With constant mixed messages about health and nutrition, it is often difficult to tell what information is helpful to our wellbeing and how much of what we are reading are facts or fiction. We have summed up what we think our the most helpful ‘need to know nutrition facts’ that will hopefully give you a better idea of what nutritional information is true or false. These will hopefully help aid good nutrition, answer your questions about weight and blood sugar spikes and make you think twice about the ‘facts’ you have been reading in terms of how to diet. The truth is- there is no ‘diet’ that will fix your problems. All you need to do is stay active, and eat healthy and well balanced meals that are not restrictive or inconsistent. What we mean by this is stop ‘yo-yo’ dieting and confusing your body. Make sure you pay attention to nutrition in terms of the nutrients your body needs everyday. Ignore magazine diets and eat colourful and nutritious foods.
Low-fat foods do not mean healthy foods
People often think ‘low fat diets’ are the way forward and go as far as cutting out fat all together… These are not facts! This is not good from a nutrition point of view and is most definitely not healthy; nor is opting for all the ‘low-fat’ foods you see on offer. These are often just laden with sugars and additional sweeteners, which can be damaging to your gut health. The truth is our bodies need fats, and those are the facts! Where you need to be mindful is when making the decisions as to what kinds of fats to include in your diet and think more about the nutrition side of things- not how much weight you might lose. Our bodies need unsaturated fats, which can be found in things like nuts, oils and avocados. As mentioned, be careful when opting for low fat foods as it is often the case that the fats have been replaced with sugar, which will cause spikes in your blood sugar and potentially lead to weight gain. Think about your bodies health status, not the number on the scales.
Sugar offers zero nutritional value
Unfortunately, sugar adds absolutely no nutritional value to our diet or long term health. These sugars include white and brown sugars, syrups, coconut sugar and honey. However, natural sugars that you find in fresh fruits are different. These types of sugars contain vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to our health, much like glucose that comes from complex carbohydrates. Refined sugars are not natural and are usually added to foods to enhance taste and make them sweeter. Additionally, consuming too many added and refined sugars can increase risk of cardiovascular disease and of course lead to weight gain. You should also be weary of sugar alternatives such as agave syrup as they are extremely fructose heavy, which again can cause spikes in your blood sugar levels. They may have a reputation for being a ‘healthy alternative’ but in terms of nutrition status, they really are not much better.
Fresh or frozen?
Believe or not, frozen foods may maintain more of their nutritional value when compared to fresh produce. We all complain that ‘healthy eating’ is too expensive but there are ways of saving money whilst still making sure your body is getting those all important micronutrients. Buying fresh berries for example; they go off within days, usually before we have had time to use them all up- stocking up your freezer with frozen fruits and vegetable is a much more cost effective way of eating healthy as they last significantly longer and will also maintain their high antioxidant properties. Often when fruits and veg are left in the fridge, their nutritional value deteriorates and they lose a significant amount of their nutrition status. Frozen fruits and vegetables are chilled after they are harvested therefore they will retain their high levels of vitamins.
Carbs are not the enemy
Carbohydrates are a very misunderstood food group in the realms of nutrition. Fad diets such as the ‘Atkins diet’ once lead us to believe that carbs equalled weight gain, and by cutting them out, we could maintain weight loss… Again these are not facts! In fact, carbs equal fuel. Our brain uses only glucose to function therefore needs carbohydrates to function properly. What we should be doing is redefining carbs. White carbs such as white bread and pasta, have been stripped of their nutritional value thus causing very fast releasing energy that inevitably results in a ‘comedown’, causing an imbalance in your blood sugar levels. When we talk about carbs in our diet, what we should be referring to is complex carbs. These are foods such as sweet potato, whole wheat breads, pasta, and grains that give us slow releasing energy, keeping our body at even keel throughout the day. Complex carbs are high in fibre and provide our body with different minerals and nutrients that our beneficial to our health. This will also lessen any sugar cravings.
Does your diet contain enough protein?
