Fact or fiction? We investigate the myths, old wives’ tales, superstitions and internet rumours surrounding food, cooking and exercise.
You don’t have to exercise to lose weight
Technically, this is true. Exercise plays a very important role in your health, and it can definitely help with weight loss, but maintaining or losing weight is all about managing the energy equation: ‘energy in’ (food) versus ‘energy out’ (breathing, everyday activity, exercise etc). To lose weight, your energy output needs to be greater than your energy input – simple as that. Food is where our bodies get energy, and how much (or how little) food you eat is more of a deciding factor in your weight than how much you exercise. So for those who can’t (or don’t) exercise, weight loss is still possible.
You can lose weight without exercise if the energy (kilojoules) you take in is less than the energy you expend – but exercise will help you see results sooner. Plus, exercise is hugely beneficial in a myriad of other ways.
Only dieters need to choose low-fat milk and cheese
Actually, everyone should be eating low-fat milk and cheese – unless you’re under the age of two (children under two need the extra kilojoules for growth and development). Low-fat dairy products are lower in ‘bad’ saturated fat than their full-fat counterparts, and saturated fat is strongly linked to heart disease; the most common cause of death in Australia. The latest research also shows that Australian kids are eating too much saturated fat, with full-fat dairy foods being the main culprit. So the whole family should make the switch – not just the weight watchers!
Choosing low-fat milk and cheese is an important and recommended for all Australians over the age of two years.
Red meat contains five essential nutrients – so we should all be eating more of it
Red meat is a nutrient-dense food, it’s true – but it’s also a source of saturated fat; of which we eat too much. You don’t have to stop enjoying red meat – but you really only need it 2–3 times a week. As for the idea that men need more than women: the size of your palm roughly equates to the serving size of meat you should be eating, and men and women’s palms are not all that different. In fact, if anyone needs more red meat, it’s more likely to be women – female iron requirements are actually double that of males, and red meat is an excellent source of iron.
Enjoy red meat 2–3 times a week. And don’t listen to the guys who say they need to eat it more often – it’s just their way of securing the last lamb chop! The recommended meat serving size for men and women is exactly the same: 65–100g.
Raw sugar is healthier than white sugar
This belief is presumably based on the word ‘raw’, which seems to imply less processing. Not true! Sugar is made from cane or sugar beet plants. These are crushed to produce a juice, which is then heated to become a thick, dark syrup of sugar crystals and molasses. The molasses is then removed, leaving granulated white sugar. Raw sugar is simply granulated white sugar with some molasses added back in. Brown sugar is the same, but the sugar crystals are finer.
White sugar is actually lessprocessed than raw sugar. But all sugar is high in energy and low in nutrients, so less is best.
Breast meat is the healthiest part of the chicken
The most common cut of chicken meat consumed by Australians is the breast, but this doesn’t make it the healthiest part of the chicken. In fact, you could be missing out if you just stick to the ‘white parts’. Chicken thighs and drumsticks, for example, contain higher levels of good fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as more vitamin A, more iron and more zinc, than the breast meat. Like the breast, brown chicken meat is also a good source of protein, and has a similar kilojoule content. Different cuts contain different levels of essential nutrients, so don’t be afraid to try other parts of the bird than the breast – just make sure you’re choosing lean, skinless options.
Brown chicken meat is just as healthy as breast meat and can help provide key nutrients to a balanced diet.
The fruit in the supermarket is one year old
This is unlikely, but possible, says Dr Adel Yousif, food science lecturer at Deakin University in Victoria. “Store-bought fruit is not always 100 per cent fresh,” he admits, “though it rarely stays in cold storage for as long as a year.” Consumer demand means that fruit is available year-round, even when it’s technically out of season. Fruit is picked before it matures, then transported and kept in cold storage until retailers need it. “Cold storage helps stop the flesh from rotting,” explains Dr Yousif, “although the fruit may lose some moisture on the inside.”
Fruit is often placed in cold storage – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Cold storage dramatically slows down vitamin loss, and it’s the only way to get the healthy fruit you love, year round. If you want the freshest fruit, seasonal fruit is best. Otherwise, look for a smooth skin or peel, and flesh that springs back when gently squeezed.
You shouldn’t use cling wrap in the microwave
Bram Alexander, spokesperson for the Victorian Department of Health, says it’s okay to use cling film in the microwave – but only if the pack says it’s microwave-safe, and only for up to one minute. If the cooking time is longer than a minute, there’s a risk the plastic could melt and go into the food. The way you use cling wrap in the microwave is also important, he says. “Cover the bowl or container loosely so that steam can escape,” he says. “Don’t stick it down drum-tight.” When you lift the film, do so facing away from you to avoid a steam burn.
Microwave-safe cling wrap is fine, but if you heat food for an extended period, glass or microwave-safe plastic containers with lids are your best bet.
