Lose the myths

2015-06-18 11:08
Milk can be a convenient snack between meals or a bedtime drink. It is also one of the most effective recovery drinks after a bout of heavy exercise.

Milk can be a convenient snack between meals or a bedtime drink. It is also one of the most effective recovery drinks after a bout of heavy exercise. (Supplied)

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THE field of diet and nutrition can be wonderfully illuminating, and at the same time completely confusing.

The past few decades have seen a notable increase in people seeking to improve their health by changing diet and lifestyle patterns rather than relying on medication. This positive change has been fuelled by our desire for knowledge and remarkable accessibility to online information. Old wives’ tales now combine with “Google says” to create a new nutrition authority boldly announcing what healthy diets really are. In just the past week, I have had an alarming number of clients thrown into confusion by colleagues, friends and acquaintances who are self-appointed diet experts.

Today, let’s debunk a number of myths and misperceptions that frequently find their way into my office.

• Myth one: milk is fattening and is best avoided

Many people respond with surprise when I suggest drinking a glass of milk. It can serve as a convenient snack between meals or as a bedtime drink. It is also one of the most effective recovery drinks after a bout of heavy exercise. The low-fat (one percent or two percent milk) or fat-free (skim milk) varieties offer many health benefits without increasing fat intake unnecessarily. Some research has, in fact, shown that subjects who increased dairy intake lost more weight over a one-year period. This is thought to be due to the high calcium content, which, of course, also has the benefit of improving bone strength.

• Myth two: the temperature of your drinking water will affect weight-loss results

Some people seem to believe that drinking hot water melts away the fat, while drinking iced water solidifies fat, preventing weight loss. Neither concept holds true. The most important factor is ensuring adequate hydration, as this impacts the process of lipolysis (the breakdown of fat). If drinking hot water is what you prefer as the weather changes, then by all means do so. Try flavouring plain water by adding lemon slices, cucumber slices or your choice of chopped-up fruit if you are not accustomed to drinking water without some flavour.

• Myth three: getting diabetes is inevitable given my family history

The diabetes puzzle is not so simple. A genetic predisposition is certainly a substantial risk factor, but will not result in a diagnosis of diabetes without the influence of a few triggers. One trigger is eating poorly. This places the body under stress and hampers its ability to control blood sugar well. Eating more whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meat products and increasing high-fibre food choices will reduce the unnecessary demands placed on the body. A healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, goes a long way to delaying or preventing the development of chronic diseases of lifestyle (diabetes, cancer and heart disease).

• Myth four: it’s much healthier to use pink salt and other salt alternatives, especially if you have high blood pressure

Sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, flavoured salt, Hiwa Kai, black Hawaiian sea salt, Kala Namak, organic salt and pink Himalayan sea salt are all basically the same chemical — sodium chloride. They do differ in composition of the other trace elements present, but on the whole have very similar sodium contents. Sodium is the ingredient that is associated with raised blood pressure and water retention. These alternatives should be used as sparingly as table salt. Rather use lemon juice to enhance the flavour of meat, and experiment with herbs and spices to add flavour to stews and casseroles. Cinnamon, ginger, thyme, rosemary, paprika and marjoram are just a few examples that can add a delicious depth of flavour.

Before making dietary changes based on the Internet or well-meaning advisers, may I suggest that you seek the advice of a registered dietitian. Information that is personalised for your family and translated into practical steps may save you from unnecessarily eliminating a few of your favourite foods, or from including those that should be left on the shelf.

• Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@iburst.co.za

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