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16 common food myths debunked by a Dietitian [VIDEO]

How many times have you googled something, seen something on social media or by a celebrity or influencer and been left feeling more confused than when you first started? For this reason, our Accredited Practising Dietitian, Melanie Hudono placed 16 popular food trends and myths under the microscope. Only using the latest evidence-based practice, let’s shine some light on these popular food myths.

1. Orange and milk doesn’t cause an upset tummy.

This has been a popular food myth, which is that the two should not be consumed together due to concerns about curdling or causing stomach upset. The idea is that the acidity of orange juice could cause the proteins in milk to coagulate, leading to digestive issues.

However, for most people, consuming orange juice and milk together in moderate quantities is unlikely to cause any significant digestive problems. The human digestive system is well-equipped to handle a variety of foods and combinations.

Digestive discomfort from consuming orange juice and milk together is more likely to occur in individuals who have sensitive stomachs or specific food intolerances. It's always a good idea to listen to your body and make dietary choices that work best for you. If you consistently experience digestive discomfort from this combination or any other foods, we recommend that you consult a healthcare professional and Dietitian for personalised guidance.

2. Drinking milk won’t make asthma and chest infections worse.

Drinking milk or consuming dairy products does not inherently make asthma and chest infections worse for everyone.

In fact, cow’s milk and other dairy foods very rarely trigger asthma symptoms in people without milk allergy. There have even been studies, both in Australia and overseas, that suggest if you have a regular intake of dairy products in childhood, you are less likely to develop asthma.

Concern about mucous is one of the most common reasons why people with asthma avoid dairy products, but it’s a misconception. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as "milk mucus" or "dairy-induced mucus production.” The milk = mucous idea comes from the mouth-feel associated with milk. Some people confuse the coating that milk can leave on the back of the throat with mucus, but there is no evidence that milk increases mucous or narrows the airways.

Unfortunately, most Australians are missing out on the health benefits that come from consuming milk, cheese and yogurt as they don’t include enough dairy foods in their diet. So, unless diagnosed with a specific allergy or intolerance to dairy foods by your doctor, there is no reason to restrict or remove dairy foods from your diet. The best way to achieve good asthma control is to follow a written asthma action plan developed with your doctor.

3. Frozen yoghurt is healthier than ice-cream.

The main difference between ice cream and frozen yogurt is that ice cream is primarily made from milk or cream while frozen yogurt is made from yogurt.

Ice cream, as the name suggests, is whipped up from cream that contains between 10 and 25% milk fat. Sugar and sometimes egg yolks are added, but it is the fat in cream that gives ice cream its satiating properties.

Frozen yogurt is made from yogurt, which is cultured milk. It's much lower in fat — typically between 3-6% for regular frozen yogurt and 2-4% for a low-fat version. Sugar is added to the milk, along with active bacterial cultures, which gives frozen yogurt probiotic properties.

While ice cream does have a higher fat content than frozen yoghurt, it’s important to know that some frozen yogurts may contain just as much added sugar as ice cream, even or more, to compensate for the yogurt’s naturally tangy flavour.

So yes, frozen yogurt wins out for overall calories and fat, with 114 calories and just 4g of fat. However, ice cream comes with 137 calories and 7g fat, which isn’t that much far off.

One mistake many people make when choosing frozen yogurt is overfilling a portion or pilling on unhealthy toppings. These are quick ways to rack up extra fat, sugar, and calories that we may not account for. So, at the end of the day, remember it’s not just what we eat but how much we eat it is as well.

4. Fruit is high in sugar.

Yes, fruit IS naturally high in sugar, but it is also high in many other nutrients like fibre, vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals to keep us nice and healthy!

The natural sugars in fruits mainly comes from fructose, and they are not the same as added sugars found in many processed foods and sugary beverages, which are generally considered less healthy.

Fructose is only harmful in excessive amounts, and not when it comes from fruit. It would be incredibly difficult to consume excessive amounts of fructose by eating whole fruits. It’s much easier to consume excess sugar from foods and drinks that contain “free sugars”.

