New dietary advice comes out weekly. One study reports this, one celebrity promotes that and another current affairs program is reporting something else. It all gets quite confusing. And unfortunately in the middle of all this chaos, disorder and trying to keep up with the latest dietary ‘advice’ the healthy eating message gets thrown out of the window and we only hear half the story. All of a sudden the message to ‘reduce your intake of added sugars’ turns into ‘cut out all sugar from the diet’, then ‘don’t eat any food that contains sugar’… ‘don’t eat fruit’…‘fruit is bad’. It’s like a bad case of Chinese whispers. So let’s take a look at some of the popular healthy eating messages that have been misinterpreted along the line.
How it has been interpreted: Choose low fat foods and low fat products such as ‘low fat’ muffins, cakes, bars, cereals and dairy. Avoid high fat foods including fast foods, deep fried foods, cakes, biscuits, nuts, avocado, full cream dairy. The lower the fat the better and healthier it is. Eating fat makes you fat and unhealthy.
How we should interpret it: Reduce foods that are high in fat and calories and contain little nutritional value such as fast foods, deep fried foods, chips, cookies, cake and fatty and processed meats. It does not mean that products labeled as ‘low fat’ are healthy. Low fat cookies, cakes, muffins and bars are usually highly processed, contain high amounts of sugar and are high in calories. Eating fat does not make you fat. If you are eating more calories than your body needs regardless of where they come from you will gain weight. Foods that contain high amounts of fat, that are highly nutritious such as nuts, avocado and dairy products can and should be part of a healthy diet. The message to ‘reduce fat’ should also encourage people to increase intake of naturally low fat, highly nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables.
How it has been interpreted: Sugar is the cause of all health problems. Cut out all foods that contain sugar such as soft drink, lollies, chocolate, sweet biscuits, cakes and slices, fruit and milk. Foods that contain no sugar are healthy choices.
How we should interpret it: Limit the amount of added sugars in the diet. Reduce the amount of foods that contain a high amount of added sugar with little nutritional value such as soft drink, lollies, sweet biscuits, cakes and slices, sugary drinks and fruit juice (fruit is great but should be eaten, not drunk). Dairy products and whole fruits are highly nutritious foods that contain naturally occurring sugars. These products are very healthy and should be included as part of a healthy balanced diet.
Subsisting sugar in a cake or slice for coconut oil, rice syrup, cacao or other sugar alternatives does not mean it is ‘healthy’. Sugar free raw chocolate cheesecake, black berry pudding or nut crumble slice are not healthier alternatives to normal versions that contain sugar. Small amounts of sugar can be included in a healthy balanced diet.
How it has been interpreted: Cut out carbs from the diet including breads, pasta, rice, potato, grains, fruit, biscuits, cakes, wheat and wheat products. Carbs cause weight gain, bloating and spikes in sugar levels. Carbs are ‘bad’ and ‘unhealthy’. Choosing a low carb product would be a healthier choice and better for weight loss.
How we should interpret it: Reduce the amount of highly processed carbs in the diet such as processed bars, white bread, cakes and biscuits. Choose wholegrain unprocessed carbs instead such as quinoa, brown rice, basmati rice, cous cous, barley, freekeh, noodles, beans, lentils and brown pasta. Wholegrain, unprocessed carbs are usually very high in fibre and are often very filling which is great for weight loss. As I mentioned in my previous post: If you’re cutting out carbs you won’t be eating sugar or cakes or biscuits but you won’t be eating beans or lentils or wholegrains either, however you are allowed to eat bacon, salami and deep fried chicken….that doesn’t really make sense to me?
How it has been interpreted: Gluten is bad.Gluten free foods are healthier choices. Gluten causes weight gain, bloating and cannot be digested by the body.
How we should interpret it: There is only one way this should be interpreted. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten, people with gluten intolerance should avoid gluten. For everyone else there is absolutely no reason to avoid gluten. Gluten is only a problem for people with coealiac disease. When people with coealiac disease eat gluten it damages the lining of their small intestine. Coeliac disease is an auto immune disease with no cure, the only way to prevent symptoms is by eating a gluten free diet. Therefore there is no benefit of following a gluten free diet unless you have celiac disease. People with nut allergies must avoid nuts, there is no reason to avoid nuts if you don’t have a nut allergy. It’s the same kind of thing. Choosing the ‘gluten free’ salad or option at a restaurant is not a healthier choice. Gluten free bars and products at the supermarket are not healthier choices. They are often highly processed and contain added sugar.
People like to hear about extremes. ‘I cut carbs’, ‘I quit sugar’, and ‘I don’t eat gluten’ grabs more attention than ‘follow a healthy, well balanced diet’. As I have mentioned in many of my previous posts (and I will continue to do so) there is no need to go on fad diets, to cut out whole food groups or to banish any kind of food or nutrient if you want a healthy diet. Focusing more on a well balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and un processed foods rather than ‘quitting sugar’, ‘cutting carbs’ or ‘avoiding fat’ will lead to a much healthier diet. If the majority of your diet is full of fruit and vegetables and minimally processed foods, then there is no problem if you occasionally eat a small amount of sugar, cake, chocolate, slice, chips, wine etc. Having a balance diet is key to long term, sustainable, healthy eating.
Jo @ The Balanced Lunch Box says:
Congratulations Alex, well said. I love to read your blog its always got a good nutrition message that breaks through the not so good ones out there. Thanks for a great post.
Thanks so much Jo I really appreciate the feedback! I love your website too! Really fantastic, easy to understand and practical information. I think so many people feel they need to follow the latest fad diet or nutrition craze that they forget about the basics of healthy, balanced eating in line with eating guidlines.