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Food Myths

Chocolate – Switch To Dark!

Chocolate is made from cocoa derived from cocoa beans. Cocoa is quite bitter on its own, so sugar and cocoa butter are usually added to develop the smooth taste of chocolate you know and love! Cocoa contains antioxidants and generally, the more cocoa in a product, the more antioxidants. That’s why dark chocolate is a better source of antioxidants when compared to regular milk or white chocolate. Despite its benefits, dark chocolate is still high in fat and sugar and should be considered a treat to be enjoyed in moderation. This means when you want to indulge, do so using a small amount of high quality chocolate and savour every bite. Let’s set the record straight once and for all, and find out what food myths have been busted.

Adding milk to coffee does not impact the antioxidant activity

TRUE Evidence suggests that adding milk to coffee does not have an impact on the antioxidant activity. You can still enjoy your cup of coffee the way you usually have it and still absorb the antioxidants naturally found in coffee.


If something is low in fat I can eat more of it

FALSE Focusing solely on a food’s fat content is only telling half the story. That’s because a low fat food might still differ in essential nutrients or be high in sugar, and therefore its kilojoule content – or how much energy a food has – might be higher than you expect.


Rock salt is better for you than ordinary salt

FALSE There’s is no difference between the two types of salt except their name and that they can have a different crystal size. Both have the same effect in your body. Too much salt can affect your heart health, so it is best to be used sparingly. Most New Zealanders already eat more than the recommended amount of salt each day. Most of the salt that we eat comes from manufactured foods like bread and snacks, so there’s no need to add any extra.


Additives in food are harmful

FALSE There are a small number of people who react to certain food additives, but this doesn’t make them harmful for everyone. In fact, food additives play an extremely important role in food. They give structure, add flavour, make food last longer, improve appearance and texture and help maintain quality. For example, antioxidants added to oil help prevent it going rancid. Without additives, our food supply would be quite limited. In New Zealand all additives are tested to ensure they are safe for use before they can be used in food. Even then, they can only be added in small amounts.


Aspartame causes cancer

FALSE Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly tested ingredients used in food. Recent safety reviews by scientific committees in Canada, Europe, France and the UK all confirm that aspartame is safe for use and does not cause cancer. Food Standards Australia & New Zealand (FSANZ), therefore allow it to be used as a sweetener in foods like diet drinks and snacks.Foods that are sweetened with aspartame are lower in kilojoules and can help reduce energy intake and control  blood glucose levels.


Spinach is a good source of iron

FALSE There are two types of iron in the foods we eat; haem iron, which is found in animal foods, and non-haem iron, which is found in plants. The body absorbs haem iron better than non-haem. While spinach does contain some iron, ( 1/2 cup of boiled spinach provides 2.2mg of iron, whereas 1 cup of hamburger mince provides 4.8mg), it also contains a substance that binds to iron; meaning it’s not taken up by the body as well as the iron in red meat and other animal foods.That’s why it’s important to include a variety of both plant and animal foods to get the iron you need. Vitamin C can also help the body absorb more non-haem iron from foods.


Green leafy vegetables are a good source of calcium 

FALSE Green leafy vegetables absorb minerals from the soil, so they can contain small amounts of calcium, although this is much less than dairy products. For example 1 cup of spinach provides 30mg of calcium, where 1 glass of milk provides 300mg of calcium. You can see you would have to eat huge amounts of green leafy vegetables to get your daily calcium needs of 1000mg. So, while green leafy vegetables are important for folate, fibre and    antioxidants, make sure you eat other foods for calcium. Foods like reduced-fat dairy, canned salmon with the bones and calcium-fortified soy milk contain calcium.


People with diabetes need to avoid sugar
FALSE There was a time when people with diabetes were told to avoid eating sugar, but science has since shown that this isn’t necessary. All carbohydrates (e.g. bread, rice, pasta, starchy vegetables) are broken down to sugar which is absorbed into the blood stream. Rather than avoid sugars, it is important that people with diabetes choose carbohydrates that are slowly broken down, and spread these carbohydrates evenly across the day to help control their blood sugar levels. The best choices are low glycemic index carbohydrates.


Eating too much sugar causes type two diabetes

FALSE Even though one of the symptoms of diabetes is high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood, eating sugar doesn‘t directly cause diabetes. Type two diabetes is a lifestyle disease caused by a number of things, such as family history, lack of exercise and becoming overweight or obese. Someone without the genetic predisposition would not develop diabetes, no matter how much sugar he/she consumed.


Brown sugar is better for you than white sugar

FALSE The only difference between brown and white sugar is that brown sugar contains molasses, which has a caramel aroma and flavour, while white sugar has been refined to remove the molasses. Both of these sugars provide the same amount of energy (kilojoules), so the truth  is that your body can’t really tell the difference.


Eggs are bad for you

FALSE For years people have thought that eggs are bad because they contain cholesterol. Even though the cholesterol found in foods can contribute to blood cholesterol levels, it’s actually the saturated fat in food that has a bigger impact. Eggs can be included in your diet and provide high quality protein many vitamins and minerals. If you’re worried about heart health speak to a doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian about the number of eggs to include in your diet.


Carob is healthier than chocolate

FALSE Some people believe carob is a healthy alternative to chocolate. Carob does not contain caffeine, however it does contain similar amounts of sugar, energy (kJ) and saturated fat as chocolate. So it’s not really any “healthier” than chocolate and like all “treat” foods, is something to enjoy in small amounts.


