HealthCarePlus has partnered with The Food Cruncher, a New Zealand based company set up to give people evidence-based nutrition information about food. Sick of seeing all the fake news about food and nutrition they decided to do something about it. We like what they do and that's why we want to work with them.
We will regularly feature articles from their experts that we hope will help our Members improve their health just by focusing on eating well (a plant-based diet), exercising daily, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing stress.
Are you confused about what to eat? There is so much information out there it can be overwhelming to know what to eat and what not to eat. How do you know if carbohydrates are good or bad? What about fat? Is sugar good or bad? What about protein? Should I eat a high protein diet? Should I eat a low-calorie diet to lose weight? What about a high fat diet - like Keto or Paleo? How about a fasting diet? Is a detox diet good for me? Do I need to take supplements?
Let us answer some of your questions here.
All about carbohydrates
Many people believe that carbohydrates are ‘bad’ and should be avoided. This is so wrong. Carbohydrates are the body’s number one source of fuel and energy. Without them you will feel tired and have no energy.
The issue with carbohydrates is not whether you should eat them, rather the type of carbohydrates you eat is what matters. Simply put, there are three types of carbohydrates. Starches (lentils, beans, peas, potatoes, oats, brown rice); sugar (yes sugar is a carbohydrate and occurs in two forms; added sugar to processed food and home cooking, and natural sugar found in fruit and plain milk); and fibre (fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, wholewheat pasta, corn and wholegrain breads).
It is the carbohydrates that are refined and processed that you should avoid. These are foods like cakes, biscuits and cookies, fizzy drinks & soda, candy and lollies, white rice, white pasta, white bread, fruit juice and flavoured milk.
The carbohydrates that are good for health include brown rice, whole wheat pasta, lentils, beans, wholegrain breads, fruits, and vegetables. These types of carbohydrates are also high in fibre and fibre helps to keep you full for longer and helps protect against some forms of cancer.
Carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of your diet, so go ahead and enjoy those carbs. The right carbohydrate choices are healthy, nutritious, and good for you.
What about fat?
There seems to be a lot of confusion about fat. There are some popular diets out there promoting high fat diets (think Keto & Paleo) which are part of the issue.
You hear a lot of anecdotal stories about people following high fat diets, who lose lots of weight, and therefore think they ‘work’. The problem with high fat diets is that they generally exclude or significantly reduce a food source – and that is usually carbohydrates. As discussed above, carbohydrates are essential for good health, so by eating a high fat diet and excluding them, you are setting yourself up for long term health problems.
Again, as with carbohydrates, the type of fat you eat matters. There are two types of fat – saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are the fats that are bad for your health and increase your risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. These are foods like butter, cream, cheese, meat fat, palm & coconut oil, pastries, pies, cakes, biscuits, processed meat like ham, bacon, and salami – and lots of other processed foods.
Unsaturated fats are the good fats for health. These include foods like olive oil, canola oil, sunflower and flaxseed oils, avocado, nuts & seeds, fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines), walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
You might have heard of trans fats – basically these are the worst fats you can eat. They raise your risk for heart disease and diabetes and should be avoided. Check food labels – if you see anything that says ‘hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated’ put it back! Trans fats are found in foods like cakes, cookies, and pies (from the supermarket), some frozen pizzas, fried foods like French fries, doughnuts, and fried chicken.
The problem with sugar
In a nutshell, sugar has no nutritional value – that means you don’t need it. Sugar is usually found in two forms – sugar that is added to food (think breakfast cereals, fruit juice, soda, fizzy drinks, candy, lollies, biscuits, cakes, lots of canned food – check the labels), and naturally occurring sugar found in milk and fruit.
Sugar found in plain milk and fruit is fine – it is the sugar that is added to everything else that is the problem. Start looking at food labels. Some common names for sugar include coconut sugar, dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, maple syrup, raw sugar, rice malt syrup, sucrose, treacle.
Simply put, if you don’t eat anything from a packet, you should not have to worry about your sugar intake.
