With so much nutritional information online, how can we separate the facts from the fiction? Jenna Farmer chats to the experts to debunk the myths around healthy eating
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful
The myth: Going gluten-free will improve your gut health
The reality: Unless you have an allergy, or intolerance, a gluten-free diet really is no healthier than one with gluten in it. “For the majority of people, going gluten-free is not going to improve gut health. However for the one per cent of the population who have coeliac disease it is, of course, essential,” explains Dr Sammie Gill, a dietitian who specialises in gut health. If you suspect gluten is a problem for you, ask your GP to test you for coeliac disease, but don’t cut out any food group without medical advice.
But what about those food intolerance tests we see on social media? Registered nutritionist Dr Laura Wyness urges her clients to be wary. “Many allergy tests have no scientific basis, and can be harmful when multiple foods are excluded without reason – not to mention a waste of money!” Laura advises any testing should always be done under medical supervision, with the support of a dietitian.
The myth: Carbohydrates cause you to gain weight
The reality: We’ve all heard the mantra ‘no carbs before Marbs’, but is it true that tucking into carbohydrates can cause weight gain? Absolutely not. The NHS advises that there’s very little evidence that ditching carbs can help with weight loss, and that tucking into healthier, whole grain carbohydrates, like brown pasta and rye bread, actually offers a whole host of benefits.
The myth: We all need to up our fibre intake
The reality: There’s no denying that fibre is vital for a healthy gut, but it’s not as simple as reaching for the Bran Flakes. “Different fibres behave in different ways when they reach the gut, so variety through different sources – such as wholegrains, fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and legumes – is key,” advises Dr Sammie Gill. “In some circumstances you can have too much of a good thing. For example, for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain types of fibre can aggravate symptoms, and increasing fibre too quickly may actually worsen symptoms temporarily.” So, if your gut is sensitive, quickly upping your fibre isn’t the answer. It’s worth keeping a food diary, paying attention to the types of fibre you consume, and increasing it gradually to avoid digestive discomfort. Those with medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and diverticulitis, are sometimes advised to follow a low fibre diet to help with symptoms.
The myth: Eat five pieces of fruit and veg a day to stay healthy
The reality: Five-a-day is certainly a good target to aim for, but it’s not quite as simple as that. “Some research suggests seven, or even 10, per day, is actually optimal,” explains nutritionist Anna Mapson. But however much fruit and veg you manage to consume, don’t go reaching for the same produce time and time again. “ Aim for variety to keep your gut microbes happy,” Anna advises. “Smoothies can help with upping your intake, but they also reduce the amount of fibre, so you shouldn’t have more than one a day.”
The myth: It’s difficult to get enough protein on a vegan diet
The reality: This one has an element of truth in it. Make the switch without doing any research and you could find it tricky. However, with a little forward thinking, it’s perfectly possible to tuck into plenty of protein-rich meals on a vegan diet. “Vegan protein intake requires careful planning, but can be achieved,” explains Anna Mapson. “Ensure you’re eating protein at every meal. Plant-rich sources include tofu, beans, pulses and nuts. Most people underestimate how much protein is actually plant-based – one cup of beans is around 8–9g of the 50g of protein you need a day.” Beans on toast for dinner it is then…
The myth: Switch to sugar-free alternatives to help with cravings
The reality: Many sugar-free drinks, and sweet treats, rely on artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. A recent overview of studies found that these sugar substitutes actually offer no health benefits, and are not linked to weight loss.
The myth: You need to splash out on superfoods to be healthy
The reality: Hands up if you’ve ever dashed out to buy the latest superfoods – such as kale and pomegranate – without really understanding the hype. There’s nothing wrong with these products, but you’ll often find the health benefits elsewhere – at a much cheaper price. “‘Superfood’ is a marketing term,” explains Anna. “Generally, superfoods are expensive, but common vegetables like carrots, cabbages or blackberries are packed with just as many nutrients.” Save your cash and spend it on a rainbow of fruit and veg instead.
The myth: Not eating after 7pm helps you to lose weight
The reality: What time you tuck into that cheeseburger and fries really makes no difference to how many calories are in it. You might find it more comfortable to eat a heavier meal at lunchtime – and find this helps with things like bloating and heartburn – but that’s about it!
The myth: Alkaline diets prevent the body from becoming too acidic
The reality: Alkaline diets have been on the scene for years now, but do they actually have any truth in them? Dr Laura Wyness says not. “It stems from the idea our blood PH can change according to our diet – but if food changed our blood PH we’d be in a lot of trouble! Our body constantly regulates the PH of our blood to ensure it stays within a PH range of 7.35 to 7.45 to prevent us from dying. Alkaline foods include lots of fruit and vegetables so, in lots of ways, they can be healthy, but not because of the impact they have on our bodies’ PH levels!”
The myth: Everybody should detox on a regular basis
The reality: It’s often been said that a regular detox – whether through a juice cleanse, fasting, or cutting out food groups from your diet – is necessary for optimal health but the truth is that your body already does this on a daily basis. Our bodies detox in a number of ways – in fact yours is probably doing so right now! Essentially, our bodily systems flush out ‘toxins’ every time you take a deep breath, go to the loo, sweat, or even get your period – so, the good news is that it’s perfectly capable of doing it without our help. While you don’t need to embark on detox cleanses, ditching habits like excessive alcohol consumption and smoking does make it that little bit easier for your body to do its job!