Free sugars are sugars removed from their naturally occurring source, rather than being eaten as natural parts of fruits, dairy products, and some vegetables and grains. This includes sugar that is added to food and drinks by food companies, cooks or consumers. Evidence shows that the health risks, such as tooth decay and unhealthy weight gain, are related to consuming too many free sugars in the diet, not from eating sugars that are naturally present in fruits or milk.

5. Sugar shouldn’t be reduced in aged care cooking.

In aged care, the primary focus must be on meeting the nutritional needs of the resident rather than perfect control of blood glucose levels. If unnecessary dietary restrictions are placed on older residents in a long-term care setting, there is a risk of malnutrition and dehydration. Older residents with diabetes in nursing homes tend to be underweight rather than overweight. And a low body weight is associated with greater morbidity and mortality in the elderly. It is preferable to make medication changes rather than impose dietary restrictions to control blood glucose levels.

Residents eat better when they are given a less restrictive diet. Therefore, it is appropriate to serve residents who have diabetes with the food from regular (unrestricted) menus, with consistent amounts of carbohydrates at meals and mid-meals. Calories should not be restricted to less than daily needs to control blood glucose levels because of the risk of malnutrition.

6. An apple a day can keep the doctor away

Apples are a decent source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and flavonoids (which may help to prevent cancer). But the question is… are they any better than fruit in general, and does daily consumption of apples in particular have health benefits?

A 2015 study used diet survey data for 8,000 adults in the US and compared the number of doctor’s visits, overnight hospital stays and prescription medicines, between apple-eaters and non-eaters. The study found that those who ate at least one apple per day were slightly less likely to need a GP visit or medication.

But if you look deeper into the study, this difference disappeared once the researchers accounted for socio-demographic and other health-related characteristics.

In other words, it is not that eating an apple a day means that you don’t get sick, rather, the study found that healthy people tend to eat more apples. This might be because the apple-eaters were also making other lifestyle choices with a more direct effect on their health.

So, while eating an apple a day won’t necessarily cut down on prescription medications or doctor visits, it could be one step in the direction of making the transition to eating more healthful, fibre-filled, whole foods.

Ultimately, focusing on any one food for its unique health benefits is the wrong approach. A healthy diet includes a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables.

7. Having milk with fish isn’t bad for you

The belief that drinking milk after eating fish can cause vitiligo, a skin condition that causes parts of the skin to lose colour, is present in various different cultures. Another theory posits that eating fish and dairy together can cause gas and other digestive issues because the foods rich in protein need different enzymes to digest them.

But the fact is that, according to several studies, there isn't any scientific evidence that drinking milk after eating fish is harmful to one's health in any way.

Scientists have even noted that the Mediterranean diet, known to be one of the healthiest diets in the world, contains a mixture of fish, milk and yogurt.

According to science, there is just one situation in which you should avoid this food combination: if you have an allergy to one of the ingredients. No research has been done to demonstrate that this combination could have harmful effects on the body. When viewed separately, the components' nutrient contents are relatively high.

8. Drinking a lot of milk can’t give you iron poisoning.

Drinking a lot of milk on its own is not likely to give you iron poisoning. In fact, milk is generally very low in iron content. Iron poisoning occurs when there is an excessive intake of iron-containing substances, such as iron supplements or high-dose iron medications, which can overwhelm the body's ability to process and excrete iron properly.

The body has a regulated mechanism for iron absorption from our diet. When dietary iron levels are low, the body increases iron absorption to meet its needs, and when iron levels are high, absorption decreases to prevent iron overload.

While milk does contain some iron, it is not a significant source of this mineral. In fact, the calcium in milk can inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron (the type of iron found in plant-based foods) when consumed together. However, it doesn't pose a risk of iron poisoning.

9. Plant-based diets may be better than diets that include meat, depending on your needs.

This is a tricky one, because at the end of the day, there is not one size fits all answer to this myth.

Whether plant-based diets are better than diets that include meat depends on various factors, including individual health goals, dietary preferences, and the specific composition of the diet. Both plant-based and omnivorous diets can be healthy when well-balanced and provide the necessary nutrients for overall well-being. So instead, let me give you some pros and cons of each diet when deciding which one may be more suitable for you:

Advantages of Plant-Based Diets:

  • Plant-based diets have been associated with several health benefits, including lower risk of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. They are typically lower in saturated fats and cholesterol, and higher in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Plant-based diets tend to have a lower environmental footprint, compared to diets cantered around animal products.

