We have all received well-meaning diet advice for how to pursue a balanced, healthy lifestyle. But it could be difficult to tease the myths from the facts when it comes to our body.
Dietitian with the Health Promotion Board (HPB) Xinyi Li debunks some common diet myths and explains why they will not work, while recommending what will:
MYTH 1: YOU WILL GAIN WEIGHT IF YOU EAT LATE AT NIGHT
Why not: Your body does not process food differently at different times of the day, so it does not matter when you eat. What does matter, however, are the total calories you take in versus the ones that you burn off. The recommended average daily caloric intake is 2200 Calories for men, and 1800 Calories for women. Excess consumption of calories, regardless when it is consumed, leads to weight gain, increases risk of obesity and related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
What to do: If you are prone to binge eating at night, or mindlessly snacking in front of the TV, do try healthier options such as fresh fruit, wholegrain crackers, unsalted or lightly salted nuts or popcorn, low-fat yoghurt or milk.
MYTH 2: LOW OR NO-CARB DIETS ARE GOOD FOR YOU
Why not: There is no scientific evidence supporting totally cutting out carbohydrates from your diet. Our brain and muscles need carbohydrates as a source of energy. Carbohydrates are found in staples such as bread, rice, and noodles, as well as fruit, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn kernel, beans and lentils, and dairy such as milk and yoghurt.
What to do: If you take good quality carbohydrates in the right amounts, there is no need to worry about weight gain. These include wholegrain varieties of bread, noodles and rice, oats, and quinoa. They are high in fibre, keeping us feeling full and satisfied between meals, and generally have a lower glycaemic index, or GI. This means it breaks down slowly in the blood, which causes a lower and slower rise in blood sugar.
MYTH 3: EATING FATS WILL MAKE YOU FAT
Why not: Fat is often vilified in diets but it is needed as a source of energy, a protective cushion for organs, and transport system for fat-soluble vitamins. What is important is moderation. The problem is, we often eat more fat than we should. It is recommended that total fat contributes 25-30% of total energy intake. The National Nutrition Survey 2010 showed that 6 in 10 Singaporeans exceeded the daily recommendations for total fat.
What to do: Fat should take up no more than a third of the recommended daily calorie intake, and should mostly be ‘healthy’ fat.
· Unsaturated or ‘healthy’ fats protect our heart health by decreasing the LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood, and is also good for our eyes, brain, and skin. They should be taken in small amounts each day. Sources include oily fish such as sardines, tuna or salmon; nuts and seeds; avocado; or plant oils such as canola, sunflower, olive, and soybean.
· Saturated fats, found mainly in animal meats and full fat dairy products, raise total and LDL cholesterol levels and clog arteries. To reduce intake, choose lean meats, remove visible fat, and use mainly reduced-fat dairy.
· Trans fat should be totally avoided. It is formed when vegetable oils undergo hydrogenation, an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil so it becomes solid at room temperature, making fat more stable and less likely to spoil. It not only raises total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, but also lowers HDL (good) cholesterol. It is found in processed foods such as commercially deep fried foods, biscuits, and pastries.
MYTH 4: HONEY IS BETTER THAN WHITE SUGAR
Why not: A calorie is a unit of measurement for the energy value of food. Though honey can contain other minerals and benefits, it is still sugar and contains similar calories as sugar.
What to do: While some foods contain calories and other essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, calories from sugar are termed empty calories, that is, these foods add calories but little or no nutrients. Excess consumption of calories can lead to weight gain which increases risk of obesity and related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
MYTH 5: DRINKING WATER WITH AN EMPTY STOMACH WILL HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT
Why not: Studies have shown that drinking water before a meal has little effect on satiety and does not impact calories consumed during meal times.
What to do: Replace the sugar-sweetened beverages you consume with water to reduce caloric intake. This aids in weight loss. HPB’s recommendations for meeting daily fluid requirements are the equivalent of six to eight glasses of water or unsweetened non-caloric beverage daily for adults and children, and the equivalent of eight to 10 glasses a day for adolescents.
MYTH 6: VEGETABLES SHOULD BE EATEN RAW FOR MAXIMUM BENEFITS
Why not: Consuming raw and cooked vegetables is both beneficial for health. Research has shown that cooking has no or little effect on the nutrition of vegetables. For some vegetables, cooking may bring out their flavours and aromas. Cooking the vegetables also assist with digestion, making the nutrients more readily absorbed.
What to do: When boiling soups or stews, water-soluble vitamins from vegetables would leach into the broth, so drink the soup to benefit from the nutrients. When consuming salads, remember to pick a healthier salad dressing like a low fat or non-creamy dressing over creamy dressings. The latter generally pack more calories and sodium than non-creamy ones.
Nutrition experts recommend that you select different colours of fruit and vegetables: red, green, yellow, orange, white or purple for maximum health benefits.
MYTH 7: AN APPLE A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY
Why not: HPB recommends having two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables a day. In this case, two servings would mean two apples. There is also strong evidence showing that those who eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of many diseases, including heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
What to do: When shopping, buy enough fruit to provide for two servings each day for everyone in your family. An example of one serving of fruit is one small apple, orange, pear or mango, or one medium banana. To increase daily consumption of fruit, replace your unhealthy midday snack with fruit, or wrap up meals with fruit instead of sweet desserts.
When grocery shopping or dining out, choose healthier options as identified by the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS). These options contain more wholegrains, less unhealthy fats, salt and sugar, use healthier oil, or are lower in calories.