……looking at some food myths

Unfortunately some of these myths have become what I term….. URBAN MYTHS.  You will be surprised how many people think these are true….

Myth 1 – High Protein diets are good for me.

No!  Whilst protein is essential for repair and important for receiving essential amino acids, the average person consumes far too much protein. The average western world person takes in about twice his/her daily requirement. Too much protein causes kidney damage, constipation and contributes to arthritis and coronary disease. Good carbohydrates should still make up over 60% of your daily intake.


Myth 2 – It’s best not to eat much after about 7 o’clock at night

66% of people surveyed believed this myth to be true. (Extract from: The Australian Food and Grocery Council AFGC)

It’s not when you eat, but what you eat that counts. No matter when they’re eaten, calories appear to have the same effect on the body. Evidence does suggest, however, that regular mealtimes including breakfast, reduces fat intake and minimises impulsive snacking resulting in fewer total calories. Staying up late at night may lead to extra snacking (you know when they show all those chocolate adverts)……which can then increase the total caloric intake. Weight gain would then occur, not because of when you ate the food, but rather how much you ate. 

Myth 3 – It’s better to eat three good meals a day than to eat whenever you’re hungry.

55% of people surveyed believed this myth to be true. (Extract from: The Australian Food and Grocery Council AFGC)

Don’t eat because the clock says it is time to eat. Eat when you have a physiological need for food and stop eating when you have met that need.

Most people feel like eating something every three to four hours to avoid becoming too hungry. Dividing your calories into three meals and two or three snacks, instead of three large meals can help to keep you well fuelled throughout the day and lessen the chances of over–eating when meal times come around. Depending on what you choose, snacks can also make a significant contribution to the day’s total intake of vital vitamins and minerals. 

Myth 4 – Generally, Australians have enough variety in their diet

48% of people surveyed believed this myth to be true. (Extract from: The Australian Food and Grocery Council AFGC)

The very first guideline to healthy eating is to “enjoy a wide variety of foods every day”.

Unfortunately, Australians do not always have enough variety in their diet and this occurs in two ways:

  1. they don’t always eat from all of the five food groups (bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles; dairy; meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes; fruit and vegetables)
  2. and when they eat from a particular food group, they often don’t choose a wide variety of  foods.


It is important to eat from all of the food groups as this will likely mean your diet contains all the nutrients you need. Selecting a variety of foods from each group also increases your chances of getting all of those essential vitamins and minerals that you need.

Researchers at Monash University suggest that for good health you need to be having 30 or more different food types a week. 

Myth 5 – Most Australians suffer from food allergies

36% of people surveyed believed this myth to be true. (Extract from: The Australian Food and Grocery Council AFGC)

About one–third of all adults believe they have food allergies. However, true food allergy is estimated to affect less than two percent of the population. Far more common are food intolerances.

Reactions to food chemicals are not, strictly speaking, allergies. Unlike allergies, they seem to work by irritating nerve endings in the different parts of the body.  Symptoms vary from person to person. The most common ones are recurrent hives, headaches, mouth ulcers, stomach pains and bowel irritation.  Some people can also have flu–like aches and pains, or feel unusually tired and run–down.  Children can be irritable or restless and are sometimes diagnosed as being ‘hyper-active’.

Food allergy is quite different from intolerance to food chemicals. It is caused by anti-bodies to food proteins, and usually involves only one or two foods. It affects mainly infants and children with a family background of allergic disorders like asthma, hay-fever and eczema. Peanuts, eggs and milk are the foods most likely to provoke food allergies. Allergies to peanuts, in particular, can be very severe and may last for life.  Reactions occurring from other foods are most likely to be due to chemical intolerances. 

