Keeping as healthy as possible is a key goal for most senior executives. So it’s quite likely you may have cut out so called unhealthy foods and opted for their ‘healthier’ alternatives. Unfortunately, some health fads are a bit misleading. There is not a great deal of evidence to support the health benefit claims associated with many popular health foods. Here are six of the most common health food myths.
- Coconut oil is a healthier option
Touted for its many health benefits, it is said that coconut oil assists with everything from heart disease to maintaining cholesterol levels and weight loss. There is very little proof that any of these benefits are true. Limited evidence suggests that its high lauric acid content it may increase both ‘good’ (HDL) and ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol. So, overall it may not affect blood cholesterol levels negatively.
However, a large body of evidence still suggests that a high intake of saturated fat, the major type of fat in coconut oil, is harmful to health compared to poly- and mono-unsaturated sources of fats. Leading health organisations from around the world recommend limiting the intake of all types of saturated and trans fat sources, opting instead for mono-and polyunsaturated sources such as canola oil, olive oil, and other vegetable oils (except palm oil).
Tip: Consume smaller amounts as part of a balanced diet, moderation is key.
- Olive oil and nuts contains ‘good fats’ so you can go overboard with them
Olive oil and nuts contain ‘good’ types of fat which are low in saturated fat but they are high in calories. A tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories, which will take the average 75 kg person, 25 minutes of brisk walking to burn off. Similarly, a small handful of nuts (1/4 cup) contain between 170 to 240 calories depending on the type of nuts, and will take 35 - 50 minutes of brisk walking to burn off. Consuming both in one day would mean at least 60 minutes of brisk walking to prevent it from adding centimetres to your waistline.
Tip: Use in limited amounts and opt for ‘virgin’ olive oil which is a far better choice.
- Brown sugar is healthier than white
While brown sugar is slightly less processed and more flavourful than white sugar, there is virtually no difference between the two. Believing that brown sugar is a healthier option and adding more to your diet, could negatively affect your waistline and health - especially if you don’t follow a physically active lifestyle.
Tip: A few teaspoons of sugar can form part of a wholesome, calorie-controlled diet*. Be cautious with any type of sugar, including sugary cooldrinks, baked goods, confectionery and sweetened cups of coffee and tea. Replacing sugar with honey is also not ideal, as it contains the same amount of calories as a spoon of sugar.
- You can drink as much fruit juice as you like, as long as it is 100% fruit
100% fruit juice is packed with vitamins and minerals that could offer a nutrient boost, but is also packed with concentrated calories. Some juices are even more calorie-dense than regular fizzy cooldrinks. A small glass (150 ml) with pulp added a day could form part of a healthy diet*, but replacing this with fruit offers the best advantage. Fruit contains fewer calories, is filling and provides fibre and other nutrients which are more beneficial to your health.
Tip: Keep your fluid intake high by drinking water throughout the day. If you had to choose, 100% fruit juice still trumps regular cooldrinks due to the vitamin and mineral boost you get that cooldrinks lack.
*Highly active individuals could be more lenient on amounts, as part of a wholesome diet with nutrient-rich foods from all the various food groups.
- Smoothies and “juicing” is the way to go and everybody is doing it
This may be a convenient way to consume nutrients, but it also adds a whack of calories. Because the food is already broken down, it also does not fill you up for long before you need another snack. If you struggle to meet your daily needs through food alone then this is a good boost but should not replace meals. Smoothies have its place and should be best left for those struggling to meet their daily needs through food alone. For example, highly active individuals, those with a poor appetitie, or during times when you are sick, stressed and struggle to eat solid foods.
Tip: Replace this with a piece of fruit, yoghurt and a tablespoon of muesli or bran for a quick healthy snack that won’t add to your waistline.
- Gluten-free foods are healthier
They are for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities – definitely a minority. Most people are able to digest gluten without a problem. Gluten-free products often contain other refined starches that are not necessarily healthier. A gluten-free diet is quite restrictive and means cutting out whole-grains, rye and barley products. This eliminates an important source of fibre and other health-boosting nutrients that are essential.
Current evidence indicates that whole-grains play an important role in lowering the risk of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and also contribute to body weight management and gastrointestinal health. The unique mix of nutrients, including the phytonutrients only present in whole-grains, synergistically contributes to their beneficial effects.
Tip: Gluten-free whole-grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth, are a better option although they can be quite pricey and difficult to obtain. Portion control is important and should ‘fit in’ with your calorie and nutrient needs, as part of an overall wholesome diet.
* Source: Journal of Nutrition.
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