Confused about food? Our myth-busting health facts will help you make better choices at the dinner table.
Myth 1: Sugar must be eliminated
In recent years, sugar has been blamed for everything from tooth decay to hyperactivity in kids – but should we be worried? In short, yes: high intakes of added sugars and refined carbohydrates are linked to an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and can also lead to weight gain.
The bulk of the added sugars in Australian diets comes from foods like biscuits, cakes, muffins, pastries, confectionary, and especially from sugary drinks. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend avoiding these foods and drinks or replacing them with nutrient-dense foods as part of a healthy diet.
However, natural sugars like those found in whole fruit are okay to eat in moderation, as are those in plain milk and unsweetened yoghurt.
Myth 2: All fats are bad for you
You might be surprised to hear that this one’s not true. Some fats are actually great for your heart – but it depends on the type of fat you eat.
Put simply, unsaturated fats (like those from nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and oily fish) are good for your heart because they help increase good (HDL) cholesterol and decrease bad (LDL) cholesterol. By contrast, saturated fat (which comes from things like meat, chicken, dairy products and palm and coconut oil) and trans fats (often found in discretionary or processed foods like biscuits, pastries and takeaway foods) can increase the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower the good (HDL) cholesterol, heightening your risk of heart disease. So, eat unsaturated fats as part of a heart-healthy diet, but avoid their saturated and trans fat counterparts. Where possible, swap the saturated fats in your diet for unsaturated options.
Myth 3: Pink salt is better than white
Once upon a time, salt was just salt, but now there are lots of options to choose from – like Pink Himalayan salt, which is often considered healthier than white salt alternatives. But is it?
While some gourmet salts contain trace minerals, those minerals only occur in tiny amounts. More importantly, all salts contain both sodium and chloride (yes, even Pink Himalayan salt). Too much sodium in from salt of any kind can result in high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease. So, limit your daily salt intake to a maximum of about a teaspoon (5 grams). Need to cut down? Swap out salt for herbs and spices to season your food while cooking.
Myth 4: Everyone should choose reduced-fat milk
Full-fat dairy = bad, low-fat dairy = good, right? Not necessarily. When it comes to milk, there’s actually not enough evidence to suggest that reduced-fat milk is necessarily better for you than full-fat alternatives (or vice versa!).
The fat in dairy can raise cholesterol, which isn’t an issue for most healthy people. However, for people with heart disease or high LDL cholesterol, reduced-fat milk products are a better option. So, think about your own health history before choosing the milk that’s right for you. Just make sure it’s unflavoured!
Myth 5: Dark chocolate and red wine are basically health foods
Dark chocolate and red wine both contain antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds which may protect your cells against damage. So, does that mean you can have as much red wine and dark chocolate as you like?
Not so fast! Both products contain polyphenols, a type of antioxidant, which are found in certain plant-based foods. When it comes to wine, however, there’s no evidence that these polyphenols can prevent heart disease or be beneficial after a heart attack.
On the chocolate front, high polyphenol cocoa/chocolate can reduce your risk factors for heart disease – but that doesn’t mean going wild in the chocolate aisle on your next grocery shop. Most manufactured chocolate is low in polyphenols, so opt for raw cocoa powder in drinks and cooking instead. Remember, the best way to include antioxidants in your diet, is through plenty of vegetables and fruit. Find out more about how you can get more fruit and vegetables in your diet.