Myths about Food and Diet

There are hundreds of food myths and assumptions that are banded about by ‘experts’, dieticians, websites, magazines, etc. They can range from the more popular myths such as, ‘is skipping breakfast ok?’ to ‘healthier foods are too expensive.’

The following are the most common and popular beliefs amongst many:

Diet experts keep changing what is healthy eating and what is not

False - The majority of people think that nutrition experts regularly change their minds regarding diets and often disagree with one another. However the main messages about healthy eating have remained the same for some time. An example of this is the message to ‘reduce the amount of fat we eat’, which has stayed the same for longer than 15 years. The importance of fruit and veg has been around since the Second World War.

When contradictory messages about healthy eating tend to appear, it is often due to new scientific findings that tend to be reported in the media before being fully researched, and without the findings being put into context.

Low/Reduced Fat labels mean a healthy choice

False - Any food product that claims to be 'reduced fat' must have at least 25% less fat than the standard product. Unfortunately these types of foods tend to be high in fat and energy to start with, so the 'reduced fat' version can still have quite high amounts of both.

Foods that are labelled as 'low fat' or 'reduced fat' aren't necessarily low in energy either. The lost fat is replaced by other ingredients, so the product can end up containing the same or even higher energy (calorie) content.

Margarine is less fattening than butter

False - Butter and margarine contain different types of fat, but both contain a similar amount of fat, therefore it doesn’t necessarily matter which one you choose as long as you remember to use as little as possible for each.

Healthier foods cost more

False – Even though some healthier ingredients can be more expensive to purchase, you will often find that they are needed in very small amounts.

There are some situations where choosing the healthier alternative can actually save money. For example meat can be cooked in casseroles or stir-fries using cheaper ingredients such as beans, pulses or seasonal veg.

A part of being healthier is basing your meals around starchy foods such as rice, pasta or bread. This not only provides a healthy balanced diet, but also means savings can be made as these foods are generally good value.

Another good way of saving some cash is to cook your dishes in batches such as chilli or curry and then store them away in the freezer. When cooking in batches or saving leftovers, make sure you cool the food quickly (no longer than 2 hours), then freeze it in sealed containers. Remember to always reheat food until it's piping hot all the way through.

Healthy food is limiting and boring

False – Many people admit to eating too much of certain foods, or eating them too often, but there are lots of interesting foods we should be putting on our shopping lists and consuming more of, such as fruit and veg and varieties of fish.

Eating healthily doesn't always mean becoming more boring with your food choices, it's all about getting the right balance for your body. By adding a bit of variety to your food shopping and changing from your usual foods, you'll find that healthy eating can be tasty and exciting.

Having a traditional cooked breakfast in the morning can be a healthy choice

True – A traditional breakfast can be made into a healthy option by keeping the ingredients the same but changing the methods of cooking. If you grill lean bacon, poach the eggs and include baked beans, thick crusty bread, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms cooked without fat, you'll have a delicious cooked breakfast that is also balanced and healthy.

Choose Fish as a healthier option

False – Vegetarian meals are not necessarily a healthy option, as some contain a lot of fat, especially if they're made using large amounts of cheese, oil, pastry or creamy sauces, or if they've been fried.

Although fish are generally low in fat they shouldn’t be though of as the only option available. Red meat can be low in fat if it's lean and all the visible fat has been taken off, and chicken without the skin can also be a great low-fat option as long as it has cooked without too much fat.

Whatever meal you decide to have it is very important to add some vegetables because we should be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg each day as part of maintaining a healthy diet.

Red meat is very high in fat & Poultry is low in fat

False – If all the visible fat is removed from red meat it can make a big difference to the fat content. Contrary to what most people think, lean red meat is quite low in fat at 4-8g per 100g.

When the lean and fat components of meat are blended together in mince or meat products, this can make the fat content much higher.

Poultry meat that is skinned only contains around 1-3g fat per 100g, and white meat contains less fat than darker meat, but if the skin and fatty deposits beneath are not removed, the fat content will be much higher.

Vitamins can be gained from Sweets

False – The majority of sweets contain large amounts of sugar and are definitely not a good source of minerals and vitamins. People who eat sweets on a regular basis, especially between meals, will find themselves developing tooth decay. The snacks that should be consumed as a rich source of vitamins and minerals are fruits (fresh or dried).

It's OK to skip breakfast

False – Most, if not all, health experts and dieticians will tell you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and should not be skipped – and they are spot on. While sleeping the body is 'fasting' for around eight hours, so it's essential to break this fast.

People who miss out on breakfast are unlikely to get all the vitamins and minerals that a simple breakfast can provide and missing breakfast only leads to mid-morning snacking on foods that are high in sugar or fat.

Dried fruit is less healthy than fresh fruit

False – At least 5 portions of fruit and veg should be eaten each day. This is a great way to maintain a healthy and balanced diet and can be done in a variety of ways, whether fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.

Dried fruit, such as sultanas, raisins, dates and currants, provide energy in the form of sugar and are a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals, but not vitamin C which is provided by fresh fruit. One portion of dried fruit is measured as one heaped tablespoon, which is less than a portion of fresh fruit due to it being based on the equivalent weight of fresh fruit.

Avocados are not a healthy choice

False - Avocados can have a positive effect on blood cholesterol levels thanks to the monounsaturated fat they contain. Being healthy includes cutting down the amount of saturated fat we eat and replacing it with unsaturated fat, as well as reducing the total amount of fat we eat. Avocados help carry out this process and are a healthy choice.

When snacking, try eating just half an avocado, as it counts as one of the five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables we should be eating every day. But remember that avocados do contain fat and, just like everything else, should be eaten in moderation (i.e. don’t get carried away and eat 5 whole avocados a day).

Fruit juices can harm your teeth

True – Fresh fruit contains natural sugars that are less likely to cause tooth decay because the sugar is contained within the structure of the fruit. However when fruit is put through a juicer or blended, the sugar is released which can then lead to damage to your teeth, especially if fruit juice is drunk regularly.

Despite this, fruit juice should still be viewed as a healthy choice. One glass or 150ml equals one of the five fruit and veg portions that should be eaten each day.

In order to help keep your teeth in a healthy condition, try and have fruit juice along with your main meals in the day. If you feel like a drink in between meals try and stick to water and milk, particularly for children.

Most of the Salt we consume is through cooking or at the table

False – Around three quarters (75%) of the salt we consume each day comes from processed foods. Between 10 and 15% comes from the salt that is added by us when we're cooking or at the table (sprinkling of salt on foods).

On average we eat around 9.5g of salt per day, but this figure should be cut down to no more than 6g of salt a day for adults.