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Food & Nutritional Myths Busted

Set the record straight once and for all, and find out what nutrition myths have been busted.

  • Focusing solely on a food’s fat content is only telling half the story. That’s because a low fat food might still differ in essential nutrients or be high in sugar, and therefore its kilojoule content – or how much energy a food has – might be higher than you expect.

  • There’s is no difference between the two types of salt except their name and that they can have a different crystal size. Both have the same effect in your body. Too much salt can affect your heart health, so it is best to be used sparingly. Most Australians already eat more than the recommended amount of salt each day. Most of the salt that we eat comes from manufactured foods like bread and snacks, so there’s no need to add any extra.

  • There are a small number of people who react to certain food additives, but this doesn’t make them harmful for everyone. In fact, food additives play an extremely important role in food. They give structure, add flavour, make food last longer, improve appearance and texture and help maintain quality. For example, antioxidants added to oil help prevent it going rancid. Without additives, our food supply would be quite limited. In Australia all additives are tested to ensure they are safe for use before they can be used in food. Even then, they can only be added in small amounts. In Australia and New Zealand food additives are regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)

  • There are two types of iron in the foods we eat; haem iron, which is found in animal foods, and non-haem iron, which is found in plants. The body absorbs haem iron better than non-haem. While spinach does contain some iron, (½ cup of boiled spinach provides 2.2mg of iron, whereas 1 cup of hamburger mince provides 4.8mg), it also contains a substance that binds to iron; meaning it’s not taken up by the body as well as the iron in red meat and other animal foods. It’s important to include a variety of both plant and animal foods to get the iron you need. Vitamin C can also help the body absorb more non-haem iron from foods.

  • Green leafy vegetables absorb minerals from the soil, so they can contain small amounts of calcium, although this is much less than dairy products. For example 1 cup of spinach provides 30mg of calcium, where 1 glass of milk provides 300mg of calcium. You can see you would have to eat huge amounts of green leafy vegetables to get your daily calcium needs of 1000mg. So, while green leafy vegetables are important for folate, fibre and antioxidants, make sure you eat other foods for calcium. Foods like reduced-fat dairy, canned salmon with the bones and calcium-fortified soy milk contain calcium.

  • For years people have thought that eggs are bad because they contain cholesterol. Even though the cholesterol found in foods can contribute to blood cholesterol levels, it’s actually the saturated fat in food that has a bigger impact.

    Eggs can be included in your diet and provide high quality protein and many vitamins and minerals. The Heart Foundation recommends that people concerned about their heart health speak to their doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian about the number of eggs to include in their diet.

  • It may seem logical that skipping a meal will help you lose weight because you eat less, but it’s not that simple. Missing out on meals can actually have the opposite effect. Your body goes into ‘survival mode’, slowing down your metabolism and conserving energy rather than using it up.

    Skipping meals can also make you hungrier, and more likely to snack on high fat or sugar foods. A better way to reach and maintain a healthy weight is eat small meals regularly throughout the day and find ways to be more active.

  • Not so. The amount nutrients you get from vegetables can differ for a number of reasons, such as how long you store them and how (or if) you cook them. Although cooking vegetables can lose nutrients, cooking can sometimes increase the amount of nutrients available to the body. An example of this is the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes. Cooking tomatoes releases more lycopene than is available in raw tomatoes.

    Loss of nutrients can occur in cooking because some vitamins, like Vitamins B and C dissolve in water. Some can be lost if the vegetables are boiled for too long. Steaming or stir-frying helps retain the vitamins when you cook vegetables. The fact of the matter is vegetables are powerhouses of nutrition, no matter which way you eat them. Whether raw or cooked, five serves of vegetables a day are recommended for good nutrition.

  • Carrots contain beta-carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A to use for vision, bone growth and maintenance of healthy skin. The truth is, while eating lots of carrots could make you turn orange from the excess beta-carotene, lots of carrots won’t improve your eyesight. One effect of Vitamin A deficiency is night blindness, which perhaps is where the myth originated. While carrots can help prevent Vitamin A deficiency, eating lots won’t help you to see better. In Australia Vitamin A is found in lots of foods, so deficiency is rare.

    Even though they won’t give you x-ray vision, don’t leave the carrots off your plate – they are a nutritious, tasty and affordable vegetable.

  • Starchy foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes are carbohydrate foods. Like all carbohydrate foods, starchy foods break down to give your body glucose for energy. Carbohydrates are great sources of energy; in fact it is recommended that around 45-60% of our energy should from carbs. As with all types of energy, if you eat more than your body needs, the energy from carbs will get stored, which can increase your weight. Watch your portion sizes and choose wholegrain and low GI varieties.

  • If you succumb to the midnight munchies, it will go straight to your hips, right? Not necessarily. You put on weight when you eat more food than your body needs, and don’t do enough activity to burn it off. While some people may snack more when they stay up late, it’s the amount and type of snacks that determine if the kilos will pile on, or not.

    Choose snacks from the core food groups like dairy, fruit or grains if you’re feeling hungry after dinner. Otherwise, to combat late night snacking or over eating at night, try to eat six regular meals throughout the day.

  • Did your mum always tell you to slow down on the milk when you have a cold as it clogs up your nose and throat with mucus? The truth is that this common food myth is false! Milk does not cause mucus production. Due to the creamy texture of milk, some people feel that there is a temporary coating over the mouth and throat after drinking milk. This is not mucus – it’s just the natural sensation of drinking milk and only lasts for a short period of time.

    * information sourced from Dairy Australia

  • If only it were that easy! Although vitamin and mineral supplements can be useful for some people as a “top up” when the diet is inadequate, or for increased requirements (such as pregnancy), they still don’t give you all the nutrients you need. Supplements cannot give you adequate amounts of macronutrients - carbohydrate, fat, protein and dietary fibre to meet your needs. That’s why a balanced diet full of a variety of nutritious foods from the core food groups is the best way to get all of the vitamins, minerals and macronutrients that you need each day.