Myth 6 – It is healthier not to mix carbohydrates and proteins in the same meal

25% of people surveyed believed this myth to be true. (Extract from: The Australian Food and Grocery Council AFGC)

Some fad diets suggest that proteins and carbohydrates should not be consumed together. However, for many people this may lead to sharp fluctuations in blood-glucose levels. Although the glucose in the blood is usually tightly controlled, it can fluctuate sharply with the consumption of carbohydrate only meals, rising sharply and then falling rapidly, leading to feelings of fatigue, hunger or light–headedness. Combining protein with carbohydrates should help avoid these highs and lows

In fact, eating mixed meals which naturally combine proteins with carbohydrates is one of the best ways to control your blood glucose, or sugar levels. 

Myth 7 – Chickens are often given growth hormones to improve production

80% of people surveyed believed this myth to be true. (Extract from: The Australian Food and Grocery Council AFGC)

Unfortunately, a large number of people in Australia still believe that chickens are fed hormones. In part, this stems from a television program in July 1985 in which hormonal abnormalities in young women in the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico were linked to feeding of hormones (oestrogen) to chickens.

Without actually saying so, the story implied that the feeding of oestrogen to chickens was a common practise worldwide—and indeed a practise followed in Australia.

The reality is that the feeding of oestrogen to chickens was banned in Australia in the early 1960s—more than four decades ago.

In order to maintain consumer confidence in poultry products, the Commonwealth Government’s National Residue Survey (NRS) regularly tests for growth hormones. No residues have ever been detected.


Myth 8 – Compared with food cooked at home, processed foods have a lot less nutrients

77% of people surveyed believed this myth to be true. (Extract from: The Australian Food and Grocery Council AFGC)

Many processed foods are just as nutritious, or in some cases even more nutritious than fresh foods, depending on the manner in which they are processed.

Frozen vegetables are usually processed within hours of harvest. There is little nutrient loss in the freezing process so frozen vegetables retain their high vitamin and mineral content. In contrast, it can take days or even weeks before fresh vegetables reach the dinner table and some vitamins are gradually lost over time.

Some processed foods have added vitamins and minerals for extra nutrition. In fact, the growing interest in health and nutrition has spurred the production of a whole new range of foods with added health and nutritional benefits called functional foods, such as margarines with added phyto-sterols to lower cholesterol.

Processing can also make some nutrients more available. For example, processing tomatoes into either paste or sauce increases the concentration of lycopene—an anti-oxidant that Harvard University researchers have found may reduce the risk of prostate cancer by up to 40 per cent. 

Myth 9 – Carbohydrates cause you to gain weight
Carbohydrates do not cause weight gain unless they contribute to excess calorie intake. The same holds true for protein and fat. It’s all in the selection.

The trouble with carbs is that they can be easy to overeat. If they are highly processed, like white flour and pasta, it is quickly turned into sugar and means you don’t stay full for long. So you need to choose the right sort of carbohydrates.

Eating a high-protein, low-carb diet is a fad, not a life-choice. I’m a big fan of carbs. They help you concentrate.  They are a great brain food.

So, choose good-quality wholegrain carbs, they are more fulfilling and keep you satisfied longer. …. just don’t over-eat carbs or any other form of food.

Myth 10 – Light olive oil is “light” on calories
The “light” refers to the colour, not the fat content. Shoppers are tricked into thinking light olive oil is better for you. That’s impossible! It’s still oil, it’s simply an oil that is lighter in colour. This is a case of really having to check the labels.


Myth 11 – Fat-free equals calorie-free
Munching on fat-free foods may seem the guilt-free way to lose weight, but a lot of fat-free foods have the same amount, or even more calories, than regular versions. You’re just as likely to gain weight from high-sugar products as high-fat products. Get the facts on fat-free foods by checking food labels for the serving size and number of calories per serving.


Myth 12 – People with high cholesterol shouldn’t eat eggs

This myth has been around for a long time. It came about because it was thought that cholesterol from food directly related to blood cholesterol levels. Whilst it is true that eggs contain cholesterol – a medium size egg has just over 200mg of cholesterol which is all contained in the yolk – we now know that although dietary cholesterol is able to raise blood cholesterol to a small degree, it is the overall fat content of the diet, particularly the amount of saturated fat, that more strongly determines your blood cholesterol level.