  • Many people choose plant-based diets for ethical reasons, as they wish to avoid the harm and suffering associated with factory farming and the production of animal products.

Advantages of Diets that Include Meat:

  • Meat is a rich source of high-quality protein, essential amino acids, vitamins (e.g. B12, iron, zinc), and minerals (e.g. iron). Some of these nutrients are more readily absorbed from animal sources.

  • Meat plays a significant role in the culinary traditions of many cultures, and for some individuals, excluding meat may be challenging or not in line with their cultural practices.

  • Some people simply prefer the taste and texture of meat, and they may find it easier to meet their nutritional needs and maintain their dietary satisfaction with diets that include meat.

At the end of the day, a balanced approach to nutrition is essential. If you're considering transitioning to a plant-based diet or making changes to your current diet, it's a good idea to consult with a Dietitian who can provide personalised guidance based on your individual needs, health goals, and preferences to ensure you get all the necessary nutrients.

10. Cucumbers are more than water.

While cucumbers are primarily composed of water, they are not "nothing but water."

Cucumbers are a good source of several vitamins, including vitamin K, vitamin C, and some B vitamins. They also provide minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and trace amounts of calcium and phosphorus. Although they are not as high in fibre compared to some other vegetables, they do contain a small amount of dietary fibre, particularly in the skin. In fact, they even have various phytonutrients, which gives it antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

So, as we can see, cucumbers are not nutritionally empty! They are a healthy addition to salads, sandwiches, or on their own as a crunchy snack. Additionally, the skin of cucumbers contains more nutrients than the flesh, so try leaving the skin on when consuming them to enhance their nutritional value.

11. Eating fat in moderation will not make you fat.

Eating fat by itself will not necessarily make you fat. In fact, dietary fat is an essential nutrient that serves several important functions in the body. Dietary fat acts as a source of energy for our bodies, plays a crucial part in hormone production, and helps us absorb certain vitamins better (such as vitamin A, D, E, K). Without fats, our body wouldn’t be able to metabolise these vitamins properly.

However, it's essential to differentiate between different types of fats and the overall context of your diet, as not all fats are the same.

Unsaturated fats, aka “healthy fats”, are considered healthy fats. These are found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. They can have positive effects on heart health and overall well-being.

On the other hand, saturated fats and trans fats, aka “unhealthy fats”, should be consumed in moderation. They are found in animal products like meat and full fat dairy, while trans fats are often found in processed and fried foods. High intake of these fats can increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems.

So overall, eating fat in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet can be perfectly healthy. Focus on incorporating unsaturated fats and limiting saturated fats while paying attention to overall calorie intake and maintaining a balanced diet that meets your individual nutritional needs and health goals.

12. Families should not exclude food (i.e.. Dairy or gluten) from a child’s diet without professional advice.

Excluding specific foods or food groups, such as dairy or gluten, from a child's diet without professional advice can have several risks. Some of these risks include:

  1. Nutritional Deficiencies: Many foods provide essential nutrients that are crucial for a child's growth and development. When one excludes certain foods without understanding how to replace those nutrients, a child may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies.

  2. Growth and Development: Children have unique nutritional needs during their growth and development phases. Restricting their diet without proper guidance can potentially hinder their physical and cognitive development.

  3. Impact on Social and Emotional Well-Being: Dietary restrictions can make a child feel different from their peers, potentially leading to social and emotional challenges. For example, if a child cannot partake in school or social events due to dietary restrictions, they may feel isolated or left out.

  4. Unnecessary Dietary Stress: Imposing strict dietary restrictions on a child can create stress and anxiety around food, potentially leading to disordered eating habits or an unhealthy relationship with food.

So, while there may be valid reasons for considering dietary restrictions for a child, it's essential to do so under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

13. Vegetable juice is healthy.

Vegetable juice can be a great addition as part of a balanced overall diet, as they are rich sources of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Many struggle to meet their 5 serves of veg a day, so juicing vegetables can be a great way to sneak those vitamins in!

