Nutrition Myth Busting
By Clinical Nutritionist and Founder of Optima Health, Alex Handreck.
If you’re anything like me, I am hungry for knowledge when it comes to nutrition. I love to learn and I especially love that nutrition is an ever-changing field. At the present moment, society has a love affair with nutrition. We all want to have the latest and the greatest health gadget, we all want to try the latest and the greatest diet fad, we all want to taste the latest and the greatest superfood…I mean it is never-ending! Soon enough, we’re left with a million unanswered questions and a whole lot of conflicting information on GOOGLE. What do we believe? What do we buy? What do we use? How much do we use? Shall I go for this magnesium or that magnesium? Wait, I just read eggs were bad for me…? Ahhhh….totally overwhelming, right?!
Well today, we’ll set some things straight. I have gone back to the basics and have done some myth busting for you.
To cut to the chase…Nutrition is dependent on CONTEXT – who you’re talking about, what health state they are in, what they eat on a regular basis vs what they don’t eat on a regular basis, their age, gender, degree of activity and so much more. For something that may seem black and white, nutrition certainly isn’t! There are so many determining factors that change between person to person. What may work for one person, may not work for your best friend or the person sitting opposite you on the train. Nutrition is highly individualistic.
Myth 1: Go gluten-free, its healthier!
To sum this up with one word, the answer would be NO, it’s not ‘healthier’. As a healthcare practitioner, I would only recommend you eat this way if you have a legitimate reason to avoid gluten, such as coeliac disease. Gluten is a protein composite that acts like the ‘glue’ in many carbohydrate-based foods. It is what keeps the food as ‘one’. Hence, you see many gluten-free products that are crumbly in nature. Furthermore, a gluten-free diet can lack in certain minerals and nutrients, if not supplemented correctly. Many of the commercial gluten-free products available in our supermarkets are not healthy and are lacking in protein and other nutrients. Breads, cookies, cakes, muesli bars…anything of this nature are often found to be made of poor quality gluten-free flours that offer little to no nutritional benefit and are often laden with salt and sugar to add to the palatability of the product. If you are gluten-free, I would recommend sticking to wholefood gluten-free products that have been through limited processing such as quinoa, buckwheat, teff, millet, brown rice and amaranth which all offer good amounts of protein and nutrients.
Myth 2: Will eating fat cause me to put on weight?
The concept of ‘if you eat fat, you’ll get fat’ has been around since the 70s and it could not be further from the truth! Friends, it is time to change our thought patterns. We all need certain amounts of fat in our diets. So the important thing is to not cut fat out entirely, rather ensure fat comes from the right source. Unsaturated fats are the ones our bodies love and need with avocados, fatty fish, olive oil, nuts/seeds, olives being all good choices. Studies have shown that when people actively reduce their fat intake, they tend to overindulged on sugar and carbohydrates. It is important to remember that a serving of a low-fat or fat free product can contain the same amount of calories as the full fat version. So if you do decide to choose skim or hilo milk, low-fat yoghurt etc. read your labels to ensure these products are free from added sugars, flours, excess salt and starch. These extras make the product more palatable but add empty calories to our daily intake.
Myth 3: Snacking is bad.
Snacking as a concept isn’t bad, rather it depends what you are snacking ‘on’. If you get to 3pm in the afternoon and are munching on a cupcake, then you are not reaping the benefits. For some people eating little and often is better than 3 meals a day. Again, it’s individualistic. I often recommend a protein rich and nutrient dense snack if you experience energy slump at some point during the day. It is best to choose wisely when it comes to snacking. Good options include a ¼ cup nuts/seeds with a piece of fruit, raw veggies and dip, a boiled egg, homemade healthy trail mix etc.
Myth 4: I need to drink a protein shake after I exercise.
While you need protein after exercising, this DOES NOT need to come from a protein shake. Protein plays an important role in the growth and repair of our muscles and the timing of protein intake (within the hour) is imperative after exercise. It is important to remember, that our bodies can only metabolise a certain amount of protein at a time, so overloading on protein shakes equates to very expensive pee. Consuming adequate protein is important for muscle growth, but wont guarantee muscle GAINS. To build muscle, the body needs to be in energy surplus (i.e. you’re consuming more energy than you are expending). Having adequate protein is one thing, but without consuming enough ‘energy’ your body will rely on its fat and muscle stores for stamina, preventing any muscle growth. While most of us meet our protein requirements through wholefoods without the need for supplementation. Simply, plan your post exercise snack or meal to contain some protein and you’re well on the way to supporting muscle repair and growth.
Myth 5: Sugar = increase in body fat.
You’re at your friends birthday dinner, you eat are offered a slice of cake and deliberate over whether or not you’re going to eat it or not. You decide you will and then from the first bite all you can think of is sugar = body fat. This is not entirely the case! When we consume a carbohydrate-based food or one high in sugar, our body can work quite efficiently to break it down into glucose, the smallest usable molecule. This glucose gets transported around the body, with some of it getting used as energy there and then and some of it getting stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for later use. When we experience a drop in blood glucose levels, the body releases this glycogen to bring us back into balance. Essentially, the more muscle one has, the more glycogen you are able store. So the long and the short of it, one piece of cake at your friends birthday dinner is not going to result in an increase of body fat. However, if this become a daily pattern, one where we regularly consume more carbohydrate and sugar than we can store, the body will then convert this excess to fat. Again, health is individualistic and everybody’s needs and levels of intake are different.
Alexandra Handreck is a degree qualified Clinical Nutritionist helping people realise that by making small changes the bigger goal of optimal health and vitality can be reached. Alex has founded Optima Health, a service-oriented business that provides individualised nutritional consultations to the general public. Optima Health embraces a holistic approach and ultimately aims to educate clients in achieving their optimal health and vitality through the creation of healthy and happy relationships with food and a balanced lifestyle.
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