x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 December 2017

The truth behind popular nutrition myths

From skipping meals to reducing salt, we look at the truth behind popular beliefs on how to lose weight

Energy drinks can have a high caffeine content.
Energy drinks can have a high caffeine content.


Skipping meals helps you lose weight

Truth - Many people think that by skipping meals, they'll consume fewer calories and lose weight, when in fact just the opposite is true. According to Rania Al Halawani, a dietitian at MedGate Center in Dubai, skipping meals can lead to weight gain by one of two ways. "First, when you skip meals your blood sugar goes down and this is when most people pick unhealthy food choices because they are very hungry. Second, when you skip meals your metabolism goes down as the body thinks you are in starvation mode." Al Halawani recommends regular meal times to keep your weight in check. "Eat small, more frequent meals and lose weight - it's a win-win situation," she says.


The best way to limit your sodium intake is to avoid the saltshaker

Truth - Research shows that most people consume too much sodium, but the saltshaker isn't the biggest culprit. According to the World Health Organization, about 75 per cent of sodium in the diet comes from packaged, processed and prepared foods. A high sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease. The National Health Service in the UK suggests lowering your sodium intake by avoiding common culprits, such as soy sauce, cheese, olives, seasoned nuts and potato crisps as well as reading labels and avoiding products with more than 0.6g of sodium per 100g.


Carbohydrates make you fat

Truth - "In reality, everything eaten in excess to the body's energy requirements and expenditures leads to weight gain," says Zeina Elhoss, a clinical dietician at Live'ly Health and Nutrition Lounge. She says that carbohydrates are actually the preferred source of energy for our bodies and they should constitute the major component of one's diet. However, she warns that not all carbohydrates are equal from a nutrition standpoint. "Choose from the healthy sources of complex carbohydrate such as whole grains, fruits and legumes since they promote heart health and decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes," she says.


Multigrain products are the same as whole grain products

Truth - Though the terms "multigrain" and "whole grain" are often used interchangeably, they mean different things. Multigrain means more than one type of grain, while whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel are intact. According to Dietitians of Canada, you'll get the most health benefits from whole-grain products. Spot whole-grain products by reading labels and choosing items that list a whole grain as the first ingredient, such as whole wheat, whole oats or whole rye.


Eating too much sugar causes diabetes

Truth - Despite what many people think, sugar does not cause diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors, such as age, family history, being overweight, low activity levels, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. That certainly doesn't mean that foods high in sugar are a free-for-all. Al Halawani says: "Sugar does not cause diabetes, though you do need to consume it in moderation since type 2 diabetes is associated with a high calorie intake, extra weight and obesity."


Brown sugar is healthier than white sugar

Truth - "This is a very common misconception especially among dieters and diabetics, but this is all it is, merely a misconception," says Elhoss. According to the Canadian Sugar Institute, brown sugar is white sugar with added molasses to give it its signature brown colour. "In both cases, brown sugar and white sugar have almost the same nutritional value and should be used moderately to control total daily calorie consumption and blood sugar levels," says Elhoss.


Diet soda is healthier than regular soda

Truth - While diet soda is often considered a healthier alternative to regular soda because it has fewer calories, research findings suggest otherwise. Study findings published in the journal Circulation in 2007 found that drinking as little as one can of soda per day, regular or diet, is associated with a 44 per cent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that includes increased waist circumference, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, which together increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


Energy drinks are the best way to stay energised

Truth - Energy drinks can vary pretty widely in their nutritional content with some brands having more than 14 teaspoons of sugar and upwards of 300 mg of caffeine per can. It's their high caffeine content that has many health experts raising alarm bells. Just last year, the American Academy of Paediatrics in the US released a position paper stating that energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents. "The ideal way to keep one's energy levels intact is by having a healthy and balanced diet, distributed over three main meals and at least two snacks, in addition to physical activity most days of the week, drinking enough water and getting proper sleep," recommends Elhoss.


A detox diet is a good way to cleanse the body of harmful substances

Truth - Despite their popularity, there is no scientific evidence that detox diets actually cleanse the body of toxins. According to the Dietitians Association of Australia, such stringent diets are both unnecessary and potentially dangerous, with side effects ranging from dehydration, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, dizziness and nausea. According to Al Halawani, the body has its own self-cleansing system, including the immune system, liver and kidneys, and is capable of removing toxins on its own. She advises following a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables to keep the body and its natural defence mechanisms in top form.


Coffee and tea don't count towards your daily fluid intake

Truth - For many years, researchers believed that coffee and tea had a diuretic effect due to their caffeine content. However, new research suggests caffeine only has a diuretic effect when consumed in very large amounts - such as five or more cups of coffee per day. A beverage guidance system written by a panel of health experts and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2006 ranked beverages into six levels based on their health benefits and risks. Water was the beverage that was most highly recommended, followed by coffee and tea. For the most health benefits, drink coffee and tea without any high calorie add-ons such as sugar, flavoured syrups and whipped cream.

Michelle Gelok is a member of the Dietitians of Canada and holds a BSc in Food and Nutrition. She lives in Abu Dhabi