By Nicky Gilbert
Stories about miracle foods, novelty diets, activity and health are newsworthy items and ever present in our headlines and on social media.
While many stories may be based upon genuine research, very often the science is over-simplified and frequently sensationalised. So, it is hardly surprising that there is confusion about what is best for our health and performance!
Test your own knowledge, and that of your friends and family, by answering ‘Truth’ or ‘Myth’ to the following six statements, then scroll down to the answers.
Truth or myth?
- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
- Low-fat foods are not always healthy choices as they tend to be high in sugar
- Sports drinks improve physical performance
- For speedy recovery, it is advisable to eat high GI snacks after physical activity
- Eating after 6pm is more likely to lead to weight gain
- Plant-based diets can provide all essential nutrients for health
BREAKFAST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY
This is a myth. Breakfast is just one of three important meals of the day! Eating at regular intervals throughout the day prevents us from getting hungry and provides a steady supply of fuel for both physical and mental performance. So, lunch is just as important as breakfast, allowing us to fuel our endeavours in the afternoon.
If you are not hungry when you wake, it is fine to eat your breakfast within two hours. But, you could try eating a smaller evening meal and/or eating a little earlier in the evening to trigger your appetite for breakfast. If you miss breakfast because it bores you, take time to experiment with your breakfast choices and make them a little more appetising.
What will you put on your porridge in the morning? Banana and walnuts, coconut and tinned pineapple, chopped apple and cinnamon, walnuts and raisins, frozen berries and granola, or passion fruit?
LOW-FAT FOODS ARE NOT ALWAYS HEALTHY CHOICES AS THEY TEND TO BE HIGH IN SUGAR
This is true. The three macronutrients in our food are protein, carbohydrate and fat. If fat is reduced, then another tends to be proportionately increased e.g. additional sugar (simple carbohydrate) in some biscuits, yoghurts and sauces.
It is helpful to refer to the nutritional information on the label when comparing the original product with reduced fat options. ‘Weigh it up’ and directly compare products by examining the amount of fat and sugar in 100g. It is also helpful to look at the ingredients which are listed according to quantity, so sugar will feature near the top when it forms a substantial amount of the product.
3. SPORTS DRINKS IMPROVE PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE
This is a myth. Many people may choose to drink a sports drink before and during exercise for hydration and/or an energy boost. However, simply drinking a sports drink won’t guarantee you an ‘improved performance’ – effective training and recovery, optimal sleep and a healthy, balanced diet are the main determining factors.
While the use of a sports drink may occasionally be helpful for hydration during lengthy and intensive training sessions, reliance is not recommended as these acidic drinks can damage dental health. For most training activities, refilling a bottle with tap water alone or with a sugar-free flavouring is a cheap, effective and environmentally-friendly way to keeping hydrated.
FOR SPEEDY RECOVERY, IT IS ADVISABLE TO EAT HIGH GI SNACKS AFTER PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
This is a myth. Carbohydrate-rich foods, which are rapidly absorbed and referred to as ‘high glycaemic index’ or high GI, have long been promoted to aid refuelling with sugary confectionery, cakes and cereal bars being popular choices. However, eating immediately after exercise is rarely necessary, unless you participate in intense training more than once a day, most days of the week. When exercising only once a day, regular healthy meal patterns will simply do the trick!
Top tip! Try drinking skimmed milk – it serves as a nutrient-rich snack and a tooth-friendly rehydration drink!
EATING AFTER 6PM IS MORE LIKELY TO LEAD TO WEIGHT GAIN
This is a myth. Eating late doesn’t have to lead to an increase in weight. Many healthy, busy and active individuals, including athletes, eat their evening meal after 6pm or later on most days. But, eating little during the day and being hungry in the evening can lead to poor food choices and over-eating, so most people find it easier to regulate their nutrient intake by spacing food evenly across the day. The key to weight management is to ensure that over time your energy (calorie) intake continues to match your energy expenditure by eating healthily and keeping active, lifelong.
PLANT-BASED DIETS CAN PROVIDE ALL ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS FOR HEALTH
This is true. Plant-based eaters and vegans do not need to despair – they can get all their essential nutrients provided they eat a varied and well-planned diet. Read my previous article on ‘How to eat a healthy plant-based diet’ for further information.
‘Getting Closer to the Truth’ – Tips for seeing through the headlines!
|Is the claim practical and realistic?
|Is it practical to consume the required amount of the ‘miracle super-food’ or supplement needed to get the benefit? Can you afford it?|
|Does the claim seem sensible or does it contradict everything we know to be true?
|Use common sense – does the headline or claim support, or go against, everything we know to be true? Research builds upon our existing knowledge and it is rare that something new will completely contradict years of medical research and practice.|
|These issues are complex but when making a decision, consider that:
· Individual foods, nutrients or activities are frequently reported, but alone will not determine health or performance outcomes
· Overall dietary balance is important, but is not the sole determinant of health and performance
· Our health and performance are influenced by complex interactions between diet, stress, exercise, sleep, medications, mental health, environment and genetics amongst others
There is no such thing as a miracle food or a miracle supplement that can ever replace your commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
Want to find out more facts about diet and nutrition?
Search BDA food facts on https://www.bda.uk.com/food-health/food-facts.html
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
|Scrambled eggs with spinach and roasted tomatoes|
|Nutritional Features||Low GI, high fibre, good source protein, vegetarian|
|Ingredients to serve 2
|· Spray oil or a small amount of olive oil
· 100g cherry tomatoes or chopped tomatoes
· 100g spinach
· 4 eggs
· 2-3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
· 4 slices sourdough, granary or crusty wholemeal bread
· 1 garlic clove, peeled
|Additional notes for food preparation||Vary the recipe with different types of bread, poached eggs or add flakes or shreds or fish (smoked haddock or salmon) to the scrambled eggs. Ideal for a tasty breakfast or as a quick supper after training.|
Nicky Gilbert is a freelance dietitian, lecturer and Registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist with 30 years experience in the field. For many years she worked with the players at Nottingham Forest Football Club as well as supporting other national teams and Olympians. As well as working with DIS athletes, she also works with industry to support health and wellbeing in the workplace as an accredited BDA Work Ready Dietitian.