WATCH ABOVE: Are legumes toxic? Is juicing better than eating whole foods? What are the benefits of a gluten-free diet? We dive into some of the biggest healthy eating misconceptions and myths.
TORONTO – Coconut oil, gluten-free carbs, and juice cleanses are still picking up speed. Meanwhile, eggs, legumes and sugar have taken a beating.
Consumers are inundated with new research, advice and fad diets – it’s hard to tell what’s best for your fridge, pantry and waistline.
Coconut oil is the healthiest oil: First, grocery shoppers traded in their canola oil for olive oil but the latest frontrunner is coconut oil. Its enthusiasts use it for cooking, for their skin, hair and nails. It’s a replacement for butter and other spreads, and supporters say it’s good for your heart and waistline.
But don’t necessarily substitute coconut oil for the oil you currently use to cook.
“There is no convincing evidence that coconut oil leads to a decreased risk of heart disease as opposed to unsaturated fats,” Comeau told Global News.
Coconut oil doesn’t raise cholesterol to the same extent as butter, but it does raise bad cholesterol more so than vegetable oils, Comeau notes. Small studies suggest that coconut oil can decrease waist circumference, but it’s subtle – 0.5 to one inch over the course of four weeks.
Using it sparingly in some recipes is fine, Comeau advises, and it’s a better choice than butter but it isn’t your better bet next to non-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Gluten-free breads, cereals and pastas are more nutritious: The gluten-free label is becoming ubiquitous in the grocery store, and it’s often donning what nutritionists call a “health halo.”
Eating gluten-free has morphed into a weight loss craze. Gluten is found in grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. Instead, gluten-free diets swap these out for flours made with rice, soy, potatoes, or tapioca.
There are about 300,000 Canadians living with celiac disease, according to Health Canada. It’s a food sensitivity triggered by gluten, causing damage to the small intestine while leaving patients with inflammation and abdominal pain among other symptoms. These are the people who have to adhere to strict gluten-free lifestyles.
Research found gluten-free bread is lower in protein and iron and higher in fat than their traditional counterparts. Pastas without gluten are lower in protein, fibre, iron and folate. Half of gluten-free cereals studied weren’t fortified.
These deficiencies are worrisome to Comeau. Gluten-free products also come with a bigger price-tag: they are, on average, 162 per cent more expensive.
“If you aren’t following a gluten-free diet because of a diagnosed medical condition like celiac disease, there seems to be little benefit to buying these products,” Comeau said.
Juicing is better than eating whole fruit: Juicers had a great 2014 – cold-pressed fruit and vegetables were seen as the key to cleansing, weight loss and detoxifying.
“This is typically based on some preliminary evidence that some vegetables and fruits enhance the function of certain enzymes in our bodies,” Comeau explained.
“These early studies were done in rodents and the reason they used juiced fruits and vegetables was to make sure the rodents consumed the fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Turns out, you don’t need to juice to reap these benefits. Eating whole fruits and vegetables will garner the same enzyme activation and you’ll fill up on the fibre from the produce. You’d also collect less waste and save money – it takes a lot of produce for regular juicing.
Eating eggs daily is unhealthy: Red meat, eggs and egg yolks are often singled out in research. Some healthy eaters try to avoid eggs or eat just the whites to cut back on cholesterol.
A 2012 Canadian study, for example, warned that excessive consumption of egg yolks – especially in people with cardiovascular disease – can be almost as bad for your arteries as smoking.
Canada’s food guide recommends two eggs as an alternative serving to meat.
Comeau says the warnings should be taken with a grain of salt, especially if you’re healthy without any risks for heart disease.
“If you are generally healthy, eating an average of one egg per day doesn’t increase risk of cardiovascular disease. Eggs are also an excellent source of high quality protein, iron and B vitamins,” she said.
There shouldn’t be a problem with eating upwards of seven eggs per week, she advised.
Sugar causes hyperactivity: Parents often blame hyperactivity or ADHD in their kids on sugar, but Comeau says this claim doesn’t hold any clout.
She calls it a “myth that won’t quit.”
“This year actually marks the 20th anniversary of a meta-analysis that found sugar had no effect on the behaviour of children who are hyperactive or children with ADHD and yet I still hear this comment from parents,” she said.
She suggests that parents zero in on where the sugar is coming from, such as processed foods or sugary baked goods that may not offer much nutritional value.
She said there are also better reasons to cut back on sugar, but behavioural concerns shouldn’t be the top priority.
Last year, chocoholics and the fast food industry were silenced in March after the World Health Organization said that sugar intake should be just five per cent of your total daily calories. That’s half of what the global health agency recommended years ago in its guidelines.
For an average woman who eats about 2,000 calories a day, that’s roughly 25 grams of sugar – less than half of a can of pop, about two portions of yogurt or an entire Caramilk bar.
Legumes are toxic: Lentils, chickpeas and peanuts are off limits on the wildly popular Paleo diet. Its followers say it’s because legumes are “toxic.”
Comeau says that isn’t the case, though. “It’s true that raw or undercooked beans can trigger nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea…but soaking and boiling beans for 10 minutes can completely eliminate the [issue],” she explained.
Legumes are a great source of protein, they lower cholesterol and they reduce oxidative stress, research has suggested.
Last year, Canadian researchers found that just a single serving of pulses could cut down on bad cholesterol by as much as five per cent over the course of six weeks.
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