More Australians, and most of the Western world, are more obese than ever before in history. Around 70 percent of men and 55 percent of women are considered clinically obese, and up to 25 percent of children are overweight or obese. Obesity carries many health risks, so not surprisingly many weight-related illnesses are also on the rise, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and cancer.
Few of us like being overweight, and many turn to the latest in-the-news diet to try to turn their body image around. Unfortunately, most such diets are spurious at best, dangerous at worst. Some may lead to short-term weight loss, but in almost all cases any weight lost is soon returned.
Despite the promises of late night TV and many celebrity magazines, there is simply no magic weight loss potion. There are no magical foods that ‘melt away’ excess body fat. There is no ‘good’ time to eat certain foods or ‘bad’ time to eat others. Food ‘combinations’ do nothing for weight control.
Here are some other popular food myths in need of exposing.
Potatoes make you fat: False
This is linked to the notion that high-carbohydrate foods produce weight gain, and thus foods such as rice, pasta and potatoes should be avoided. Not surprisingly, this myth rose to prominence in the wake of a flood of diet books promoting low-carbohydrate based diets. But eating a potato, or any carb-rich food, will not in itself make you fat.
We now know that carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source, and that, by weight, carbs contain about half the energy compared to fats. So, despite the myth, carbs can actually be a good dietary choice.
The reality is that most of us smother the humble potato with yummy additions like butter or sour cream, both of which are very high in fats. That’s where the weight-gain kicks in. It has very little to do with the potato itself, and more to do with what we put on top.
Carbohydrates should not be eaten with protein: False
This dietary myth has been doing the health-huckster rounds for more than 50 years. There doesn’t seem to be any clinical evidence that supports its claims. The idea that the digestive system cannot handle certain types of foods when eaten in combination is, with a very few exceptions, nonsense. In fact, the reverse is often true. For example, vitamin C increases the absorption of plant-based iron from beans, lentils and legumes. Very few foods are purely carbohydrate or purely protein; our diet as a mix of carbs and protein has been that way for many thousands of years.
Certain foods can burn fat: False
Imagine that: the more you eat, the more fat you burn! Shame that it’s not true. Grapefruit, green tea and chilli are among the foods that are said to speed up the metabolism and burn off body fat. Sounds good, but there is no scientific evidence that supports these claims. The closest reality to this myth that science has found is dietary fibre that can make you feel fuller with fewer kilojoules. Not as sexy as chills and green tea, and it doesn’t promise to actually ‘burn’ fat, but Hey, it’s the best we’ve got.
Always choose the low fat alternative: False
Food producers have fallen over themselves in recent years to produce low-fat alternatives to many regular food items, which to the diet conscious can at first glance look like a weight-withering garden of Eden. Unfortunately, fat adds flavour: take out the fat and flavour has to come from somewhere. In many cases, reduced-fat versions are dangerously high in sugar, salt and other additives to try to return some flavour to reduced-fat foods. While we should always consider reduced- or low-fat alternatives, we should be mindful of what has been added in its place.
Eating eggs increases cholesterol: False (ish)
Eggs spent a decade or more in the dietary sin bin when it was discovered that egg yolks contain a significant amount of cholesterol. Nowadays we know that the impact of eggs on blood cholesterol in a normal diet is insignificant. Further, the good stuff in eggs — protein, omega-3 oils, vitamins and minerals — far outweigh any effect their cholesterol might have. The Heart Foundation advises that eating four or five eggs a week in unlikely to be harmful.
Brown sugar is ‘better’ than white sugar: False
No. It’s not.