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Food Myths Debunked (Part 3): ‘Bad foods’

Victoria Brown

Wed Aug 22 2012

Takeaway meal

ARE carbohydrates the devil? Is takeaway food really that bad for you? Dietary expert Janeane Dart has some surprising answers to some of these ‘bad food’ dilemmas. Victoria Brown has more.

In part 3 of our four-part series, we find out if we can really believe all the bad things people say about food. As always, Janeane Dart, Monash University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics senior lecturer, helped us on our quest.

Myth 1: Foods high in carbohydrates cause weight gain

Our verdict: Busted!

Healthy eating guru Ms Dart says it’s not eating too much carbs, but eating too much in general that’s the cause of weight gain.

For example, eating a cup of cooked pasta is fine, that’s the standard healthy portion size for an adult. But if you go to a restaurant, they’ll often give you two to three cups of pasta plus a creamy sauce full of ingredients such as bacon, mushrooms and cheese. That’s sure to make your calorie intake go up, especially if you have a dessert or a glass of wine with it.

Weight gain does involve monitoring portion sizes, but don’t skimp on your daily recommended serve of carbohydrates. Carbs are a really good source of fibre, vitamins and energy, so Ms Dart discourages anyone from cutting them out from their diets completely…which brings us to our next myth.

Myth 2: The key to losing weight is to cut things out of your diet

Our verdict: Busted!

Grains, bread, cereal, rice, fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy are all core food groups. Cutting out any of these groups from your diet could compromise your health and well-being.

And how’s this for a news flash? Most people think cutting carbohydrates out of their diet is a quick solution to weight loss, so they overload on fruit and veggies instead. But many don’t realise they’re still eating carbohydrates if they’re eating fruit!

“Certainly minimising things like soft drinks, chocolate, pastries, fruit juices, chips and things that have a lot of fat and/or salt or sugar is a good idea. As is thinking about how often you’re having them,” says Ms Dart.

” Try to reduce your intake of these items to two times a week.”

You should also be thinking about your level of activity. So if you only walk for about ten minutes every day, consider doubling that or tripling it. You should aim to get an hour’s exercise at least four to five times a week.

Myth 3Certain foods (like grapefruit) burn fat

Our answer: Busted!

Ms Dart says there are no magic foods – not blueberries, not grapefruits and no, not even celery.Being active is what will burn the fat.

Myth 4: Wholegrain bread is better for you than white bread

Our verdict: Half-busted

The answer to this one really comes down to how much fibre you consume in your diet.

If you’re eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, eating white bread may not be a problem for you, says Ms Dart.

“But if you only eat white bread and hardly eat any fruit and vegetables or any breakfast cereal, it might be more beneficial to eat wholegrain bread because it’s probably one of the best fibre intakes you can have,” she says.

And fibre is something we can all have more of because it helps us stay healthy and alert throughout the day.

Myth 5: Low fat and skim milks are healthier than full cream milk

Our verdict: Half-busted

This really depends on how much milk you drink in general.

For example, a person who only has a small drop of milk with their two cups of tea everyday, should be alright having whatever milk they like as it won’t make a big difference.

But if you’re having milk with everything – your breakfast cereal, milkshakes and four to five white coffees or teas a day – the type of milk you choose does matter.

So if you’re trying to lose weight, Ms Dart says you should stick to skim milk.

“Swapping full cream milk for low fat milk can make a significant difference to your weight, especially if it’s over a month or six months,” she says.

Nutritionally, however, all milks have similar amounts of nutrients and calcium. It’s only the amount of fat that changes.

Myth 6: Organic food is healthier than non-organic food.

Our verdict: Busted!

From a professional and scientific point-of-view, there isn’t any convincing evidence that organic is better. But Ms Dart says if it means a lot to you to eat organic food, then by all means, go ahead.

Myth 7: Takeaway food, frozen ready-made meals and fast food are bad for you.

Our verdict: Not necessarily

Ms Dart says not all fast food available today can be lumped together as ‘unhealthy’.

“Some 20 years ago, fish and chips, pizza and maybe some of the big commercial takeaway places were the only options we had when we wanted takeaway food,” she says.

“But now we have things like sushi, Vietnamese rice paper rolls and takeaway salads, so you can enjoy fast food and still be healthy.”

As for ready-made meals, it’s all about balance. Frozen fruits or vegetables can be really quick and easy, as well as seriously healthy.

You can also buy frozen pizza bases with no toppings, then add your own mushrooms, capsicum, grated cheese and browned mince for a quick pizza with nowhere near the same amount of fat and salt you’d get at a takeaway store.

Unfortunately, Ms Dart says the same can’t be said for instant noodles, which have no fruits, vegetables or protein, but are extremely high in salt.

“If you have instant noodles and put in some chopped capsicum or chopped carrots and don’t add the flavouring sachet, you can have a meal that’s instantly more nutritious,” she suggests.

In summary, fast food can be healthy and nutritious as long as you take that extra second to really look at what you’re buying. Avoid anything fried or drowned in salt and always go for meals that have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Stay tuned for the final issue of Food Myths Debunked, where we share our expert’s advice on how to eat healthily on a budget, as well as how to find out if you’re overeating. 

And don’t forget to check out part one and part two of our series for more food truths.