5 Common Nutrition Myths Busted By An Expert
5 Common Nutrition Myths Busted By An Expert

5 Common Nutrition Myths Busted By An Expert

With so much information available at the touch of a button these days, it's easy to be misled by any number of health fads. To sort fact from fiction, SL columnist Lucy Miller looks at some of the most common misconceptions and explains why it’s not always as simple as it sounds.
By Lucy Miller

Going Gluten-Free Is Good For You

A gluten-free diet is, of course, necessary for those with coeliac disease, wheat intolerance, or a gluten sensitivity. It might also be beneficial for autoimmune and digestive conditions. However, research isn’t conclusive about the general health benefits if you suffer from none of the above.   

Gluten is a protein found in grains that gives products their elasticity. For some people, it can be hard to digest and there may be some evidence to suggest human bodies are not designed to digest such proteins. Pippa Campbell, renowned nutritionist and hormone expert, says that because wheat and gluten contain grains, they can often cause inflammation. So, if you have hormonal imbalances, she suggests avoiding gluten that may contribute to worse symptoms. 

One of the main flaws in a diet that is gluten-free is that alternative options do not always mean they are healthy or nutritious. Some processed gluten-free products like cakes, pastries and snacks can be high in calories, contain few nutrients and can actually cause weight gain if they're eaten regularly. 

The only way to really find out if a gluten-free diet would be beneficial to you is to eliminate it and monitor your symptoms. Pippa suggests cutting it out for three to four weeks and then introducing it back in to see how you feel. Many people are surprised at how much better they feel without it.


Low-Fat Is Always Best

In the 90s, ‘low fat’ and ‘fat-free’ were the buzzwords promoted as the healthier option. However, when people follow a low-fat diet, they eliminate foods that contain ‘good fats’ and fill up on low-fat processed foods, rather than wholefoods such as fish, lean meat and veggies. Low fat may seem like the healthiest option but can often be full of added sugar and unhealthy ingredients that can raise insulin levels and actually promote fat storage.

It’s important to define the difference in fats, as some can actually help you shed belly fat and be beneficial to your health. These are polyunsaturated sources, like omega 3 found in foods such as oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. They can help reduce cholesterol, boost brain health, reduce inflammation and improve skin. Foods that contain fat also keep you feeling fuller for longer and therefore you’re less likely to snack in between meals.

So, stay away from ‘bad fats’ found in processed foods, things such as biscuits, cakes and ready meals and try to avoid sunflower oil, soybean oil and refined olive oil. Instead choose good fat sources such as coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil to cook with. Opt for natural sources of omega 3, found in oily fish, grass-fed meat, avocado, nuts and seeds. I am a big fan of Chalk Stream Trout but if you prefer not to eat fish, then try a good quality omega 3 supplement from Bare Biology. 


Carbs Are Bad For You & Will Lead To Weight Gain

There is a lot of negative information floating around about carbs, but bear in mind that they are not all created equally. Carbs can be ‘complex’ or ‘whole’ as opposed to ‘refined’.  Whole or complex carbs are minimally processed and contain healthy fibre to feed the gut and improve digestion. These do not cause sugar spikes and keep you feeling fuller for longer. They are found in foods such as vegetables, quinoa, legumes, sweet potato and oats. 

However, refined carbs are very easy for our body to break down into sugar, so foods such as white bread, pasta and pastries. These carbs are more likely to trigger sugar spikes that can cause a subsequent crash and this can lead to fatigue, cravings and mood changes. 

Pippa explains that carbs in general can play havoc with hormones, but it’s important to avoid high glycaemic carbs such as white bread, white pasta, chips etc and make sure carbs are the side show, and not the main event. We need some carbs to make progesterone so it’s important to remember that especially in your luteal phase (the second half of your menstrual cycle) or if you have low thyroid hormones. She also suggests eating your carbs at dinner as they can help with sleep. 

So rather than thinking about avoiding carbs altogether, instead swap the refined version for a modest amount of those high in fibre and nutrients.  


Being Vegan Makes You Healthier

For individuals who choose to follow a vegan diet for ethical, medical or health reasons, this of course is a positive personal choice. However, for all the buzz about the benefits of eating more plants, it’s easy to assume that going vegan automatically means eating well for your health. 

Nutritional therapist, Jen Walpole, says that while vegan diets can be packed with fibre and antioxidants thanks to their plant-based nature, they may not be as healthy as you think. For example, many plant-based alternatives like vegan cheeses, milks, and meat substitutes are heavily processed. They are often loaded with additives, inflammatory vegetable oils, and are low in the vital nutrients we get from animal products. This can lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals which can affect mood, liver function, hormone balance and impair cognitive function. 

She explains that vegan diets can be low in omega 3 as oily fish provides the richest source of omega-3s, essential for brain health and reducing inflammation. And while plant sources like flaxseeds offer some omega-3s, they are in a less bioavailable form than those found in fish. Vegan diets can be high in carbohydrates (beans, legumes, grains), which can cause blood sugar spikes. Plant milks can do the same, so it’s best to opt for soy or nut milks, made without a rice milk base. 

Jen adds that not all plant-based foods are unhealthy and gives us the rundown of her favourites. For plant-based cheeses, opt for those made using nuts such as Palace Culture and KindacoNush for a meat substitute; or Clearspring organic soy mince for a versatile option. For tofu, she loves the new one by Deliciously Ella Plants or Tofoo naked tofu and tempeh. For plant-based milk, Plenish is the healthiest on the market as it’s organic, contains minimal ingredients and doesn’t use refined oils.


Fasting Works For Everyone

Intermittent fasting has its benefits and is safe for most people, but not everyone should participate. Fasting is a stretch of time when you go without eating. It could be an overnight fast or not eating for say a 12-16-hour window or it could be the 5:2 approach where you eat normally for five days a week and on the other two, you dramatically restrict your diet. There are of course benefits, such as weight loss (if that’s the aim), blood sugar balance, increasing energy, reducing inflammation, improving brain health and to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. 

However, it’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all. Pippa explains that it would not necessarily be the best approach for a client with female sex hormone imbalances such as PMS, infertility, irregular, heavy or painful periods or perimenopause. For very stressed clients, she suggests starting with a 12-hour fasting window because they need protein within the first hour of waking to help stabilise cortisol levels.

Any kind of fasting in not recommended for those with low thyroid as it can reduce the production of T3, the main thyroid hormone. Also, if you are pregnant or still growing, steer clear. Of course, if you have any medical condition, check in with your practitioner before embarking on any kind of fast. 

If you wish to give it a go, then ease yourself in gently, starting with avoiding all snacks and focussing on only three meals a day. Then start with an overnight window of 12 hours and work up to 16 hours. There are no hard and fast rules as to how often you should do this, but a couple of times a week might be realistic. 

For more nutrition & wellness tips, follow @LucyMillerNutrition on Instagram & visit JenWalpole.com

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