You shouldn’t refreeze meat
This one is true. “Thawed raw meat should not be refrozen,” says a spokesperson from Meat and Livestock Australia. Thawing may expose meat to what’s known as the ‘temperature danger zone’ (5–60°C). “Under these conditions, bacteria can multiply and potentially grow to harmful levels. Refreezing may not kill them.” You can cook thawed, frozen meat; just don’t refreeze it again as a cooked dish. “When you freeze cooked meat, then thaw and reheat, repeated exposure to the temperature danger zone could further increase the bacterial overload,” says Dietitian Aloysa Hourigan, spokesperson at Nutrition Australia.
Meat should only ever be frozen once. After defrosting, don’t freeze it again – even after you cook it. If you cook meat that has never been frozen, it is safe to freeze the finished dish.
Hypnotherapy might help you lose weight
There’s been a lot of hype out there about hypnotherapy: it’s said to help remove food cravings naturally, remove stress (and thus comfort eating), and reinforce positivity towards weight loss while minimising weight loss issues. But does it work?
The most recent review of the research looking at hypnotherapy and weight loss found that some complementary and alternative therapies may lead to small reductions in body weight – but there really isn’t a lot of concrete evidence just yet. Some researchers also conclude that complementary therapies, such as hypnotherapy, are just that and may only truly be useful when used in conjunction with energy- restricted diets and exercise.
If you are serious about shedding some weight, modifying your diet and stepping up your physical activity are still key. However, if the sound of a little hypnotherapy sounds intriguing or even fun, it could be worthwhile. Just make sure you find a reputable hypnotherapist.
Non-stick pans are not safe
“High temperatures (usually way above those normal for cooking) are to be avoided, as the non-stick coating can break down, releasing strongly irritant fumes. Usually, the pan has to be red hot for this to happen so normal cooking temperatures are fine and no breakdown will occur, but avoid the high temperatures,” says John Reeve, toxicologist at the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.
The safety of non-stick pans has also come into question because of environmental concerns about perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which is used to produce the non-stick coating. The Environmental Protection Agency in the US has requested companies work towards eliminating the use of PFOA by 2015. Laboratory studies with animals have shown PFOA to be toxic and carcinogenic in high doses. The concern is for factory workers producing these products, as well as emissions from factories into the local environment, rather than the pans themselves. John Reeve notes, “The breakdown of the coating at high temperatures will not release PFOA: it is other corrosive substances that will be formed.”
Follow the care instructions of the pan to avoid damaging the non-stick surface. Don’t overheat and avoid scratching the non-stick surface with metal utensils or abrasive cleaners.
Soy causes cancer
Two rather vocal but seemingly lone voices in America would like to tell us how bad soy is for our health. Amongst other things, they claim soy will stunt growth and promote breast cancer. (They also advise using saturated fat-laden butter, tallow and lard for healthy cooking and that canola oil can cause cancer!) We don’t have space to go into all the research around soy foods – there is an awful lot of it – but soy has been safely consumed as a major part of Asian diets (especially by the Japanese, who are renowned for having the longest life expectancy in the world!) for many years and consumption of soy has been associated with reduced risk for a number of cancers and diseases generally associated with older age.
Soy is safe.
You shouldn’t eat white bread
No one is going to argue that white bread is better for you than wholemeal and wholegrain – but it’s not the ‘devil food’ that many websites seem to suggest!
Although it’s made from refined grains, white bread is still a good source of carbs. It also contains some fibre and B vitamins, although at lower levels (around 30–50%) than wholemeal. If you’re unable to get the kids to eat wholegrain bread, then make white bread part of a healthy ‘rainbow’ sandwich – one slice of high-fibre white bread (or white bread with added hi-maize), one slice of wholegrain and something healthy in between!
If you really love white bread, don’t deprive yourself of it entirely. Enjoy it occasionally and choose the fibre-infused variety.
Is that really true?
We examine some of the latest chain emails to hit our inbox regarding health and diets:
We should follow the ‘natural’ diet of our ancestors
Our Stone Age ancestors may have eaten more ‘naturally’ – they certainly didn’t dine on biscuits and chips – but their lifespan was only about 30 years! Famine and long winters would have resulted in a cycle of weight gain and loss, which places incredible stress on the body; they didn’t have the knowledge to harvest or cultivate modern dietary essentials such as grains, legumes or dairy; and they ate everything raw. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding processed foods, but a Stone Age diet is impractical, expensive and lacking in vital nutrients.
‘Alkaline’ foods are better than ‘acidic’ foods to keep our body’s pH balance neutral
Some of the online claims about acidic foods are unfounded, but scientists are finding benefits from a more alkaline-forming diet. When our food is fully metabolised, we’re left with either acidic or alkaline products in our body. In a very acid-forming diet (as most Western diets are), our body uses bicarbonate already in the body as a ‘buffer’, to keep our blood pH within a tight range. But too much acid over time, and our body may become less able to provide a ‘buffer’, which scientists believe contributes to osteoporosis.
Vegetables and fruits are alkaline-forming (who’s surprised?). Nine serves of fruit and veg daily are recommended to provide enough alkaline precursors to buffer the acids from other foods.