Protein & High Protein Diets
Protein is essential for the body’s growth and repair. Protein is made up of 20 different amino acids, some of which the body can make and others which need to be obtained from food. Adequate protein can be achieved from both animal products and a plant-based diet.
Protein sources from animal products include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, and yoghurt. Plant-based protein sources come from soy (soybeans, tofu, soy milk), grains (oats, barley), nuts and pulses (dried beans, peas, and lentils).
Animal sources of protein contain all the essential amino acids required for health. Two plant-based sources of protein (quinoa and soy) also provide complete protein sources. The other plant-based sources of protein are required in combination to meet essential protein requirements.
How much protein do I need?
It would be fair to say most people eat far more protein than they need. Adult men, on average, only need around 64grams (2.25 oz) of protein a day. For women, they only need around 46grams (1.6 oz) of protein a day. An average sized chicken breast contains around 33grams of protein so you can see how easy it is to achieve your protein intake daily.
Vegans need to ensure they obtain their protein from a variety of sources to ensure they meet their nutritional needs, but in general, should have no issues achieving their protein requirements.
High Protein Diets (Keto & Paleo)
As with high fat diets, high protein diets often come at the expense of carbohydrates. As you now know, carbohydrates are essential for good health. Cutting them from the diet exposes you to nutritional deficiencies.
Eating a high protein diet is also often associated with high fat, and a high fat diet increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. In addition, high protein diets can increase your risk for cancer and kidney disease.
While research is ongoing, there are clear links that show diets that contain a lot of red and processed meat are associated with increased disease risk. Choosing a diet with more plant-based protein sources will benefit your health and help protect you against lifestyle conditions that are preventable (like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease).
Fasting & Detox Diets
Intermittent fasting typically involves a period of fasting (restricting food intake) and a period of normal eating. A common example is the 5:2 diet where someone eats normally for 5 days and then eats much less (typically around 500 calories a day) for the next 2 days. This eating pattern, over time, reduces the number of calories a person eats, and often leads to weight loss.
Intermittent fasting can be hard to stick to. Side effects might include headaches, low energy, and light headedness. And you still need to eat healthily over the other 5 days – otherwise you just overeat and eat all the calories you would have ‘saved’ by fasting. This type of eating pattern might be suitable for some people; however, you should always check with your registered health professional before starting a fasting diet.
Detox diets have no scientific evidence to support them. They often involve fasting, drinking only liquids, or taking supplements or herbs. The bottom line on detox diets – save your money. This is what your liver is for.
What about supplements?
Supplements come in many different forms. There are multi vitamins that you can pick up at the supermarket, protein supplements (like protein powder and bars), meal replacements (drinks and bars), probiotics, and fish oil supplements, to name a few.
The only time a supplement is required is if there is a nutritional deficiency. This can be diagnosed by a blood test – for example, someone who is anaemic might require an iron supplement.
Vegans and vegetarians who do not eat any form of dairy products need to be careful of their iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 intake. For vegans, a B12 supplement may be required if the diet is not well planned.
In general, you should be able to obtain all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed for good health, from a well-planned diet. In reality though, lots of people do not eat a well-planned diet! If you are considering taking a supplement, speak with your registered health professional first.
If you follow the information in this article, you will be well on the way towards preventing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Ensuring your diet is well balanced with carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats is critical to staying well. Moving towards a more plant-based diet and reducing your intake of meat (especially red meat and processed meats, like bacon, ham, and salami), will significantly improve your health, help you to maintain a healthy weight, and help to prevent the lifestyle conditions mentioned above, all of which are preventable with smart nutrition choices.
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Questions for our upcoming webinars with The Food Cruncher
In an effort to help raise awareness about the importance of knowing how to eat for health, without dieting, we are going to team up with the Food Cruncher's team of experts in our upcoming webinar to answer any questions you might have about food and diet.
Please submit any questions or any topics you would like to know more in the comment section below. We will include them in the webinar.
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