on sugar in your diet, many processed and packaged foods contain lots of added sugar. Look at replacing those foods first,’ she adds.
'The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults consume around two serves of fruit per day, and we know that only about 26% of people meet this recommendation, so most people are not eating too much fruit'
Associate Profesor Sarah McNaughton,
Faculty of Health, Deakin University
3) ‘Every meal should have a “rainbow” of colours in it’
You needn’t be concerned if you’re not eating green, orange, red, yellow and purple items in every meal, but on the whole, Assoc. Prof. McNaughton suggests this is some of the better advice out there. ‘Different vegetables contain different micronutrients and phytochemicals with different health benefits, and different colours is an easy way to ensure you get a mixture of these benefits,’ she says.
However, there’s no need to become stressed if you miss a veggie-packed sitting. Rather, watch out if you’re stuck on eating the same vegetables or no vegetables at all. ‘If you find yourself eating the same things all the time, set yourself a goal to try one new vegetable each week and see how that works for you,’ Assoc. Prof. McNaughton suggests. It’s also important to check your veggie source. Fresh, frozen and canned vegetables all add value, but if you’re eating a lot of canned vegetables, choose the ones without added salt.
4) ‘Gluten is bad for everyone, not just those with coeliac disease’
Gluten – a protein found in wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats – provides structure in food such as bread. ‘For people with coeliac disease, the gluten reacts with their immune system and causes damage to the small bowel. This damage causes a number of problems, and impacts the ability of the bowel to absorb enough nutrients from food,’ Assoc. Prof. McNaughton explains, adding this condition impacts approximately one in 70 people.
She says people with coeliac disease should follow a gluten-free diet, but it’s important to ensure going gluten-free occurs under the guidance of a doctor. ‘Recent Australian data suggest that about 5% of people reported they were avoiding gluten, but evidence suggests many people are avoiding gluten without a formal diagnosis of coeliac disease,’ Assoc. Prof. McNaughton says.
It appears people have begun to avoid gluten as a blanket rule, because they believe it to be unhealthy. This is not true – a balanced diet is always better for you than cutting out a whole food group, unless you truly need to.
5) ‘All dairy products are bad for you’
Dairy sometimes has a bad reputation, but milk, yoghurt and cheese are great sources of calcium and micronutrients including riboflavin, vitamin B12 and magnesium. Assoc. Prof. McNaughton, ‘Evidence shows that consumption of milk, yoghurt and cheese can protect against heart disease and stroke, and reduce the risk of high blood pressure and prevent osteoporosis.’ She encourages people to include dairy in a balanced diet.
It’s the ‘discretionary dairy foods’ people should eat in moderation, such as ice cream, which can be high in saturated fat and added sugars, cream and butter.
Those that are lactose intolerant can still look to include calcium in their diets and consume calcium-fortified soy beverages, almonds and tofu, and fish with bones such as salmon.
Interested in learning more about food, health and nutrition? Consider a Bachelor of Food and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University.
Associate Professor, Faculty of Health, Deakin University
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