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Food Myths Debunked (Part 1)

Victoria Brown

Wed Aug 08 2012


IS the food pyramid outdated? Can you gain weight from eating fruits and veggies? Victoria Brown finds out the answers to those questions and more with a little help from a dietary expert.

Food myths – we’ve all heard them. From the friend who insists it takes two years to fully digest red meat, to the weight-conscious relative who refuses rice and potatoes at family dinners because “carbs aren’t your friend”. Our personal favourite? That little rumour circulating that hormones in chicken help make your breasts grow bigger.

Not quite.

But as funny as some food myths are, there are some serious implications. They can set you on the wrong and unhealthy path to weight loss, and hurt your chances of living a healthy and active lifestyle.

With that in mind, we sat down with a senior lecturer from Monash University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, JaneaneDart, to seperate truth from fiction, and give us some pointers on the healthy way to lose those extra winter kilos.

Myth 1: The food pyramid is outdated and wrong

Verdict: Busted!

Even though it’s been around for years, the food pyramid is still very relevant. But Ms Dart does recommend adjusting it to suit your own culture.

For Asian international students, that might be having rice instead of bread as your daily staple. While for Middle Eastern students, it might be couscous or pita bread.

But regardless of your culinary preferences, Ms Dart says always practice moderation when it comes to unhealthy food.

“There’s a lot of guilt associated with eating chocolate or having an extra glass of wine or beer, but it’s not necessary for you to avoid things or to feel guilty while eating them. Just try not have it as often,” she says.

Interestingly, high fat and sugar foods and alcohol aren’t the only groups in the ‘sometimes’ category. Dairy, meats and nuts should also be eaten no more than a couple of times a week.

But as Ms Dart points out, the food pyramid isn’t all-encompassing. It doesn’t highlight one important part of being healthy – and that’s being active. The more active you are, the more flexible you can be with your eating.

Myth 2 There is no such thing as a recommended portion for each food group

Verdict: Half busted.

According to Ms Dart, the answer to this one varies according to the individual.

“It depends whether you’re male or female, whether you’re 18 or 68,” she says.

“But in general, people should be having around two serves of fruit a day and at least five different serves of vegetables.”

No one’s saying that’s easy to do, but when you’re begrudging cooking that fifth vegetable dish after a long day at uni or work, remember it’ll all be worth it in the end.

Fruits and vegetables are extremely rich in nutrients and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest they’re beneficial in a range of different ways. Some of the most nutritious veggies include spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and brussels sprouts, all of which are packed with the greatest number of vitamins. Sweet potatoes are also surprisingly good as they contain anti-cancer nutrients such as vitamin A, C and manganese.

Sticking to seasonal veggies and fruits is also a good way to make sure you’re getting the freshest and most vitamin-packed produce.

Myth 3: You can gain weight from eating fruit and vegetables

Verdict: True!

Ms Dart says it is possible to each too many fruits and vegetables, especially if you’re consuming them in liquid form.

Fruits and vegetables are high in fibre, so it’s difficult to overeat them because the fibre makes you feel full quicker. But if you’re knocking back the fruit juice, you’re not getting any of the that fibre and can very easily over consume.

Of course, it’s also easy to eat a whole watermelon or handfuls of grapes without even thinking twice about it – which can be quite bad for your teeth, and blood sugar levels.

Yes, you heard right, most fruits contain quite a bit of sugar. Raisins are probably the worst offenders as they pack the highest amount of sugar, but apples and pears are also quite sweet. The riper the fruit is, the more sugar it has in it too as the starch, especially in bananas, begins to break down and turn into sugar.

And while we’re fruit-bashing, it’s also important to bear in mind that too-much acidic fruit doesn’t do your teeth any favours either. Luckily, Ms Dart says you can still have your fruit, and eat it too, as long as you remember to exercise moderation. Don’t eat five apples a day or five oranges. Try to mix it up and get a good variety of fruits and veggies every day.

Read our next edition of Food Myths Debunked, where we find out whether or not eating after a certain time at night is bad for you.