Protein powders are becoming more and more popular as a way to achieve adequate or additional protein intake particularly if you are working out or hitting the gym on a regular basis. What is most misunderstood about protein is that it makes you ‘bulky’. The fact is protein does not make you bulky that easily. Unless you are weight training alongside consuming extremely high amounts of protein in order to build muscle mass, protein will not make you balloon. (Admittedly this is something many females are guilty of thinking). Protein is absolutely essential to your health / diet and is needed for every single cell in your body to grow and repair. At the very least, you should be aiming to match your weight in Kg to the grams of protein you eat everyday. So if you weight 60kg for example, you need a minimum of 60 grams of protein. Your protein intake will need to be significantly higher depending on how much weight training of physical activity you do everyday as protein is essential for muscle recovery.
When considering what protein powders to add into your diet, be very conscious of what the labels says. Protein powders often have a lot of added sugars or sweeteners which takes away any nutrition benefits. Brands such as SunWarrior protein, Missfits Nutrition or NutriStrength, are all examples of good protein powders. It is best to consume protein shakes or high protein meals within an hour of a strenuous workout.
Are vegan diets healthier?
Individuals have different dietary ‘rules’ based on their own beliefs. Most vegans and vegetarians are doing their bit for the environment and taking a stand for animals (which is great) however, where vegan and vegetarian diets become tricky, it is making sure you are providing your body with all the essential nutrients it needs. By cutting out meat and/ or dairy, you risk calcium, protein, omega-3s and vitamin B12 deficiencies. All these nutrients have a different and crucial role to play in your diet so if you decided to cut out whole food groups- you must make sure you supplement accordingly. In these cases it is best to seek advice from a professional. If these types of diets are done properly, there are numerous health benefits associated with plant based diets but as mentioned, you are at increased risk of lacking certain nutrients that your body needs to function properly.
Fruit juices are not healthy
Some fruit juices may count as one of your five a day, however in terms of nutrition status, they are often laden with additional sugars and lack fibre (which is essential for our diet). Unfortunately the amount of antioxidants in juices does not make up for copious amounts of sugar they contain. The lack of fibre in juices means huge spikes in your glucose levels as they are released incredibly quickly into your blood stream. If you are trying to cut down on sugar, particularly for health reasons, stay away from fruit juices. Instead, opt for smoothies, as they are made using whole fruits, and often some kind of diary so you’ve got your fibre still there and added calcium and protein.
Do not trust mainstream media for nutrition facts
We have probably all been guilty at one point of following and trying out the latest diet trends published online or in magazines, or reading articles talking about health and nutrition that are in fact not written by a health professional or even based on scientific evidence. Be extremely careful what you believe in regards to nutrition, as nutrition it is in fact extremely science based. Fad diets do not work and neither do juice diets. You will often find people are just getting paid to sell something whether it is a product or a story talking about nutrition ‘facts’. For information you can trust, you are best off reading evidence based journal articles or seeing a nutritionist or dietician who have had proper training, and follow an evidence based way of practice.
Eggs are good for you!
Historically, eggs have received extremely mixed reports as to whether or not they are good for our health. Their yolks were demonised for their high cholesterol however, studies have reported that the cholesterol in eggs is not the bad kind and do not raise blood cholesterol in most people. In fact, eggs are among the most nutritious food products you can eat. They are packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals as well being an excellent source of protein. So do not hesitate to add eggs into your diet and make sure you do not leave out the yolk!
Weight loss supplements do not work
Sadly, we are often still bombarded with magazine headlines and articles over the latest weight loss regime that they usually claim are ‘quick fixes’. What they do not take in to consideration is your health. Weight loss should not be a ‘quick fix’. What we need to be focusing on is the importance of nutrition, and adopt a healthy lifestyle that becomes a way of living. Fad diets such as low fat or low carb diets will not do anything at all for your health in the long term. Yes, they may result in weight loss initially, but in the process you will end up damaging your metabolism and confusing your body in terms of how to use food for energy. Your life should not consist of ‘on-off diets’ or on-going ways to lose weight quickly. What we should be focusing on is healthy ways in which we can enjoy all food in moderation, and pay special attention to the nutrients that our bodies need. By simply eating a variety of colour and whole foods that provide good nutritional value, you can fuel and nourish your body, helping it to function at optimum level. Do not waste your time or money looking for ‘quick fixes’ because they are nothing but detrimental to your health.