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.
Take a look at these "enriched" foods:
- 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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