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Common food myths

Posted by: Julie Meek

Due to the huge amount of information that is available to us these days, it can be difficult to sort out fact from fiction. 

One 'expert' says one thing and then another has a completely conflicting position.

This is never more apparent than in the health/nutrition sector. It seems everyone out there in food land has a conflicting idea of what's healthy and what's not.

On one hand we can be told the the hidden powers of the blah, blah berry undiscovered for centuries, then others tell us that you can get the same amount of nutrition from a bog standard apple... Arrggh it's a nightmare, what should I do???

Well apart from being extra careful about who you listen to – remember Oprah Winfrey is not a doctor – you need to take a common sense approach and cut through the proverbial.

Healthier Workplace WA to the rescue.

In this blog, I'm going to address two common food myths:

  1. Carbohydrates are fattening
  2. All kilojoules are created equal

Before we can properly address these 'myths' we first need to look at kilojoules (or calories). Kilojoules and calories measure the energy we consume from food and drinks.

Most food and beverages contain kilojoules (kJ); they are derived from fat, alcohol, protein and carbohydrate. Food energy is essentially the petrol to run our ‘car’ – the human body. Our energy requirements are highly individual and dependent on factors like age, activity level, weight and height.

Useful tip! Kilojoules and calories measure the same thing. A bit like centimetres vs inches. Multiply calories by 4.2 to get kilojoules.

1. Are carbohydrates fattening?

The short answer is No.

Simply put, consuming an excess of food energy (kJ) in any form (carbohydrate, fat, protein and alcohol) and not getting enough exercise will increase your body fat.

Carbohydrate is found in the foods section of the core food group in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating which includes foods such as: bread, cereal, pasta, rice, fruit, some vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, legumes and corn as well as some dairy including milk and yoghurt. These foods provide fibre, vitamins and minerals that the body needs, so when eaten in the right proportions they make a vital contribution to our diet.

Carbohydrate in the form of added sugar however is also found in lollies, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks, juices and sugar sweetened beverages to name a few. This carbohydrate is an energy dense form, very palatable, and without any bulk (fibre) or protein to keep us full. This means it is easy to consume and therefore could lead to weight gain.

2. Are all kilojoules equal?

No. All kilojoules are not treated equally. 

Can I say firstly that it’s never a good idea to work out how many kilojoules you need in a day and then use them on your favourite chocolates or biscuits. 

Whilst we might lose weight for awhile (if our intake of kJs is less than we need), it’s really not good for our health. Think of all the vitamins, minerals and fibre you're starving your body of.

Did you know that the kilojoules we consume from carbohydrates and protein that are in excess of our needs are used for energy? This is due to the fact that our body doesn’t store carbohydrate and protein as well as fat.

Carbohydrate is stored in the muscle and liver and the capacity for storage is quite low, whereas protein stores are mainly in the muscle and their size is dependent on need. 

Fat on the other hand is the ideal storage unit for kilojoules. Fat provides almost double the amount of kilojoules per gram than carbohydrate and protein. So it’s easy to over consume the total amount of kilojoules when eating high fat foods.

Take home points

  • We don’t just need kilojoules… we also need vitamins, minerals and fibre from a diet rich with fruit, vegetables, wholegrain high fibre breads and cereals, lean meat and protein sources and low fat dairy.
  • Carbohydrates are not the villains in the weight war; it is how much you eat and what is added to them, like fats and sugars, which bump up the kilojoules.
  • Fats and oils are an important part of our diet, just swap saturated fat for poly and mono unsaturated fats from foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds, and olive and canola oils. Avoid the high fat processed foods such as sausage rolls, pastries and hot dogs.

Until next time...

Julie :)

About Julie Meek

Accredited practising dietitian, performance specialist, speaker

View all posts by Julie Meek

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