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Food myths may keep you from good health!

by Doris Penner

Never before have Canadians had such ready access to information on nutrition—and never has there been so much misinformation. Putting your faith in myths keeps you from enjoying perfectly wholesome foods and worse, it can be downright dangerous to your health. Are you clinging to the following common bits of misinformation? You might be relieved to know they are false.

1. Eating eggs is bad for my cholesterol

            Like all animal foods, eggs contain cholesterol. However, for most people, eating foods that contain cholesterol has a very small effect on blood cholesterol levels. Eating foods which are high in fat—especially the saturated and trans types of fats—has a much bigger effect. The biggest culprit is trans fats found in pre-packaged foods such as crackers and cookies, artificial whipped toppings, margarines that contain hydrogenated oils and deep-fried foods. An egg contains no trans fats and a minimum of saturated fats, is packed with nutrients and has only 70 calories. That means a healthy individual can freely eat eggs and other animal foods that contain cholesterol—in moderation, of course as with most foods. If your blood cholesterol is high, you should check with your doctor or a dietitian about a healthy meal plan.

2. Carbohydrates are fattening

            This myth will not go away. It surfaces every so often, appearing in weight-loss diets such as the latest “lo-carb hi-protein” diet. Your body needs the B vitamins, iron and fibre foods such as whole grain rice, pasta and breads as well as vegetables provide. Of course, any food eaten in excess of energy needs can lead to weight gain. The thing to be aware of with breads, pasta and potatoes is how quickly the fat and calorie count goes up when you add sour cream, sauces and spreads. It should also be noted that low-carb eating—balanced with a moderate amount of protein—can help some people manage their weight, especially those who have a tough time controlling intake of foods high in carbohydrate foods. And there is no question that loading up on sugary and refined-carbohydrate-rich foods will raise the risk not only of weight gain, but also of developing heart disease and diabetes.

3. Brown bread is always a wiser choice than white

            Don’t be deceived—there’s a huge difference between “brown” bread and whole wheat bread. A lot of “brown” bread sold in supermarkets is nothing more than bread with a “fake tan”—that is, it has a caramel colour added to give it that healthy glow. If a bread is truly whole wheat—that is, it contains the whole grain with its bran and germ—it is definitely more nutritious than white bread. Whole wheat products contain fibre, the indigestible part of food that can help to prevent a range of ills including colon cancer, obesity and digestive problems, as well as more B vitamins and iron than white flour products. Read the label to ensure you are buying “whole wheat” bread.

4. Most adults should not eat dairy products

            There are two reasons why this belief is perpetuated: one is the erroneous idea that milk and cheese create mucous in the food canal which clogs up the system and the other is lactose intolerance. Indeed, a certain percentage of people are lactose intolerant—that is, their bodies do not make enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the sugar found in milk. If the problem is not severe, they may be able to handle dairy foods such as yogurt which contains natural lactase from the fermentation process which aids in digestion, and hard cheese which contains very small amounts of lactose. Otherwise healthy people should not avoid dairy foods since they are an excellent source of calcium, vital in building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. Those who are unable to ingest regular milk should check out lactose-digesting enzymes in the form of tablets, and consult their physician about a calcium supplement.

5. The lower the fat, the healthier the diet

            This is where the old adage—the more the better, or in this case if a lower intake is good an even lower intake is better—does not fit. A diet that is extremely low in fat—that is, if one gets less than 15 percent of calories from fat—will set off a chain of problems. Fat has an important role to play in the functioning of our bodies—it helps distribute fat-soluble vitamins (A and D) and lubricates the skin and joints. It is important to consume fat in moderation, especially saturated or animal fat, focusing more on vegetable oils (but not hydrogenated as in hard margarines). While all fat—no matter from which source—is a concentrated form of energy (calories), fats from various sources are not created equally. Saturated fats, for example, are a risk factor in some forms of cancer and in raising cholesterol levels which has implications for cardiovascular disease.