When it comes to nutrition, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. There are so many people who give dietary advice with varying levels of expertise. To help you out we’ve busted the 10 most common nutrition myths. Read more below!
Myth 1: I need to eat a lot of protein
High protein diets are often in the headlines as the next best diet fix. Protein has a lot of functions in the body and is an important part of our diet. BUT we don’t need a lot.
99 per cent of Australians eat enough protein. Females need around 46g protein/day and males 64g protein/day. Children, pregnant and breastfeeding women need a bit more.
Protein rich foods are in two of the five food groups—and include lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds and chickpeas, beans and lentils and milk, yoghurt, cheese and dairy alternatives. Breads and cereals also contain some protein.
However, having a diet that is mostly made up of protein foods means you can miss out on important nutrients that only come from the other food groups such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. Too much red and processed meats, and not enough high fibre foods can increase your risk of bowel cancer. Protein supplements, bars and shakes are expensive and often contain added sugar and fat. It’s better nutritionally to get your protein requirements from real food.
For more information on how much of each food group you need to eat, go to Eat For Health.
Myth 2: Vegetarian and vegan diets are healthier
A solely plant-based diet can be healthy, but will depend on the foods you include. Choosing minimally processed plant foods like fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes is best as it can protect you against cancer, heart disease and weight gain. But a plant-based diet made up of highly processed foods such as chips, chocolate, soft drink, vegan cheese burgers, ice creams and cakes won’t provide your body with the nutrients it needs and will be high in energy.
If you choose not to eat animal products make sure you replace these foods with nutrient-rich alternatives. Include protein foods like legumes, nuts and seeds and use dairy alternatives that are not high in added sugar and contain added calcium and Vitamin B12. Replacing the meat and dairy in your diet with refined carbohydrates and sweets will not make the switch to a plant-based diet a healthy one. Choose meat replacement products that have a high Health Star Rating.
Myth 3: I should quit sugar
It all depends on the type of sugar we are talking about. There’s a big difference between the refined sugar in a soft drink and the natural sugar in a piece of fruit. Foods containing natural sugars come with the added benefit of nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals and are usually lower in kilojoules. Dairy products contain lactose, a type of sugar, and they come with the added benefit of nutrients like protein and calcium.
Swapping to other sources of sugars like honey, maple syrup, and agave syrup isn’t beneficial as they are similar to refined sugar, in that their nutrient content is quite poor and they contain the same amount of energy.
You can include sugar in your diet but make sure it comes from foods like fruit, vegetables, milk, natural yoghurt and skip foods high in refined sugar such as sugar sweetened drinks, cakes, biscuits and confectionery.
Myth 4: Detoxing is good for you
Detoxing usually involves severely restricting your food and drink intake for a number of days. Sometimes people buy so-called detox kits that include special drinks and tonics or supplements.
Our bodies are well set up to protect us from potential toxins. Our liver, kidneys and intestines do a great job filtering and eliminating ingested toxins.
Instead of spending money on expensive detox supplements, include plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrain foods, legumes and water and eliminate toxins the natural way.
Myth 5: Nothing can be done to prevent cancer
At least one third of new cancers diagnosed in Australia each year can be prevented through living a healthy lifestyle and taking good care of our bodies. The choices we make every day can help reduce your risk of cancer, e.g. stopping smoking, protecting skin from the sun, drinking less alcohol, exercising more, being a healthy weight, eating more fruit, vegetables and other foods containing fibre and cutting down on red meat and limiting processed meat.
 Reference: Whiteman et al 2015 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1753-6405.12471
Myth 6: Low fat is always healthy
The latest evidence suggests we should consider the quality of fat in our diet as well as the quantity. Saturated fats found in fatty meat, cream, cakes, biscuits and pastries are the ones we need to limit as these are linked to cardiovascular disease.
Foods such as olive, safflower and canola oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and oily fish are relatively high in fat but contain unsaturated fats which are the ones our bodies need. They provide essential fatty acids and are lower in saturated fats.
Processed foods that are labelled low fat often have a lot of sugar or salt added to improve the taste and texture of the food, so may not be healthier. Aim for a low-saturated fat diet that contains naturally low-fat foods like fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. Include some good quality fat foods like nuts and seeds and oily fish.
Myth 7: I should only use coconut oil
Coconut oil contains 92 per cent saturated fat. Even though this type of saturated fat is slightly different to that found in animal products, it doesn’t make it a healthy option.
Coconut oil raises both good and bad cholesterol, with the rise in bad cholesterol outweighing the rise in good cholesterol.
Coconut oil is also just as high in energy as other oils so won’t help with managing your weight. Aim to use mostly oils that provide essential fatty acids and are low in saturated fat like olive oil, and avocado oil or use avocado, nut butters or tahini in small amounts.
Myth 8: Carbs are fattening
Eating too much of any food can lead to weight gain. Like fat, the quality of the carbohydrates you eat is most important. Wholegrain carbohydrates like wholegrain bread, pasta and brown rice are high in fibre and full of other essential vitamins and minerals. Eating high-fibre foods will help to keep you feeling full, which means you are less likely to overeat and gain weight. It will also help you reduce your risk of cancer.
We need quality carbohydrates to give us energy.
Myth 9: Red wine is good for my heart
The alcohol industry would have us think that red wine is good for us. But evidence shows that there is no safe intake of alcohol in relation to cancer risk, no matter what type it is. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of many cancers; the more you drink, the greater your risk. If you choose to drink alcohol, stick to the National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines. Get your antioxidants from eating a wide variety of colourful fruit and vegetables.
Myth 10: Gluten free diets are healthier
Unless you have a real reason to be avoiding gluten, for example, if you have coeliac disease, there is no benefit to removing gluten from your diet.
Swapping to gluten free bread and pasta can mean you miss out on the benefits of fibre and wholegrains, something most of us don’t get enough of. Gluten free cakes and biscuits usually contain just as much sugar, fat and kilojoules as gluten containing ones so they aren’t ’healthier’ for you.
TIP: Be choosy about where you get your nutrition information from.
Questions to ask yourself include: is the information from a credible source? And is there a book or product being promoted? Check out the Eat for Health website for evidence-based nutrition advice.
This blog was based on content developed by Cancer Council NSW here.