Several studies have now concluded that egg consumption is not associated with an increased risk of high blood cholesterol or heart disease. So, if you have a high cholesterol level, you can still enjoy 2-3 eggs per week.  Just make sure they’re not fried and served with copious amounts of little Miss Piggy (bacon!)


Myth 13 – Carob is healthier than chocolate

Carob is often used as a chocolate substitute.  Many people feel less guilty if they snack on carob rather than chocolate, believing carob to be a healthier alternative. Whilst pure carob does contain more dietary fibre and less caffeine than cocoa, carob as we generally buy it – in bars and other carob confectionery – usually comes laden with added sugar and fat, similar to the levels in chocolate. So, unless you are eating pure carob, there are not a lot of health advantages to choosing carob over chocolate. Mmm…..thought the ladies might like this!


Myth 14 – Milk increases mucus production

Whilst some people believe that milk and other dairy products increase mucus production, and therefore tend to avoid these foods particularly when they have a cold or flu, research has not been able to confirm this belief.

Myth 15 – Mushrooms are a good source of vitamin B12

Whilst some people believe that mushrooms are a good source of vitamin B12, the fact is that plant foods, including mushrooms, do not naturally contain vitamin B12. The vitamin B12 that most people consume comes from foods of animal origin. It is made by micro-organisms and is incorporated into the flesh of animals and their products such as meat, dairy products, seafood and eggs. Therefore, vegetarians, and in particular vegans, should make sure they include foods fortified with vitamin B12 

(From the Sanitarium website: http://www.sanitarium.com.au/article/article.do?art-id=328)


Myth 16 – Taking a Vitamin C supplement will prevent the common cold

This is a popular myth.  But research tells us that vitamin C supplementation for the prevention of a cold is not necessary for most people. Whilst a small group of people – such as those under heavy physical stress or exposed to very cold environments – may benefit from taking extra vitamin C, regular supplementation in the general population has no effect on the incidence of developing a common cold. However, some studies have suggested that there might be some benefit in taking Vitamin C supplementation for reducing the duration and severity of colds.  But more research is needed before we can be confident of this fact.

(From the Sanitarium website: http://www.sanitarium.com.au/article/article.do?art-id=328)


Myth 17 – Skipping breakfast helps you lose weight.

Whilst it may seem logical that skipping a meal and therefore eating less food will help with weight management, this is not the case where breakfast is concerned. Research has shown that people who skip breakfast tend to have higher body weights than those who regularly eat breakfast. This may be because ‘breakfast-skippers’ are less efficient at burning the energy from the food they eat during the day and are actually more likely to snack and overeat later in the day, usually on foods that are less nutritious and with far more kilojoules than a simple bowl of cereal.

Myth 18 – You need to eat meat to get enough protein.

Eating a variety of protein-rich plant foods each day will give your body all the protein it needs for good health. Nuts, seeds, legumes and grains are all good sources of protein.  The key is to simply eat a variety of these foods every day to make sure you get the best balance of essential amino-acids. Soy protein is a particularly high quality plant-protein that provides all of the essential amino-acids we need in the one food. And compared to meat, plant protein foods offer the additional benefits of thousands of phyto-chemicals that protect us against disease.

Myth 19 – All fats are bad for you.

Healthy fats are essential for good health and have been shown to protect us from a range of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Healthy fats include mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, avocados, canola and canola oils. They also include omega-3 fatty acids found in linseeds, soybeans, dark green vegetables and oily fish.

Healthy fats have been shown to help decrease total cholesterol levels, whilst omega-3 fats in particular have been shown to have many other health properties, including reducing blood pressure and assisting with inflammatory bowel disease.

By: John Hart

Master’s In Education” (Disability/Rehab) Newcastle University Australia

“Grad Cert Education” Newcastle University Australia

“Diploma Fitness/Recreation”

“Diploma of Sport and Recreation”

“Cert 4 Personal Training”

“Level 1 Strength and Conditioning Coach”

Member of ASCA (Australian Strength and Conditioning Association)

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