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Myth Busting

Think you know what’s good to eat? Separate the fact from fiction with our healthy food guide. Kathy Crowborough investigates.

 Many of us have grown up being told that eating carrots will help us to see in the dark, or are now prepared to pay extra for brown eggs because they must be healthier. Added to this, large numbers of new foods are manufactured each year with bewildering health claims, and the media regularly doles out ‘one liners’ about a new food or nutrition discovery. The end result is that sorting the fact from the fiction is      confusing and difficult. Here we take a few myths, some of which we may have wondered about when making your heart healthy choices, and identify the truth about the food we eat.

 MYTH: Avoid high cholesterol eggs.

TRUTH: While eggs do contain cholesterol, it does not have much impact on serum cholesterol (the type circulating in your blood stream). Cholesterol is made by your body from saturated fats, so cutting back on foods high in these types of fats can help. These include fatty meat and meat products, full fat dairy, biscuits, cakes and pies. 

 MYTH: Dairy, bread, potatoes, pasta, even bananas are fattening!

TRUTH: There it is again, foods labelled as fattening! All these foods are part of a healthy balanced diet and should remain so. Dairy products are packed with protein and calcium, and there are lots of low fat choices in this group - plus, you can control the amount you eat or drink! Carbohydrates (such as those found in bread, potatoes or pasta) give you half as many calories as fat. One gram of carbohydrate provides four calories whilst the same gram of fat gives nine calories. Use these starchy carbohydrate foods to plan your meals around. It’s often what you put with these foods that adds the calories, and not the foods themselves.

 MYTH: Margarine is less fattening than butter or olive oil.

TRUTH: Margarine, butter and olive oil contain the same amount of fat and calories (energy), so use them sparingly. Butter contains more saturated fat, but often cheaper hard margarine’s can contain the same amount of harmful fats. Some margarine’s contain healthier fats such as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, so check the label. It’s important to note that no one food is fattening – a myth in itself. It’s the quantity of food eaten as well as the activity you do that effects the energy you take in or burn up.

 MYTH: Chicken is a healthier choice than red meat.

TRUTH: It depends how you choose and prepare it. Most of the fat in chicken is in the skin and just under it, so removing the skin cuts back on the fat. But there are also many lean cuts of meat that make healthy choices, especially when grilled, stir fried or stewed.

MYTH: Tomato Ketchup counts as a portion of fruit.

TRUTH: Fresh, frozen, chilled, canned vegetables and fruit, 100% juice, even tasty smoothies all count, as do all dried fruit and vegetables; but ketchup does not have enough tomato to count as a portion and it’s high in salt. Fruit and vegetables contained in convenience foods like ready meals, pasta sauces, soups, and puddings can contribute to your 5-A-Day. However, these can be high in salt, sugar and fat, so check the label.

 MYTH: Cooked breakfasts trigger heart attacks.

TRUTH: While cooked breakfasts are not encouraged on a daily basis, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy the foods in a traditional cooked British breakfast on occasion. Grill the bacon or sausage you choose so a lot of the fat drains away and trim the fat off bacon. Include generous portions of vegetables such as tomatoes and beans, and grill the first two with just a sprinkle of olive oil.

 MYTH: Vegetarian meals are a healthier choice.

TRUTH: They can contain lots of cheese, oil, pastry or creamy sauce which are high in calories or fat. Lean meat fish or poultry without the skin and cooked in a little oil can be healthier. Or opt for low fat   vegetarian dishes with pulses, legumes or tofu.

 MYTH: Grapefruit burns fat.

TRUTH: Grapefruit of its juice is a good source of vitamin C but will not dissolve fat in the food you eat or the fat in your body.

 MYTH: ‘Reduced fat’ or ‘low fat’ products are healthy.

TRUTH: Beware ‘low fat’ ‘reduced fat’ or ‘reduced calorie’ labels. By law, a reduced fat product must contain 25% less than a similar standard product. However, if the product was quite high in fat to begin with it could still contain a lot of fat. A low fat food should contain less than 3g fat per 100g. A ‘low fat’ or ‘reduced fat’ product can still be high in energy (calories) as fat is often replaced by sugar, making it as high or higher in calories. If you use ‘reduced fat products’ don’t be tempted to use more.

 MYTH: ‘I never add salt to my food, so I’m ok’

TRUTH: Since 75% of the salt we eat is in the foods such as some cereals, soups, sauces, ready meals, bread and biscuits, it’s easy to eat too much even if you don’t add it to the food you prepare. The daily adult limit is 6g, so check labels to ensure you don’t eat too much.

 The Author, Kathy Crowbrough is a State Registered Dietician and Public Health Nutritionist. As a writer, she works on a numerous NHS projects.

    This article was taken from the Autumn 2006 issue of Healthy Heart a BHF publication.