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Food Myths Debunked (Part 4): Healthy Habits

Victoria Brown

Tue Aug 28 2012


IN our final instalment of Food Myths Debunked, dietary expert Janeane Dart has even more surprises in store. Turns out there is such a thing as drinking too much water. But you can never have too many eggs. Victoria Brown has more.

It’s hard to get your diet back on track when you’re on your own without a mum around to nag you to eat your vegetables.

It’s even harder when you’re served up conflicting stories about what what’s good for you and what’s not.

So we’re closing our four-part series on food myths with a special nod to water, eggs and eating on a budget. We’re helped once again by Monash University Department of Nutrition and Dietetics senior lecturer Janeane Dart.

If you’re curious to know what other food myths we’ve busted, read part one, part two and part three of the series.

Myth 1: Eating too many eggs a week is bad for you

Our verdict: Busted!

About 15 to 20 years ago, people were encouraged to avoid eggs because they were thought to cause high cholesterol.

In reality, Ms Dart says eggs are a really good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, so you should be eating them regularly.

As for which parts of the egg you should be eating, she says you shouldn’t be keeping the white and chucking the yolk, or vice versa.

“Health conscious people often think they can cut out the yolk because they’re on a very low fat diet and only want the egg white, which is a really good source of protein. But the egg yolk is also a very rich source of nutrients,” says Ms Dart.

So eat both and feel free to have up to four or five eggs a week, preferably poached or scrambled rather than fried as that’s healthier.

Myth 2: Raw eggs can make you sick

Our verdict: True!

Photo: Rasbak

Ms Dart says we should always cook eggs before eating them.

“Eggs can be infected with salmonella, which is a fairly common food borne infection that can make people quite unwell,”  she says.

When an egg is cooked, the traces of salmonella in it are killed, so they’re no longer harmful to humans. While the risk of salmonella is rare in Australia, it’s always better to be on the safe side.

Myth 3: You should drink eight glasses of water a day

Our verdict: It depends

While six to eight glasses or 1 ½- 2 litres of water a day is the recommended intake, how much you drink really depends on your size and activity level.

This figure also varies according to the weather and how much you sweat. Naturally, if you sweat more, you’ll need to drink more water to replenish your fluid levels.

If you’re worried about drinking such a large amount of water, Ms Dart says you could count tea and/or coffee as part of your daily fluid requirements – but only if they’re very weak. Strong coffees and teas are dehydrating.

But there’s evidence to suggest this is all hogwash…so the jury’s still out on exactly how much water you should drink.

Myth 4: Drinking too much water is bad for you

Our verdict: It depends

To explain this one, Ms Dart uses the example of a 6 foot 4 inches basketballer who trains for an hour a day and sweats a lot. As his body is bigger, he needs a lot more fluid to keep himself hydrated. Factor in his level of physical exertion and he’ll have to have around three litres of water a day.

On the other hand, a petite girl who doesn’t move much and doesn’t sweat very much might only need a litre of water.

Luckily, it’s not hard to tell whether you’re getting enough water. All you have to do is check your urine.

“If it’s fairly coloured and yellow, you need to be drinking more water, while if it’s very pale and clear, you’re well hydrated.”

There are some studies that suggest drinking too much water can actually be bad for you. Lack of sleep from going to the toilet too much, kidney damage and a rare condition called hyponatraemia are all said to be linked to drinking too much water.

Myth 5: Taking a Body Mass Index is a good way to find out if you’re overeating

Our verdict: True!

Image: SieBot

It’s easy to overeat, especially if you’re in a rush and not concentrating on what you’re consuming. After all, it only takes a few minutes to down a huge meal, but you’ll feel the after effects of overeating for hours.

Ms Dart says the best way to check if you’re eating too much is to look at your Body Mass Index (BMI).

“If you have a healthy BMI, you’re spot on for the moment. If your BMI is under the healthy range, you need to eat more. If your BMI is over and above the healthy range, you need to reduce your intake,” she says.

You can check your BMI online, but it’s not always reliable. For the most precise and reliable assessment of your health and weight, you need to go to your local GP.

Another great way to keep tabs on your diet is to write down what you’re eating. That way you can make sure you’re getting enough fruits, vegetables, cereals, meats and dairy, and not over-indulge on the bad stuff.

For the first week, Ms Dart recommends just writing down what you eat, but not changing anything about your diet. Then start making one or two healthy changes each week. That way you won’t be overwhelmed and will be able to stick to the changes on a long term basis.

Myth 6: Eating healthy is expensive

Our answer: Busted!

Photo: Deror avi

There is no doubt eating healthy, home-cooked meals is cheaper than eating out.

Ms Dart encourages students to shop at markets as they’re a much cheaper places to buy fruits and vegetables. You should also keep an eye on supermarket prices. Most will mark down their prices at the same time each week – that’s when you can get bargains.

Another good tip is to buy things that don’t go off quickly, like frozen fruits and vegetables or canned beans.

If you don’t want to cook on your own, set up a cooking group or pool your resources. That way you can take it in turns to cook each night. You can also make meals in bulk and freeze them for the days when you don’t feel like cooking.

And finally, Ms Dart says to remember cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. Expand your palate. Get to know local students and share your rich food heritage. And try different things.

“Food should be fun and pleasurable and  healthy eating, in particular, has lots of lovely bonuses attached to it.”