Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Busting food myths from fat-free and sugar-free to wholewheat and fruit juice

When it comes to food, there is a lot of misinformation to get through – and some of the most potentially damaging stories concern things that are actually supposed to be good for us. The nutritionist Rashi Chowdhary sets us straight on some of the biggest misconceptions.
Rice, seen here in a supermarket in Al Ain, can be a good replacement for wheat, whose modern strains are far removed from ancient wheat. Antonie Robertson/ The National
Rice, seen here in a supermarket in Al Ain, can be a good replacement for wheat, whose modern strains are far removed from ancient wheat. Antonie Robertson/ The National

When it comes to food, there is a lot of misinformation to get through – and some of the most potentially damaging stories concern things that are actually supposed to be good for us. The nutritionist Rashi Chowdhary sets us straight on some of the biggest misconceptions.

Foods, and the nutrients they provide us with have a profound effect on the way we look, feel and think. In the hope of losing weight or getting fit, or because we are desperate for fat loss or sometimes simply because we are misinformed consumers, many of us fall prey to the marketing gimmicks of food manufacturers. Here are some of the common mistakes we make in the name of health.

MYTH: The big fat ‘fat-free’ lie

The fallout: If a product says “fat-free”, “low-fat” or “skim”, the manufacturers are taking advantage of the fear you have of fat and using it against you to make big bucks. When manufacturers make anything fat-free, they remove the natural fat from the product through various processes. Fat in food improves its palatability and gives it a rich taste. To make up for this loss, fat-free and low-fat products are pumped with artificial flavours, emulsifiers and sugar to add taste and texture. Sugar is not healthier than fat and has a damaging effect at a cellular level.

Fat-free desserts are, in my opinion, one of the worst creations. At best, they are a foolish consumption and at worst, they can be harmful. Fat is the one macronutrient that does not cause the hormonal dance in our body that sugar and other carbohydrates cause. The fat in a sweet dessert actually slows down the insulin spike, mitigating some of the ill effects of sugar. Fat-free desserts not only spike your insulin quickly but also remove the one ingredient that can slow down this process.

The fix: Fat and cholesterol are both misunderstood nutrients. They are essential for our very existence and the starting point for the making of a whole lot of hormones in our body. Fat, such as pasteurised butter, ghee, avocados, raw nuts and coconut oil, are absolute must-haves if you are looking to live optimally.

MYTH: The bitter truth about ‘sugar-free’

The fallout: When your favourite guilt-free ice cream or cheesecake says “sugar-free”, what it actually means is “full of chemicals your liver cannot process”. A sugar-free product has artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, which wreak havoc on your digestive system.

We are primitive at a cellular level; as we evolved, our bodies became hardwired to the taste of sugar. You cannot fool your body by giving it artificial sugar. Your brain tends to get mixed chemical signals each time you consume artificial sugar because your tongue tastes it but your body does not receive it, which leaves your taste buds and brain unsatisfied. So, your body sends out a signal in the form of a craving, which makes you eat sugar in other forms, such as a muffin with your skinny latte or a high-carb meal with your diet soda, all of which enter your blood stream as nothing but sugar. There’s really no fooling your body.

We need to understand the importance of taking care of the liver. It helps in detoxifying our body of all the toxins we induce. It is also responsible for 80 per cent of our fat mobilisation. So, if you consume too many of these chemical calories, your liver gets overworked trying to detoxify and cleanse your body. This is one reason it can’t do its main job of metabolising your fat efficiently, which makes that extra layer of fat around your midsection hard to remove.

The fix: The best way to have sugar is in its most natural form. Dates, dried fruit and raw honey, in moderation, are your best bets.

MYTH: Juicing your fruits

The fallout: In my opinion, fruit juice, whether fresh or packaged, is nothing but diabetes packed in a bottle and sold to you. Our environment and food habits have now made us a society in which adult-onset, genetically predisposed diseases such as type 2 diabetes are now becoming common in children as young as 8.

Fruit juices raise your blood-sugar levels too quickly because they are nothing but a whole lot of carbs with little or no fibre and some nutrients that stay stable when exposed to oxygen in the air. High blood-sugar levels trigger your pancreas to secrete insulin in order to balance the sugar levels. Insulin is an anabolic hormone and one of its main jobs is to make fat. When insulin is active, its partner hormone glucagon cannot operate. Glucagon’s job is to mobilise and use this sugar for energy. The problem is that they both cannot be present in the bloodstream at the same time, so either you are in the fat-mobilising zone or in the fat-storing zone.

High insulin levels are a common thread among disorders in metabolic syndrome X, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, insulin resistance, etc.

The fix: The best way to have fruits is to eat them whole and chew on them so you get the most out of them. If you really feel like a juice, add a healthy fat such as avocado or raw nuts to help slow down the sugar spike and keep you fuller for longer.

MYTH: The oh-so-wholesome ‘wholewheat’

The fallout: The ancient strain of wholewheat was nutritious in some respects; however, modern wheat shouldn’t be called wheat at all.

Once agribusiness took over to develop higher-yielding crops, wheat became hybridised and has now been completely transformed from its prehistoric genetic configuration.

If you look at the currently grown natural unrefined wheat that is used in products on our market shelves, that itself has 30 per cent less nutritional content than its original version.

