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Nutrition Myths: separating the fact from fiction

The world of nutrition can be confusing with conflicting messages about what is and is not good for you seen every day in the press.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at some common nutrition myths and tells us what’s what!

Myth 1: Fat makes you fat

This one probably causes more confusion that any other myth. It started during the 80s when low-fat diets became really popular and food manufacturers encouraged people to choose low-fat options. As a result, almost overnight, fat became the nutritional bad boy.

The fact is we need fat, especially the essential omega-3s and omega-6s. Among other things, lack of omega-3s can cause hormone disruption, joint problems, low mood and dry skin. When people go on low-fat diets, they tend to cut out all fats and especially foods containing essential fats such as oily fish and nuts and seeds. Omega-3s are also important for body metabolism; another good reason for not leaving them out of the diet. Fat is also used as an energy source and to keep the body warm (very important at this time of year).

It is actually sugar (in all its forms) that makes us fat. The reason? Sugar has a massive effect on the pancreas and insulin production. When the body has more sugar than it can cope with, the only safe place to store it is in the fat cells, which is what insulin helps to do.

Look closely at your daily diet, taking particular note of ‘hidden sugars’ in cereals, convenience and low fat foods. Take note of the cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks (even the diet variety) and alcohol you are consuming. Think about reducing the sugar in your tea and coffee. Spend time to see where you can make some cuts.

Myth 2: A vegan diet is healthier

A vegan diet is popular at this time of year with last month’s Veganuary being big news. While this can certainly encourage much healthier eating for many people, those who choose to become completely vegan either for health or environmental issues need to keep a close eye on their nutritional status.

Our bodies naturally evolved to be carnivorous. While too much meat can be detrimental to health, other animal-based foods provide some wonderful health benefits, with a good balance of protein, vitamins and minerals. Indeed, certain vitamins, in particular, vitamin B12, can only be obtained from animal produce.

The lack of protein is a potential downside to a totally vegan diet. The fact is animal protein is more usable by the body due to the amino acid balance; this can be achieved through a vegan diet but you need to make sure you have a good balance of grains and beans in your diet.  Additionally, a higher calorie intake is generally needed in order to get the levels of protein the body requires on a daily basis.

While some of us can certainly thrive on a vegan diet, ‘selective veganism’, which ensures there are no nutrient deficiencies, tends to be the better option.

Myth 3: We get everything the body needs from the daily diet

In a perfect world, we would get all the nutrients we need from the daily diet. However, our food chain can be low in specific vitamins and minerals. Plus, who eats the 45 nutrients the body needs on a daily basis?

Soils in which produce is grown is often depleted of nutrients. Food can sit in supermarket store rooms for long periods, further depleting nutrient content. Our own stress levels, alongside high carbon footprint and other environmental issues, can also affect the availability and utilisation of nutrients.

We know from UK National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) that the population has widespread vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially in Vitamin D, iron, vitamin A, zinc, folic acid, iodine and potassium. Many of these can be obtained from eating fruits and vegetables, but less than 25% of the population are eating even the minimum of five-a-day.

So what’s the answer? Take a good-quality, high-potency vitamin and mineral supplement daily that will help plug any dietary and nutrient gaps. It’s like having a very cost-effective insurance policy in place!

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