Everyday we make decisions about what to eat, with most of us aiming to eat healthier. But could you unknowingly be making simple food mistakes? Rose Carr and Caitlin Reid set you straight.
Muffins are a healthy snack
Almost 50% of you think muffins are a healthy morning tea.
But have you ever considered the ingredients that go into a muffin? They’re actually just mini cakes! You may be surprised to hear that a Hi-fibre Apple Berry muffin from Muffin Break weighs about 160g and contains 2270kJ, 23g of fat and 38g of sugar. That’s the same kilojoule content as a main meal – and twice the size of what a muffin should be!
If you eat muffins, choose small, dense muffins made with high-fibre low-fat ingredients (like oats) – not those fluffy, oversized treats pretending to be healthy. And whenever you are tempted to get the bigger version of a food, just say to yourself: “Do I want to upsize my clothing size, too?”
Fat-free is healthier
73% of you think fat-free confectionary is the better weight-loss choice.
Just because a product is fat-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy – it may contain ingredients that can push the kilojoule content up. Almost all sweets and lollies are pretty much pure sugar, so while they don’t typically contain fat, they’re still loaded with kilojoules.
A fat-free or low-fat claim on a product doesn’t tell you anything about the amount of kilojoules you’ll be consuming. Therefore reading the nutrition claims is not enough – you need to flip over the pack and read the nutrition information panel (NIP) to find out the kilojoule content of the product.
Only eat the egg white, because egg yolks are high in cholesterol and saturated fat
Extremely nutritious and filling foods, eggs are packed with 13 vitamins and minerals. By discarding the yolk and only eating the egg whites, you are essentially throwing out the most nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich, vitamin- and mineral-laden portion of the egg. The yolk may contain cholesterol and saturated fat, but research shows that eating eggs only has a small effect on raising total serum cholesterol levels in healthy people. And eggs have such an impact on satiety levels, they’ve even been found to help people lose weight.
You’ll get more essential nutrients if you eat the whole egg, so don’t avoid eating the nutritious yolk.
Nuts and seeds are good for you
Any nutrition expert will tell you nuts and seeds are good for you – they’re rich in a variety of nutrients including protein, fibre and unsaturated fats, provide us with key vitamins and minerals, and are known to be a rich source of antioxidants. But watch out: many nuts have a high fat content. Pistachios are 50% fat; macadamias 70%! It’s good fat, but this does mean nuts and seeds are kilojoule-dense – a quarter cup of nuts and seeds can provide between 800–1100 kilojoules.
When we say a small handful is good for you, we mean a small handful – equivalent to 30g. Much more than that and you’ll be wondering why you’re putting on weight. Choose raw or roasted nuts and seeds that are unsalted.
'Baked not fried' is better
98% of you believe baked is a better chip choice than fried.
Don’t be fooled – some manufactured baked foods are just as high in fat as their fried equivalents. Even baked snack foods can have more than 25% fat!
To make the best choice, compare total fat and saturated fat content per 100g on the NIP and choose the lowest one you can find.
You can get your five serves of fruit and veg a day from juice
Juice does have health benefits. When we drink it, we get a concentrated boost of nutrients such as vitamin C, folate, potassium and a range of antioxidants. But it’s also a concentrated source of kilojoules, which can contribute to unhealthy weight-gain. A 600ml Blueberry Blast smoothie from Boost Juice contains more than 1800kJ and nearly 90g of sugar – that’s three times the recommended kilojoule content of a snack, and your entire daily sugar intake. Even if you make fresh juice at home, one cup of apple juice will give you more than twice the kilojoules from eating a fresh apple, without the benefits of the fibre you would get from fresh fruit and veg.
While juice is great for providing you with additional nutrients, it should not replace fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are low in kilojoules, high in nutrients and packed full of fibre. Juice on the other hand, while containing important nutrients, is high in kilojoules and low in fibre. If you drink juice, limit yourself to one serve each day – and that’s just 125ml, not 600ml.
Bananas are fattening
Ever heard the ‘fact’ bananas are extremely high in kilojoules? Wrong. Bananas are actually an extremely nutritious food, rich in vitamins C, A, B group vitamins, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. And they’re definitely not ‘fattening’. A medium banana contains only 379kJ – about the same as one large orange – and contains 0.1% fat. What a surprise!
Bananas are a good, convenient food source, so add one to your daily fruit intake. You can enjoy them on your cereal, as a snack, or even as the occasional banana split.
Pasta is fattening and will make you bloated
Pasta is often regarded with suspicion because it’s made from highly-processed white flour, which is blamed for bloating and weight-gain. But we all need carbs – they’re our main source of energy. Yes, wholemeal pasta is better than white because it has two-and-a-half times more fibre and is higher in a number of vitamins and minerals. But don’t feel guilty when you use white pasta; it’s a filling, satisfying food. Just remember, pasta should only fill a quarter of your plate.