The balance that nature Mother Nature created for wheat has been modified completely. And all of this has happened way too quickly. But the main problem is that our human digestion and physiology have not been able to adapt to these quick changes.

That’s why we now have more and more children and adults who are gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant.

In my opinion, the nutritional value of wheat is practically non-existent in its current form.

Seventy per cent of us are sensitive to gluten, but we are oblivious about it.

There are two main things that differentiate our modern strain wheat from the ancient one. Firstly it contains a super starch called amylopectin A, which is why we have fluffy wonder bread, and it is also the main reason why we experience a sharp rise in sugar levels. One slice of wheat bread can raise your sugar levels by as many much as 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Secondly, it’s got its own defence mechanism, like all other plants and animals, in the form of lectins. Lectins are the proteins our bodies cannot digest, so these pass through our digestive tract completely undigested, inflaming our gut and damaging it. This manifests in out body as acne, bloating, gas, excess weight and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. If you resonate with these symptoms, perhaps it’s time to eliminate wheat and see how your body responds.

The fix: switch to carbohydrates such as sweet potato, quinoa, fruits and vegetables and, in some cases, rice. Carbohydrates are great for your metabolism, but choose them based on your fitness or health goals and time them correctly to be metabolically more active.


This belief is outdated and in my opinion, really foolish. Our weight problems are not necessarily due to high-calories diets. A low-nutrient diet is the major culprit behind misery-inducing unhealthy fat. us staying fat and miserable.

If you go by the magic number “1,200” or even worse “800” calories for weight loss, you may shed some will not only lose eight, but also lose out on a healthy metabolism, your skin and plus hair health and your good muscle weight, which your body desperately needs to stay young.

The way you burn 100 calories from almonds is very different from the way you burn 100 calories from a highly processed granola bar.

A granola bar is a glorified candy that raises your sugar levels quickly, giving you practically no healthy fats or protein and a minuscule amounts of nutrients. On the other hand, consuming 200 calories from almonds, or any other healthy nuts, gives you more nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, monosaturated (mufa) fats and stable sugar levels, inducing a which is perfect for a fat-burning environment.

So stop counting calories and start counting nutrients.

Here are some low-calorie items that wreak havoc on your system:

Diet sodas

Low-fat, or fat-free anything

Low-calorie sweeteners

Diabetic sugar-free biscuits

Cholesterol-free refined vegetable oil


Vegetable oils are very high in omega 6 fatty acids – a type of poly unsaturated fatty acid (pufa). Many of us pop pills containing omega 3, 6, 9 on a daily basis, which props up our omega 6 levels.

We also eat out at restaurants, many of which cut costs by using cheaper oils – which adds more to our omega 6 levels.

Omega 6 is good for you, but when you see the bigger picture, you realise what’s more important is the ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 (also a pufa fat).

Our modern lifestyle is giving us 10 times the amount of omega 6 than we need, which is one of the reasons people are gaining weight faster than ever and diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are becoming common even in young children as young as 8.

We need to start including more omega 3-rich foods to correct the balance and have better hormonal harmony.

The fix: stop cooking in vegetable oils and start using oils that are solid at room temperate, such as ghee, pasteurised organic butter or virgin coconut oil.

Rashi Chowdhary is a Dubai-based nutrition and weight-loss expert.


Fad diets

Diets that eliminate major food groups are an absolute waste of your time, effort, money and, most often, muscle. We need to stop treating our health like fashion. You can’t keep going on and off fad diets depending on which one is in season or which of your favourite celebrities has ve endorsed it. Your body will never change if you don’t change your attitude towards it. Eating in balance and according to your fitness goals will take time, effort and patience, but the peace of mind and health it gives your body is unparalleled. People who eat well and focus on fitness exuberate a different, more attractive, addictive vibe compared to those who are always trying different diets and complaining about how nothing works. You need to choose which side you want to live on. Once you choose health and fitness over “deadline” dieting, you’ll never want it any other way.


Easy steps to initiate fat loss

#1: Eat as soon as you wake up. Do not delay this meal. If you are looking to burn more fat, start with some healthy fats, such as almonds, avocado or a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil.

#2: Add at least 5 grams of protein to your mid-meals. Low-carb almond cookies, a peanut butter slice or chocolate stacks from The Protein Bake Shop, which is a local healthy bakery, all have above 5 grams per piece. A cup of yoghurt with flaxseed powder, half a scoop of protein shake with blueberries or two slices of full-fat cheese with olives are also great fat-burning snacks.

#3: Eat according to your own body clock and activity levels. Not everyone needs to eat every two hours. A lot of people tend to gain weight with this strategy. Instead, eat when you are hungry, but do not starve yourself. That will definitely work against you.

#4: Hydrate well all through the day. Being dehydrated will only put extra load on your liver, which is where 80 per cent of your fat metabolism takes place. Off Take a load of it, nourish it and you’ll get rid of a few some inches in the process too.

#5: Include more of these fat-burning foods on a daily basis. Eat them over and over again in different simple preparations to see how your body changes.

Whole eggs


Paleo almond butter

Pasteurised butter


Sweet potato

Coconut milk

Black coffee

Green vegetables

Updated: November 12, 2014 04:00 AM