Again, how the vegetable juice is made plays a role in its overall nutrition. Homemade vegetable juice allows you to control the ingredients and avoid added sugars and salt. When buying store-bought vegetable juice, read the label to check for additives. Some commercial vegetable juices may add extra sugar to enhance the flavour. So those looking out for overall sugar intake should be mindful of this.

One drawback of vegetable juice is that it lacks the dietary fibre found in whole vegetables. Fibre is important for digestive health, satiety (feeling full), and blood sugar regulation. When you juice vegetables, you remove most of the fibre, which can affect how quickly the sugar from the juice is absorbed.

But overall, vegetable juice can be a nutritious and hydrating part of your diet, it's best to complement vegetable juice with a variety of whole fruits and vegetables to ensure you get the benefits of dietary fibre and a broader range of nutrients.

The top Dietitian tip for any fruit and vegetable ‘juices’ is keep the skin on where possible, and add these ingredients into a blender to make more of a smoothie, rather than put it through a juicer. This way you keep more fibre and the best nutrients. Also, drink in moderation.

14. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

The idea that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" has been a popular belief for many years. Evidence points towards breakfast having many benefits:

  1. Eating breakfast can help regulate blood sugar levels after fasting overnight. This is particularly important for individuals with conditions like diabetes.

  2. Some people find that eating breakfast helps them feel more energized and alert in the morning, which can be beneficial for productivity and concentration.

  3. Breakfast can help with weight management by reducing the likelihood of overeating later in the day. Eating in the morning may also prevent extreme hunger that leads to poor food choices.

That said, the importance of breakfast can vary from person to person, and it's essential to consider individual preferences and lifestyles. depending on individual factors:

  1. Personal Preference: Some people naturally have little appetite in the morning and may not feel hungry until later in the day. Forcing oneself to eat breakfast when not hungry may not be necessary.

  2. Health Conditions: Certain health conditions or medications may affect appetite or the ability to eat breakfast in the morning. In such cases, it's essential to follow medical advice.

  3. Meal Timing: What matters most is the overall quality and balance of your diet throughout the day. If you choose to skip breakfast, as long as you are able to make healthy food choices at other meals and snacks, it shouldn’t affect your overall nutrition too much.

Overall, the key is to focus on a well-balanced diet overall and listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues to determine your meal timing.

15. White potatoes are good for you.

White potatoes are not inherently "bad for you”. They are a good source of several essential nutrients, including carbohydrates, dietary fibre, vitamin C, potassium, and some B vitamins like vitamin B6. They also provide small amounts of protein and are naturally fat-free. When consumed with the skin, they also contain fibre, which is important for digestive health and help with feelings of fullness and satiety.

A key thing to note is that the healthfulness of potatoes can be influenced by how they are prepared. Baking, boiling, or steaming potatoes without excessive added fats or high-calorie toppings can be a healthier option compared to frying or loading them with butter, sour cream, cheese, or bacon.

Additionally, potatoes on their own have a high glycaemic index (GI), which means they can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, which may not be the best choice for individuals trying to manage their blood sugar. But some tips to lower overall GI include: consuming them with the skin on or a source of protein, or cooling them before eating and considering portion sizes.

So yes, go ahead and continue eating potatoes as part of a healthy diet! The key is to choose cooking methods that retain their nutritional value and to be mindful of portion sizes and toppings to avoid excess calories and unhealthy additions.

16. Dietitians are NOT the food police.

No, Dietitians are absolutely NOT the "food police”. The term "food police" often carries a negative connotation and implies a judgmental or authoritarian approach to food and eating, which is what we DON’T want to do.

Dietitians are healthcare professionals who specialise in nutrition and dietary guidance. Our role is to assess and individualise one’s dietary needs and habits, consider a person’s whole health picture, and then provide evidence-based information, education, and support to help individuals feel empowered to make informed choices about their own dietary choices and overall health. Rather than dictating what someone should eat, Dietitians encourage individuals to make choices that align with their health goals. And we aim to provide tools and knowledge to make informed decisions in a non-judgemental manner.

At the end of the day, Dietitians are also humans, who also enjoy various foods. Just like some people like ice-cream, chocolate, pizza etc., so do some Dietitians. It is all about moderation and taking the judgement away.


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