Whether it’s conflicting studies or confusing labels, it’s becoming harder and harder to achieve a so-called “balanced” diet.
“Nutrition is constantly changing,” says registered dietitian and chef Julie Bednarski of Healthy Crunch snacks in Toronto.
“You can get 10 studies that say coffee is good and 10 studies that say coffee is bad for you … that’s where it confuses people — what’s good and what’s bad.”
She adds packaging and labelling by companies also are partly to blame, because often, phrases like “low fat” or “no added sugar” or “low carb” have all been dubbed as healthier choices — even when it’s not the case.
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“I am a big believer in whole food and less processed food,” she says, adding sometimes, there can also be claims about healthy food that is untrue or not backed up by science.
On Friday, Health Canada proposed new regulations that would require companies to add warning labels to all packaged foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar or sodium.
Bednarski says while clearer marketing is one thing, what Canadians really need to focus on is eating more balanced meals, as well as understanding what things like fat, sugar and salt can do to their bodies.
Below, Bednarski goes through seven common healthy food myths people still believe.
Artificial sweeteners are good for weight loss
Bednarski says people who are trying to watch their weight or cut back on sugar, shouldn’t use artificial sweeteners as substitutes.
“The fact is artificial sweeteners are worse for our health than sugar alone,” she says, adding research has shown sweeteners have been linked to weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure.
And although the risks associated with aspartame continue to be studied, Health Canada notes allegations against the sweetener to cause allergic reactions, seizures, cancer and brain tumours and diabetes are not supported.
Milk is the best source of calcium
While we’ve all been raised to believe cow’s milk is the best source of calcium, Bednarski says you are better off eating dark leafy greens, almonds or even canned salmon.
“Most people get confused with dairy and calcium and what mainstream media forgets to talk about is bone health goes beyond calcium,” she says. “We also need vitamin K and D.”
She adds dairy does have nutritional benefits, but some adults can’t digest cow’s milk. She suggests switching to sheep or goat’s milk.
Saturated fats cause heart disease
There has been countless research that has looked at the link between saturated fat, heart disease and stroke, the Heart and Stroke Foundation notes, and Bednarski adds saturated fats are found in everything from avocados to coconuts to processed foods.
“Saturated fat can be good, but it’s the type,” she says. She adds research shows these healthier saturated fats are needed for optimal brain health and building cell membranes.
Eggs are unhealthy
“Eggs are one of the healthiest foods on the planet,” Bednarski says.
Previous research has concluded eggs could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, but in 2013, research from Huazhong University of Science and Technology concluded eating up to one egg per day was not linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke, Live Science reports.
Full of protein and vitamin D, Bednarski says the yolk is also nutritious. “You don’t want to eat a whole case, but having two eggs per day is a good source of protein.”
All fats will make you gain weight
Bednarski says not all fat is equal and while the over-consumption of fatty, processed foods will make you gain weight, not all fats are bad for you.
“Eating health fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados can help with weight loss,” she says. When we add healthy fats to a balanced diet, these types of fats make us feel fuller longer.
All salt should be avoided
Yes, the average Canadian is still eating more salt than they should, but trying a low-salt diet may not be the most useful way to maintain or lose weight, Bednarski says.
Some research has shown the DASH diet in particular (one that focuses on cutting back on sodium), can have a positive effect on a person’s blood pressure, the Heart and Stroke Foundation notes, but Bednarski says more research needs to be done.
She suggests eating less processed salt that has been bleached, and trying pink Himalayan salt instead.
Juice with ‘no added’ sugar is healthy
Bednarski argues sugar is sugar when it enters our bodies — the source doesn’t always matter. She says with fruit juice in particular, there’s confusion around marketing and labelling, especially with labels like “no added sugar.”
Bednarski adds juices like these lack fibre, and others argue a cup of OJ often has the same amount of sugar as a can of pop.
“When you turn fruit into juice, you are losing the insoluble fibre, which is an essential nutrient and helps delay absorption of the sugar. Take the fibre away and you’re just drinking sugar and calories. There’s some vitamin C, but you would be better off taking a vitamin pill for that,” U.S. obesity expert and author Robert Lustig told BBC.
Bednarski says instead of trying to get nutrition via juice, opt for eating the fruit instead.