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Dietary Faux Pas

Untangling everyday misconceptions

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Dietary Faux Pas

We all like to think we’re well educated, that we make good choices when it comes to healthy eating. But, like so much in our lives these days, eating healthy can get downright complicated. Check out some common dietary faux pas.

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Faux pas #1: Skipping fruit to skip the sugar

Go ahead: turn down that sugar bomb otherwise known as a doughnut (even if it is organic and gluten free) and reach for fruit—natural, refreshing, and far more valuable, nutritionally. Think fibre, vitamins, minerals, and a plethora of antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Don’t pass up the fruit for fear of taking in too much sugar. The difference is in the type of sugar (naturally occurring fructose versus added sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup) and the fact that processed foods with added sugar are the real culprits in the sugar war.

Many studies have demonstrated the powerful health benefits of fresh fruit consumption. But a 7-year prospective study involving half a million Chinese adults just published last year was a powerful endorsement of fruit for the prevention of diabetes as well as lowered risk of death in people who already have diabetes.

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Faux pas #2: Taking your multivitamin with coffee

We may be in a hurry to get our day started, but gulping down our daily multi with our morning caffeine jolt may not get the best results out of our morning routine. Whether it’s coffee or caffeine-containing tea, that jolt that helps get us going in the mornings also gets our digestive process moving faster.

The result of a revved up digestive system is that everything we consume, including the vitamins and minerals in our multi, moves through our body more quickly, resulting in less time to absorb them before being eliminated.

Both coffee and tea contain tannins, which can decrease the absorption of iron as well as thiamine (vitamin B1). Calcium, too, may be affected by tannins which can decrease the efficiency of calcium absorption. Taking your multi well before or at least 30 minutes after you’ve finished your morning cup of joe is often recommended

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Faux pas #3: Choosing products based on the product claims

Sure. The product screams, “Gluten free,” “sugar free,” “natural,” or even “organic” on the front of its label. But have you read the fine print on the nutritional and ingredients sections of the label—often hidden in a fold or corner? A thorough read through this valuable information might change your mind.

While a product might make a claim to being gluten free, for example, it could also be loaded with added sugar, unhealthy fats, or refined ingredients. Those sneaky ingredients might be in the small print on the back—nestled cagily among the other ingredients and nutrition figures.

And just because a product is “low” in something that we know we shouldn’t consume—low-sugar, low-sodium, low-fat—we shouldn’t assume it’s, ergo, healthy. The product may contain lower amounts than the regular product, but still contain more than our body needs (a tablespoon/15 mL of low-sodium soy sauce can contain 550 mg sodium versus regular soy sauce at 900 mg).

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Faux pas #4: Assuming you’re healthy because you’re slim

Using weight as the litmus test of good health is a mistake that people can make, because there’s so much energy and money spent on diet plans and weight-loss programs. Many of these are aimed primarily at the end goal—lost weight for aesthetic reasons, rather than achieving overall good health.

The truth, of course, is that our weight is one measure of our overall health—but only one. Some people can eat copious amounts of unhealthy foods and never exercise, but remain slim. Looking a little deeper, a health care practitioner might find other measures of health have been affected: blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar levels for example, and poor muscle, bone, and joint health.

The best approach to overall health, as we’ve all heard many times before, is to focus on a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, including abundant fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, while limiting refined sugars and processed foods. Nuff said.

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Faux pas #5: Avoiding egg yolks to avoid cholesterol

It’s true. Egg yolks contain lots of cholesterol. And we used to think that reducing the amount of cholesterol in our diet was necessary to keep our heart healthy, especially if our total cholesterol levels were high.

But times changed, and evolving research demonstrated that the cholesterol in our blood is made in our liver—it doesn’t come from cholesterol we eat. So the suggestion that we say no to eggs because they’re responsible for increasing our blood cholesterol levels has changed—and people are once again cracking yolks.

The even better news is that eggs are little bundles of big nutrition, and volumes of research demonstrate they’re actually heart healthy (though the jury’s still out for people with type 2 diabetes). Current recommendations say that most people can eat the equivalent of 7 eggs a week—but maybe skip the Benny.

Nutritional power of eggs

A large egg contains 72 calories; 6 g protein; 5 g total fat (1.5 g sat. fat), and 70 mg sodium. The yolk contains all the fat and cholesterol, most of the calories, and nearly half of the protein, as well as zinc, B vitamins (including riboflavin and folate), vitamin A, iron, carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin), choline, and other nutrients.

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Faux pas #6: Forgetting to shake your nondairy milk before pouring

Cows’ milk contains protein and calcium—and the dairy industry makes sure we know this (“Got Milk?”). But the ubiquitous milk moustache has been changing from a dairy one to a nondairy one—made with milk from almonds, soy, cashews, rice, hemp, or coconut.

While most are healthy choices (except when they contain added sugar and thickeners), these milk alternatives often rely on fortification with nutrients they lack, like calcium and vitamin D. These added nutrients don’t stay in the liquid, but settle to the bottom of the container. So before you pour your favourite nondairy milk, remember to shake it up.

Tip

A study by food scientists at McGill University in Montreal which was published this January in the Journal of Food Science and Technology compared the overall nutritional profiles of four popular nondairy milks (soy, almond, rice, and coconut) against that of cows’ milk.

They concluded that cows’ milk is the most complete and balanced source of protein, fat, and carbohydrates and soy milk is the most comparable in terms of overall nutrient balance. One concern was related to protein and carb content, with almond milk providing low amounts and coconut milk none at all.

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