Skipping meals is a good way to lose weight

FALSE It may seem logical that skipping a meal will help you lose weight because you eat less, but it’s not that simple. Missing out on meals can actually have the opposite effect. Your body goes into ‘survival mode’, slowing down your metabolism and conserving energy rather than using it up. Skipping meals can also make you hungrier, and more likely to snack on high fat or sugar foods. A better way to reach and maintain a healthy weight is eat small meals  regularly throughout the day and find ways to be more active.


Meat takes days to digest

FALSE So, you’ve eaten a big steak off the BBQ and you feel like you will be full forever. Contrary to the myth, it won’t take you days to digest. In fact, most people digest meat within 3-5 hours of eating it. Your digestive system is very efficient. It breaks down food into nutrients the body can absorb – and   the nutrients from meat, like protein and fat are no different. Lean meat is predominantly a protein food. Our bodies use protein for building and repair of body tissues,    so try to include at least one serve of meat, fish, poultry or an alternative such as legumes (lentils, baked beans, chickpeas) in your daily diet. One serve is just 100g cooked  meat or chicken, 120g fish, 2 eggs or 1/2 cup legumes.


Raw vegetables are always better than cooked vegetables

FALSE The amount nutrients you get from vegetables can differ for a number of reasons, such as how long you store them and how (or if) you cook them. Although cooking vegetables can mean that they lose nutrients, cooking can sometimes increase the amount of nutrients available to the body. An example of this is the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes. Cooking tomatoes releases more lycopene than is available in raw tomatoes.Loss of nutrients can occur in cooking because some vitamins, like Vitamins B and C dissolve in water. Some can be lost if the vegetables are boiled for too long. Steaming or stir-frying helps retain the vitamins when you cook vegetables.The fact of the matter is vegetables are powerhouses of nutrition, no matter which way you eat them – whether raw or cooked - five serves of vegetables a day are recommended for good nutrition.


Eating lots of carrots will improve your eyesight

FALSE Carrots contain beta-carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A to use for vision, bone growth and maintenance of healthy skin. The truth is, while eating lots of carrots could make you turn orange from the excess beta-carotene, lots of carrots won’t improve your eyesight. One effect of Vitamin A deficiency is night blindness, which perhaps is where the myth originated. While carrots can help prevent Vitamin A deficiency, eating lots won’t help you to see better. In New Zealand Vitamin A is found in lots of foods, so deficiency is rare. Even though they won’t give you x-ray vision, don’t leave the carrots off your plate – they are a nutritious, tasty and affordable vegetable.


Starchy foods like bread and pasta are fattening

FALSE Starchy foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes are carbohydrate foods. Like all carbohydrate foods, starchy foods break down to give your body glucose for energy. Carbohydrates are great sources of energy; in fact it is recommended that around 45-60% of our energy should come from carbs. As with all types of energy, if you eat more than your body needs, the energy from carbs will get stored, which can increase your weight. However, pasta and bread are not fattening if eaten as part of a balanced diet. Go for wholegrain or wholemeal bread, and top your pasta with tomato-based sauces rather than creamy sauces.


Snacking late at night causes weight gain

FALSE If you succumb to the midnight munchies, it will go straight to your hips, right? Not necessarily. You put on weight when you eat more food than your body needs, and don’t do enough activity to burn it off. While some people may snack more when they stay up late, it’s the amount and type of snacks that determine if the kilos will pile on, or not. So, try to choose snacks from the core food groups like dairy, fruit or grains if you’re feeling hungry after dinner. Otherwise, to combat late night snacking or over eating at night, try to eat six regular meals throughout the day.


Carbohydrates should not be eaten with protein

FALSE There are so many fad diets out there – and almost everyone has heard the one about not eating carbohydrates at the same time as protein. If it were true it would mean no yogurt, milk, pasta or legumes as these foods naturally contain both protein and carbohydrate together. It is perfectly OK to eat carbs and protein at the same meal. In fact, our bodies are designed to work that way. Our digestive system is capable of digesting a large range and combination of food at the same time. Also, a mixed meal of carbohydrates and protein can help you control your blood sugar levels.


Avoid dairy when you have a cold

FALSE Did your mum always tell you to slow down on the milk when you have a cold as it clogs up your nose and throat with mucus? The truth is that this common food myth is false! Milk does not cause mucus production. Due to the creamy texture of milk, some people feel that there is a temporary coating over the mouth and throat after drinking milk. This is not mucus – it’s just the natural sensation of drinking milk and only lasts for a short period of time.


Taking vitamin tablets gives you all the nutrients you need

FALSE If only it were that easy! Although vitamin and mineral supplements can be useful for some people as a “top up” when the diet is inadequate, or for increased requirements (such as pregnancy), they still don’t give you all the nutrients you need. Supplements cannot give you adequate amounts of macronutrients – carbohydrate, fat, protein and dietary fibre to meet your needs. That’s why a balanced diet full of a variety of nutritious foods from the core food groups is the best way to get all of the vitamins, minerals and macronutrients that you need each day.


Sugar makes kids hyperactive

FALSE Does your child come home from birthday parties bouncing off the walls? Do you think it’s all the sugar in the party food? It’s actually not the party food. The reason they’re hyped-up is more likely due to all of the excitement and activity at the party rather than the sugar in the party food. Studies have shown no direct link between consumption of sugary foods and increased hyperactivity in children. It is important to note however, that the New Zealand Ministry of Health Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents advise to “consume only moderate amounts of sugar and foods containing added sugars”.


This fact sheet contains general information and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific advice for your personal situation.

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