Six diet myths busted

MYTH: A diet is something you do from Monday until you can't stand it anymore. You just need willpower.

If only! Changing the way you eat is like learning a new language. It's a long-term project. You need to learn about food. You also need to give yourself the space to stumble, fall and get up again. One blowout doesn't erase past progress, and it's certainly no reason or excuse for giving up totally.

MYTH: Going hungry is part of being on a diet

Good news! To lose weight, you need to eat a lot of good food. This is how to choose it:

  • You need carbohydrates to keep your "engine" going. The less processed, the better. A slice of white bread and a slice of whole-wheat bread provide more or less the same amount of energy. The difference: the whole-wheat is more filling, has more flavour, contains more fibre, vitamins and minerals.

  • You need 0,8g of quality protein per kilogram of body weight. So a woman weighing 65kg needs about 58g a day. If she eats fruit, vegetables, whole-grain cereals and starchy vegetables, about 30% of that is accounted for. The remaining 32g can be provided by 60g meat/chicken/fish, 250ml fat-free milk/ 175ml yoghurt, 1/2 cup lentils/beans, and 2 heaped tablespoons of cottage cheese.

  • You need fat. We deal with that later. Lose hydrogenated and saturated fats. Nuts, nut butters and good quality extra virgin olive oil may run up your till tab a bit. But, some things are not negotiable! Having less of a good thing is not going to cost much more.

    MYTH: Counting kJ is an outdated exercise.

    Keep counting! The kilojoule is an energy-measuring unit. It "explains" one aspect of food: the amount on energy we could potentially derive from it. Many factors play a role in our energy balance. We need to find the balance between energy consumed and energy used. On the consumption side, the factors are:

  • the source of the energy. Fat, protein or carbohydrates deliver their "fuel" in different ways.

  • the way in which the kJ are packaged. In nature, fruit, which has more kJ per gram than vegetables, comes pre-packed with fibre, enzymes and other important phyto nutrients. We benefit from the whole package.

    MYTH: If I eat fat-free, I will lose weight.

    You'll also get ill. Fat is essential for the normal functioning of many of your body's systems. It's also an important taste factor, influencing flavour and "mouth feel", so cutting it out completely will leave you feeling deprived. If you allow yourself only low or fat-free foods, you'll miss out on the healthy fats found in olives, avocado, salmon, mackerel, nuts and seeds.

    If you want to lose weight, you need to make a trade-off with yourself when it comes to fat. Limit your intake to 40-50g a day. Choosing what you eat with care (limited-fat foods, lean meat etc) will give you "space" in your diet for treats like olive oil (1 teaspoon equals 5g of fat), avocado (1/2 a small one equals 5g) or salmon (100g equals 5g fat).

    MYTH: Only if I have blood pressure problems, need I worry about my salt intake.

    The upper recommended level for salt intake is 6g, yet the average intake for Westerners is 10-12g. Most is the result of salt added during processing, cooking, or at the table. Those excesses may lead to water retention and high blood pressure.

    Research also shows that salt could play a role in the way we digest food. A meal with a high salt content passes through the stomach faster, which could influence the insulin levels in the blood. That's associated with increased susceptibility to insulin resistance, which in turn is associated with weight gain.

    MYTH: Sugar and starch are fattening

    Yay! Not necessarily! It's not sugar that's the problem; it's abundant in our natural foods. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for the human body. The problem is how we consume it.

    Granulated sugar provides empty kilojoules, and it's recommended that not more than 10% of your energy intake should come from refined sugar. On a daily consumption of 6200 kJ, you'd average 200g of carbohydrates, so you'd be allowed 20g (4t) of refined sugar.

    Your average can of fizzy drink has about double this. By comparison, a medium piece of fruit and a slice of bread would provide about 15g of carbohydrates, with extra nutrients as an added bonus.

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