As long as there has been food, there have been food myths. We heard them as children, and even years later, we still believe many of them. Logical or not, much of what we grew up learning about food is simply false. As part of our report on the link between prevention and good nutrition, Better Health explores some common misconceptions about food, and separates fact from fiction.
Fiction: Low-fat foods are low in calories.
Fact: It’s one of the most common food misconceptions, but the truth is and always has been, low-fat does not equal low-calorie.
The total calories in a food item depends on the calories in each of the food’s ingredients. Fat contains calories, but so do carbohydrates and proteins. Though a product label says ‘low-fat,’ the total calorie count may be similar or even higher than the regular ‘full-fat’ version. In the process of making foods lower in fat, it’s common for producers to increase other ingredients like sugar and flour to improve food taste. The added ingredients may contain little or no fat, but they still have calories.
So the next time you’re out food shopping, take a closer look before stocking up on everything ‘low-fat.’ Read food labels carefully, and be sure to check the serving size and total calories along with fat content.
Fiction: Eating too many sweet foods can cause diabetes
Fact: Eating foods that taste sweet or contain a lot of sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. Diabetes describes the liver’s inability to produce enough insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. Genetics and unhealthy lifestyles are the key risk factors for diabetes.
Being overweight or obese is the most significant ‘lifestyle’ risk factor for diabetes, so eating too much food (sweet and otherwise) clearly raises a person’s diabetes risk.
For those who have diabetes, good nutrition habits are vital to staying healthy. Of course it’s important to limit consumption of sugary foods, but it’s equally important to monitor consumption of other food types such as carbohydrates and proteins under the advice of a doctor. Our bodies convert carbohydrates and proteins into glucose; for diabetics, this can lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels. A combination of a healthy diet, good exercise habits, and close medical supervision is helping many diabetics lead healthy, active lives.
Fact: Though butter and margarine are similar in calorie content, margarine is considered more ‘heart-healthy.’ Butter is very high in cholesterol and saturated fat, a key factor in raising blood cholesterol levels. Margarine is made from polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat, both of which help reduce the amount of cholesterol in blood vessels.
But not all margarines are created equal. Some contain high levels of trans-saturated fats (so-called ‘trans-fats,’ unhealthy fats made more saturated by adding hydrogen atoms to unsaturated fats), which can reduce the level of ‘good’ fats in the body. Hard margarines are most likely to have high trans-fat levels; soft or liquid margarine is better for your health. When in doubt, check the label before you buy!
Fiction: Fruit juice is just as nutritious as whole fruit
Fact: Fruit juice is high in vitamins and is usually a healthier choice than coffee, carbonated colas and processed sugar-filled drinks.
But fruit juice even with “no added sugar” contains a lot of natural sugar (fructose). Fresh fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, which keeps digestion healthy and controls cholesterol and blood sugar levels. When fruit is made into juice, most of that fiber is lost during the squeezing and squashing process. A healthy diet should include five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. To help limit sugar intake, nutritionists recommend limiting fruit juice consumption to one 250 ml serving per day.
The bottom line:
There are plenty more misconceptions about food and health. The best way to know what’s fact and what’s fiction is to ask your doctor, especially before changing your diet or starting a new health or exercise routine.