CHENNAI: Drink more water to lose weight’, ‘egg whites are better than egg yolk’, ‘non-nutritive sweeteners are healthy’, ‘all fruit juices and smoothies are healthy’. Over time, the information available on what to eat and what not to,which type of food is more nutritious, and diets to avoid, have been tainted with fiction masquerading as facts, warping the view of what constitutes a healthy diet. In the National Nutrition Month, we caught up with Reshma Aleem, nutritionist and dietician, Rainbow Children’s Hospital, to bust a few nutrition myths, and understand how one can develop a sustainable dietary pattern based on their individual needs.
Fad diets and detox juices are healthy
Keto diets are specialised and advised for children with uncontrolled epilepsy. It is also suggested for certain cancers to reduce the tumour size. But recently, Keto diets and other fad diets are being suggested for weight loss. When followed without supervision, they could be detrimental. No single diet fits everyone. If anyone decides to follow a Keto diet without recommendations from professionals, like consume four eggs in the morning, 100 g paneer in the noon followed by 60 g of badam, they might end up with a fatty liver leading to cirrhosis. Such diets must be done under supervision. Similarly, detox juices are laced with myths. They do not remove toxins from the body. However, some are beneficial and can promote good health. Our kidney’s function is to remove toxins. We also perspire through our skin. That’s natural detox. Drinking adequate amount of water and keeping yourself active for a minimum of 150 minutes per week is advised to naturally detox yourself.
Salt: How much is too much?
The World Health Organization recommends 5 g of salt for an adult. But, in the case of clinical conditions such as hypertension or cardiovascular diseases, it has to be further reduced. Instead, one can add lime juice to enhance the flavour of food.
Whole wheat bread is healthy
In a fast-paced world, it has increasingly become hard for people to even make their breakfast. So, we usually grab a loaf of bread and add an omlette to it. But, people often choose brown bread over white bread, as a ‘healthy’ alternative. In such cases, one has to carefully read its label. Be it whole wheat or multi-grain, there is always a certain amount of maida in it. People should be mindful of the quantity of refined produce, and shouldn’t eat five to six slices in one sitting just because it is ‘healthy’.
Carbs induce weight gain
A low-carb diet is often suggested for those who are trying to lose weight. But, when there is close to no carbs on the plate, the insulin release reduces. This will hinder the glucose conversion process. In a low-carb diet, there is higher fat content, in which case the insulin won’t come into action. For a population without deficiencies and medical conditions, there is no necessity for a restrictive diet. A balanced diet has 50-60 per cent carbs, 12-15 per cent protein, 20-30 per cent fat. To consume carbs as low as 50-20 g is extremely restrictive. A low-carb diet must be introduced under medical supervision. Those with existing conditions should have their lipid and renal profiles assessed and consult a dietician.
The ‘fat-free’ lie
There is a growing misconception around products with labels like ‘calorie-free’, ‘sugar-free’, ‘low in sodium’ and ‘cholesterol-free’. This doesn’t mean that the product doesn’t have the said nutrients. The amount of nutrients present is just negligible. If a product label says ‘sugar or fat-free’, it means, there is less than 0.5 g per serving. Sometimes, fat-free and low-fat products are pumped with artificial flavours, and sugar-free products have artificial sweeteners.
Post-meal coffee and tea is good for digestion
Coffee and tea have antioxidants that prevent free radical damage. When the consumption of the beverage is in a limited amount — twice a day — it causes no harm. But, as a recurring habit, with consumption increasing to four to six cups per day, it can be harmful. Many drink coffee after a heavy meal, citing its digestive properties but this is a myth. This will only prevent mineral absorption.
Avoid egg yolk
Most people recommend avoiding egg yolk because of the presence of cholesterol. But a normal, active person can consume one small/medium egg every day. It is rich in vitamins A and D. Vitamin D deficiency leads to a risk of cancer, dementia, insulin resistance, pregnancy-related hypertension and dermatological issues. Most of us lack sun exposure and having food rich in vitamin D is important. A small egg constitutes 3 g of proteins, 5 g of fat, 93 mcg of vitamin A, and 17 mg of cholesterol. A population without deficiencies and underlying conditions, can consume it. Those with a history of cardiovascular condition, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and metabolic issues need to be mindful.
Low fibre is healthy
The more we consume fibre, the better it is for our gut health as the bacteria there depends on it. We provide the gut with fibre and they provide us immunity — it’s a symbiotic process. Several people don’t get adequate dietary fibre, which is why fibre supplements are popular. While some supplements can benefit, it should not replace real fibre-rich foods like vegetables, beans, and fruit containing nutrients and plant compounds that work to promote health.
Coconut oil is good for health
Consumption of coconut oil in less proportion by adults with an active lifestyle is not harmful. But, one should balance the monosaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats in their diet. Consumption of only coconut oil, which is high in saturated fats, will raise one’s cholesterol level and LDL level (low-density lipoproteins). One can consume sesame oil in the morning, rice bran in the afternoon and coconut oil in the night to balance it.
Drink more water to stay healthy
Our body has a thirst mechanism, acting as an indicator of when we need to drink water and when to rehydrate ourselves. The colour of the urine is often assessed to understand if our bodies are hydrated enough. Each person’s body is different and so is the water requirement. Asking everyone to drink two to three litres of water per day is not right. Both children and adults have to consume water depending on their body weight and thirst mechanism. It also varies depending on clinical conditions. For instance, those with kidney diseases aren’t advised to have as much water as a person without the condition. So, one needs to be mindful of the misinformation.