There's lots of conflicting information out there about how to stay healthy. From carbs to veganism, we take a look at the top healthy living myths you need to know about.November 20, 2020 11:28 am
How to stay well
Your health and wellbeing is nobody’s business but your own, right?
That might have been true once, but health and wellbeing is big business these days. And where there’s profit to be made, lots of people can benefit by persuading you that certain products or lifestyle choices can keep you healthy.
If you’d like an example, you need only to think of the enormous boom in protein-based products over the last couple of years. Once the mainstay of the exclusive world of bodybuilding, now protein powders, snack bars and energy bites are ubiquitous.
It’s not that we need more protein, or that we have suddenly become aware of its role in our bodies.
Rather, the reason for the sudden explosion in protein products can be traced back to combination of marketing and social media. In the late 2000s, protein companies began advertising to a broader audience, beyond their loyal segment of bodybuilders.(1) Around the same time, social media took off, and we had an extra reason to gain lean muscle – to look good on our grids.
Luckily, protein in itself can be a very healthy addition to your diet, and plays a key role in building muscle mass. But there are also lots of products available, and not all of them are focused on health. Many contain lots of sugar, fat and artificial sweeteners alongside their protein content.
So, as you can see, we have good reason to be sceptical about health claims.
With that in mind, we’ve taken the five most common claims we’ve heard to see if there’s any truth to them.
“Carbohydrates make you fat”: False
Perhaps one of the most widespread health myths, the idea that ‘carbs are the devil’ came about with the advent of fad diets such as the Atkins diet. The theory was that, by stripping away your source of carbohydrates, the body would rely on its fat stores for energy and you would lose weight.
However, many people who follow the diet don’t find it effective, or immediately put the weight back on once they come off the diet.
The reason? Carbohydrates are a key building block of our diet. Everything from baked beans to baked cakes provide a source of carbohydrate. Plant foods are predominantly carbohydrates.
By this logic, if “all carbs are bad”, then so are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Yet we know that these foods are some of the healthiest and most beneficial for our health. Cutting them out of our diets would be a major mistake.
The real question is how many calories you’re taking in.
If you are in a calorie surplus, meaning you are consuming more calories per day than you burn off, you will gain weight. Likewise, if you’re burning more calories than you eat, you’ll lose weight.
Carbs are not evil
Carbohydrates often come under fire as they provide a lot of calories. However, not all carbs are created equal.
Sugary, processed foods are high in simple carbohydrates like sugar. Your body can easily absorb them and gets a sudden ‘sugar rush’ when you eat them, which can cause problems with glucose regulation in your blood. They’re also typically low in healthy nutrients such as fibre. This combination makes them unsatisfying to eat, and you quickly crave more.
On the other hand, vegetables and whole grains contain carbohydrates, but they’re more complex structures which take a while for your body to break down. Because of this, you don’t experience a sugar spike. These foods provide a steady stream of energy which keeps you going throughout the day, and reduces any sugar cravings. So, choosing the right carbs can help you maintain a healthy weight, and won’t cause you to get fat.
“Microwaving foods makes them less nutritious”: False
Microwaves are both convenient and quick, but they’ve developed a bad reputation over the years when it come to nutrition. So much so, that microwaving food is sometimes referred to as ‘nuking’ it!
This term probably comes from the fact that microwaves cook food using microwave radiation. The tiny waves of energy transmitted by your microwave cause the water molecules in your food to spin incredibly rapidly, creating heat which cooks the food.(2)
While all forms of cooking slightly reduce the nutritional value of food, your microwave does not cause any extra damage or degradation. It’s simply another way of cooking. And, according to Harvard University, it’s quite a good one:
“ The cooking method that best retains nutrients is one that cooks quickly, heats food for the shortest amount of time, and uses as little liquid as possible. Microwaving meets those criteria. Using the microwave with a small amount of water essentially steams food from the inside out. That keeps in more vitamins and minerals than almost any other cooking method and shows microwave food can indeed be healthy. But let’s not get too lost in the details. Vegetables, pretty much any way you prepare them, are good for you, and most of us don’t eat enough of them. And is the microwave oven good or bad? The microwave is a marvel of engineering, a miracle of convenience — and sometimes nutritionally advantageous to boot.”(3)
"Using the microwave with a small amount of water essentially steams food from the inside out. That keeps in more vitamins and minerals than almost any other cooking method and shows microwave food can indeed be healthy."
“It’s hard to get enough protein on a plant-based diet”: False
When you were at school, you were probably shown an ideal plate which contained lots of vegetables, carbohydrates, and meat as a source of protein. Lots of us still think that meat is the best – or indeed, the only – way to get the protein you need in your diet.
However, this is definitely a myth.
Almost all foods, apart from alcohol and sugar, contain some protein. It’s easy to find it in the plant world as well as from meat products.
A portion of beans has about the same quantity of protein as one ounce of meat. In fact, many green vegetables contain more protein than chicken or beef per gram. The only difference is that we haven’t been taught to associate plant-based foods with protein, whereas we have with meat.
Many vegetarians and vegans get plenty of protein from a fully plant-based diet, and if you’re interested in making the switch, there are lots of resources available to help.
We have our own high-protein recipes to share, too, if you need a little inspiration:
“Vegetarians and vegans are all frail and have no energy”: False
Carl Lewis, Venus Williams, Carmelo Anthony and Mike Tyson are all world-class athletes, and all have performed at the top of their game on animal-free diets.
If the world heavyweight champion and Wimbledon’s singles and doubles champion can train for hours a day on an animal-free diet, then we mere mortals can probably make it through a normal day at the office.
Nutritionist and sports dietitian Tara Gidus, RD finds that “a vegetarian diet fuels performance just as well as a meat-based diet as long as you’re careful to seek out other sources of certain nutrients that are more commonly found in animal products (like protein and vitamin B12)”.(4)
“It’s expensive being vegan isn’t it?”: False
Adopting a vegan diet can be expensive, just as you can follow an expensive diet including meat. It’s all about being informed and making sensible choices.
To an omnivore, ‘vegan food’ is often characterised by expensive meat and dairy substitutes and specialised ingredients which can only be bought at the health food store. However, that’s the equivalent of thinking that every meat eater only eats sirloin steak.
In reality, vegan food can be incredibly cost-effective. convenient and time efficient. Many commonly-used vegan foods, such as lentils, beans and whole grains, can be bought in bulk for very low prices. And, where you choose to treat yourself, you can splash out on some high quality fresh produce and meat substitutes – if you wish.
Vegan foods often provide excellent nutrition, require less preparation and cooking equipment, and can accommodate a strict budget.
The key is simply to know your options.
Navigating the world of health and wellbeing
There is a lot of information out there, so the best advice we can give is to do your research, and avoid anything that looks like a food fad.
The truth is, when it comes to nutrition, one simple rule can help keep things simple.
We leave you in the hands of famous food author, Michael Pollan, who gives the best advice: ‘eat food, not too much, mostly plants’.
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