When it comes to health tips, fitness trends, fads, scams and breakthroughs, the health world has heard it all (cockroach milk, anyone?). In an attempt to decipher the truth from all the BS, we called upon Fiona Tuck, Author of the Forensic Nutritionist who takes us through some of the most common incorrect health myths going around.
Here’s what Fiona had to say about them:
Myth 1: Olive oil is carcinogenic when heated
In Fiona’s health tip opinion, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) should be the go-to option. It is the healthiest oil we can eat due to its rich antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Whilst EVOO has a lower smoke point than some vegetable oils, the high antioxidant content protects the oil from oxidation (breaking down) thereby making it a safe oil to use during cooking.
Many people believe that due to the low smoke point EVOO breaks down and forms carcinogenic compounds when heated. Recent research conducted in an Australian oil specialist laboratory has found that Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (AEVOO) is the safest and most stable oil to cook with. On the other hand, canola oil, grapeseed oil and rice bran oil were found to be least stable and produced the highest levels of trans fats and polar compounds when heated. The research showed that the smoke point of oil was not a good predictor of oil stability and suitability for cooking at domestic temperatures. Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oils are rich in monounsaturated fat (e.g. has one double bond in the fatty acid chain).
However, many refined oils are higher in polyunsaturated fat, which is more prone to oxidation (less stable due to multiple double bonds) and therefore degrade to harmful by-products more readily. The hotter the EVOO oil or the longer period of time we cook with it, we will lose antioxidant benefits thereby reducing the antioxidant health benefits of the oil but it is more beneficial to cook with EVOO over many plant oils which oxidise more easily due to their lack of antioxidant compounds.
Myth 2: If you eat fat, you will gain fat
Here’s a great health tip…the myth about fat has been lingering since the 1980s. However, as the research progressed, we now know that eating good fats is crucial to a healthy well-balanced diet. Good fats play a critical role in many biological functions including hormone production and regulation, brain function, a healthy nervous system, energy production, cell immunity, healthy lung function, vitamin absorption, bone health and cardiovascular health to name just a few. Eating the right kind of fats will nourish the body and be used by every cell to maintain health and well-being and having the right amount of fat in our diet WILL help us to maintain a healthy weight.
Fiona always recommends eating whole foods which are minimally processed that nclude whole-fat products over the low fat, high sugar varieties. When you eat fat, the brain signals that you are satisfied, which curbs overeating. On the other hand, a low-fat diet is usually higher in sugar and can promote insulin production, blood sugar spikes and weight gain.
One thing to be aware of is that many people think that by adding fat to their existing diet, they will lose weight. It’s true that fat contains the highest amount of calories out of all the food groups, so by simply adding heaps of extra virgin olive oil to your food, dollops of butter to your veggies or spoonfuls of coconut oil or nut butter to your smoothies, you may not see the weight loss you are expecting. Weight loss will happen when you change your diet by eating whole foods, healthy fats (salmon, avocado, nuts) and lowering the amount of refined, highly processed foods (these are usually higher in calories).
Myth 3: Carbs cause weight gain
Because of the effect on blood sugar and insulin, carbs like bread, pasta and potatoes have recently been touted for promoting weight gain. Contrary to popular belief we can eat bread and potatoes and lose weight if you stay aware of portion control.
The only reason you will gain weight (apart from certain medical conditions and medications) is if you are eating more food than your body really needs. The more sugar we eat, the more glycogen we store for back up fuel and when all our energy reserves are full, we start to store fat. Whilst carbs certainly give us an energy boost, bread and pasta will only make us put on weight if we eat too much.
Myth 4: Eat small regular meals to prevent your metabolism from slowing down
A common diet myth is that we need to eat every couple of hours to keep our metabolism revved up in order to burn more calories. If we go without food for long periods of time our metabolism can drop as part of our survival mechanism but it takes 3 days of ZERO food for your BMR to drop a mere 8%.
The Minnesota starvation study shows an 8% decrease after 74 hours which means we need to be literally starving for our body to do this. Eating every couple of hours or not eating at certain times of the day will have no impact on weight loss, it simply comes down to calories in and calories out. In fact, regular snacking can promote weight gain if we are consuming more than our body actually needs.
Myth 5: Exercise hard to lose weight
Daily exercise is important for our general health and wellbeing. It helps to regulate blood sugar and hormones, releases feel-good hormones, and is important for cardiovascular and general cell health and disease prevention.
The more we exercise the more fuel we need which is why athletes and runners need more food for fuel. Where people go wrong is by thinking they can eat a poor diet high in sugar and processed foods and simply run off the calories. Whilst exercise certainly does burn calories it takes a lot of effort to burn off the calories from a doughnut (e.g. a 30-minute run or bike ride) so if you really want to lose weight changing your diet to healthier, nutrient-dense options and increasing moderate exercise is the way to go.
Some people find that too much intense exercise can actually hinder weight loss. This is because strenuous exercise such as running for more than an hour can increase stress on the body and elevate cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced during stress. When our cortisol levels are chronically raised this can promote weight gain around our midsection (where we have more cortisol receptors).
If you are struggling to lose the extra weight around your mid-section and have been going extra hard at the gym you may find that lightening up your exercise routine and including some cortisol lowering supplements and exercises such as walks, meditation and yoga may actually help you shift that mid-section bulge.