Myths about food, health and nutrition dominate some people's eating habits. And many of them make diets restrictive and take the enjoyment out of eating.
At the Sanitarium Lifestyle Medicine Service we believe that food enjoyment plays a big part in healthy eating and happy living, so in this feature we dispel ten of the most common food and nutrition myths we are asked about.
However, we know there are many more, so please remember that we have a team of nutritionists and dietitians happy to answer any questions you may have on nutrition or health. We'd love to hear from you!
Myth: Canola oil is unfit for human consumption
Fact: Canola oil has been mistakenly labelled as causing diseases such as emphysema, respiratory distress, anaemia, constipation, irritability, and blindness in animals and humans. The reason for this is that it is often mistaken for rapeseed oil, which contains high levels of eurcic acid, is grown in some countries for its industrial uses and is not safe for human consumption. While canola has been developed from rapeseed, its eurcic acid content has been reduced to trace levels.
After extensive animal and human testing, nutrition scientists have concluded that canola oil is safe to use and will not cause these or other diseases or ailments. Canola oil is recognised to offer health benefits - particularly relating to heart disease - and is recommended by the National Heart Foundation as a healthy oil to use in cooking.
Myth: Carob is healthier than chocolate
Fact: Carob is often used as a chocolate substitute and many people feel less guilty if they snack on carob rather than chocolate, believing carob to be a healthier alternative. While pure carob does contain more dietary fibre and less caffeine than cocoa, carob as we generally buy it - in bars and other carob confectionery - usually come laden with added sugar and fat, similar to chocolate. So, unless you are eating pure carob, there are not a lot of health advantages to choosing carob over chocolate.
Myth: Milk increases mucus production
Fact: While some people believe that milk and other dairy products increase mucus production and so tend to avoid these foods, particularly when they have a cold or flu, research has not been able to confirm this belief. What we do know is that if you believe milk increases mucus production, you may be more likely to report changes to mucus secretions after drinking milk. Increased mucus formation has been found in healthy adults after consumption of both cow's milk and a non-milk beverage with properties similar to milk. So, this is definitely an area where more research is needed.
Myth: Mushrooms are a good source of vitamin B12
Fact: While some people believe that mushrooms are a good source of vitamin B12, the fact is that plant foods, including mushrooms, do not naturally contain significant amounts of vitamin B12. The vitamin B12 that most people consume comes from foods of animal origin. It is made by micro-organisms and is incorporated into the flesh of animals and their products such as meat, dairy products, seafood and eggs. Therefore, vegetarians, and in particular vegans, should make sure they include foods fortified with vitamin B12 (such as Sanitarium So Good Soymilk or use a B12 supplement).
Myth: Taking a Vitamin C supplement will prevent the common cold
Fact: This is a popular myth but research tells us vitamin C supplementation to prevent a cold is not necessary for most people. While a minor group of people - such as those under heavy physical stress or exposed to very cold environments - may benefit from taking extra vitamin C, regular supplementation has no effect on the incidence of developing a common cold in the general population. However, some studies have suggested that there might be a small benefit in reducing the duration and severity of colds by taking a vitamin C supplement but more research is needed before we can be confident of this fact.
Myth: Skipping breakfast helps you lose weight
Fact: While it may seem logical that skipping a meal and therefore eating less food, will help with weight management, this is not so where breakfast is concerned. Research has shown that people who skip breakfast tend to have higher body weights than those who regularly eat breakfast. This may be because breakfast skippers are less efficient at burning up the energy from the food they eat during the day and they are actually more likely to snack and overeat later in the day, usually on foods that are less nutritious and have far more kilojoules than a simple bowl of cereal.
Myth: You need to eat meat to get enough protein
Fact: Eating a variety of protein-rich plant foods each day will give your body all the protein it needs for good health. Nuts, seeds, legumes and grains are all good sources of protein - and the key is to simply eat a variety of these foods every day to make sure you get the best balance of essential amino acids. Soy protein is a particularly high quality plant protein, that provides all of the essential amino acids we need in the one food. And compared to meat, plant protein foods offer the additional benefits of thousands of phytochemicals that protect against disease.
Myth: All fats are bad for you
Fact: Healthy fats are essential for good health and have been shown to protect us from a range of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, avocados, canola and canola oils. They also include omega-3 fatty acids found in linseeds, soybeans, dark green vegetables and oily fish. Healthy fats have been shown to help decrease total cholesterol levels, while omega-3 fats in particular have been shown to have many other health properties, including reducing blood pressure and assisting with inflammatory bowel disease.
Myth: Avoiding carbs after 5pm will help you lose weight
Fact: There is nothing magical about not eating carbs after 5pm - this is an arbitrary cut-off point. A search of the National Library of Medicine Medline database of more than 4800 scientific journals failed to find a single study that lends support to the theory that carbs need to be cut after 5pm in order to lose weight. There are also no health authorities that endorse this type of approach.
Does a carb curfew work for weight loss? For those who tend to eat large meals at night, this is an easy calorie cutting strategy, without having to count calories. The strategy works, simply because it helps you eat less. However, if you are trying to lose weight, you could also cut down on the overall amount of food you usually eat at your evening meal (including meat, cheese, creamy sauces, desserts) rather than just focusing on the carbs. Increasing the amount of vegetables on your plate in relation to all other foods can also help.
People who should definitely not practice a carb curfew include diabetics who are taking insulin or other blood glucose lowering medication. Such people could develop a hypo - where their blood sugar level drops too low - resulting in a coma, if not treated.
Myth: Fresh vegetables are more nutritious than frozen
Fact: This all depends on the quality of the fresh vegetables. Frozen vegetables are usually picked in their prime and snap-frozen very soon after harvesting, resulting in high retention of nutrients. Therefore they could potentially be more nutritious than fresh vegetables that have been transported long distances after harvesting and often sit for several days on a shelf or in the fridge before being eaten.
In fact, research has consistently found fresh and frozen vegetables to have a similar nutritional value with frozen vegetables often having higher nutrient values. So, frozen vegetables can be an important part of a nutritious diet, and as many people struggle to eat enough vegetables each day, they can be very handy to have in your freezer. That said, growing your own vegetables in nutrient-rich soil and eating them shortly after picking however, may offer more health advantages.