Pasta is an ideal partner with a vegetable-laden meal, whether it’s a tomato-based sauce or as a pasta salad. There’s no need to avoid pasta unless you have been diagnosed with a wheat allergy or coeliac disease. Include wholemeal pasta in your diet and avoid high-fat, creamy pasta sauces.
Potatoes will make you fat
One in three Healthy Food Guide readers think bananas, potatoes and pasta are foods to be avoided for weight-loss.
Potatoes are said to be fattening and have a high GI (glycaemic index), making them unhealthy. But the potato doesn’t deserve such bad press. Potatoes do have a relatively high GI, but if you have a small portion then you don’t need to worry about their glycaemic impact. Moreover, a good-sized potato (150g) only contains 0.2g of fat. The only way it becomes a fatty snack is when fat is added to it, so follow your common sense and don’t fry them or serve them with lashings of butter or sour cream.
Potatoes are a good food to include in your five-plus a day serves of fruit and vegies. Try red or yellow skin for more antioxidants and never waste the peel – that’s where lots of nutrients are.
It’s natural, so it must be good for me
‘Natural’ is a word frequently found on food packaging intended to make us think the product is ‘healthy’. But butter, salt and sugar are all natural – and butter is best avoided; salt is best limited. We all need to be careful not to go overboard on sugar.
‘Natural’ on a food label tells you the food ingredients are derived from natural sources, not how healthy they are. Lots of things that are ‘natural’ should still be consumed in moderation.
Dark chocolate is healthy, so eat as much as you want
One in two Healthy Food Guide readers think it’s okay to eat more dark chockie than the regular stuff.
Dark is by far the best chocolate of the lot, but that doesn’t mean it’s ‘the’ health food of the 21st century. While a growing body of research shows dark chocolate to be somewhat ‘heart-friendly’ (it lowers blood pressure, reduces cholesterol levels and improves blood vessel function), it’s also kilojoule-dense and high in fat. And we all know if we eat more kilojoules than we burn, we will put on weight – and this is anything but healthy.
When you’ve got those cravings, choose top-quality dark chocolate and watch your portion size. Too much of a good thing will last a moment on the lips, but a lifetime on the hips – and that’s not healthy!
Low-carb beer is better than regular beer
76% of you believe low-carb beer is a better choice.
Carbohydrates have had a bad rap recently, but they don’t deserve it, which is why taking them out of beer does not make beer any healthier, or kilojoule-free! Alcohol has its own kilojoule content – 29kJ per gram, to be exact – which means removing the carbohydrates will only slightly drop the kilojoule content (444kJ compared to 630kJ). While a low-carb beer contains about the same kilojoule content as a light beer, it contains the same amount of alcohol as a regular strength beer.
Carbohydrates are not the cause for concern in beer; it’s the alcohol content you need to think about. So, whichever beer you choose to drink, make sure you stick to the alcohol guidelines when you enjoy a tipple.
Red wine is the healthiest alcohol
Red wine has a great reputation for containing antioxidants, but it’s actually not the antioxidants that provide you with health benefits – it’s the alcohol itself. In fact, research shows people who drink moderately have a lower risk of death from heart attack and stroke than those who don’t drink at all (although if you don’t drink, it’s not advised to start drinking based on this).
It doesn’t matter what kind of alcohol you drink, so pick your favourite type and savour it. The best health effects of drinking alcohol are seen when small amounts of alcohol are consumed regularly – moderation is the key.
You need meat for protein
1 in 3 Healthy Food Guide readers don’t consider dairy a good source of protein.
Meat is a great source of protein – though not the only one. You don’t need to eat meat to get your recommended daily intake of protein. Eating a variety of protein-rich plant foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds and grains and choosing dairy foods such as low-fat yoghurt and reduced-fat cheese, can also provide your body with the protein it needs for good health.
Your protein needs can be met by eating either animal- or plant-based products. If you’re a vegetarian, the best way to ensure that you’re meeting requirements for all the essential amino acids (building blocks for protein), is to enjoy both plant- and dairy-based foods.
Coffee is bad
Some people talk about coffee as though it’s some kind of evil drug percolating through our society. And yes, too much caffeine (from coffee or any other source) can increase your blood pressure, your cholesterol level and even disturb your heart rhythm. A recent study even found men who drank more than three cups of coffee a day had poorer sperm quality. But if you don’t overdo it, there are positives to coffee drinking.
For starters, it’s a rich source of antioxidants and has been linked with reduced risk of developing some diseases, including type 2 diabetes in women over 50, and heart disease in older men. Coffee is also a brain stimulant (and there are quite a few of us who need a kick-start in the morning!). Scientists in Japan conducting animal studies have even found that merely the aroma of coffee can stimulate anti-stress brain activity.
Get the benefits of drinking coffee by not overdoing it. For most people, the equivalent of three cups of instant coffee a day is fine, although for some it will be less. A 2008 study in Australia found the caffeine content of espressos varies greatly; some shops are serving single cups of coffee which contain nearly your entire daily allowance! So if you’re going to drink espresso, limit yourself to one regular-sized espresso coffee daily.