Potatoes make you fat; agave nectar is better than sugar; all multigrain breads are healthy; chocolate is bad for you; granola is high in fibre; and health bars are healthier options than a bag of chips. How many of us believe these assertions to be true? 

We consider many foods to be healthy because we’ve heard about them on the news or from a health-conscious friend. Some of us hate them but keep 
buying them because we think they’re good for us. 
So much information exists regarding nutrition but 
the problem is a lot of that is inaccurate. Let’s debunk a few common myths so you can feel more confident about your food choices.

Milk causes digestion issues

Milk can be an issue for some people, however it can also be fragmented to make many desirable and health-promoting products. Dairy is the number one growth food because it contains all amino acids. It is rich in many essential minerals and vitamins. Its fat can be manipulated to suit your needs as can the lactose sugar component. Most doctors and nutritionists are reluctant to omit all dairy unless it causes a problem, which is usually that it is being poorly digested.

Do potatoes make you fat?

“People are fairly confused about what is good and what they should keep clear of,” says Stephanie Karl, nutritionist at JTS Medical Centre. “Take potatoes. They are nutritious but can be pushed into areas of marginal nutrient quality. Scrubbed and boiled or baked, a potato with skin on provides a package of nutrition that complements a meal with protein and vegetables, but steeped in fat (French fries, hash browns and mashed potatoes) they’re bad carbs, high in calories, low in fibre and with most of their vitamins zapped out.

"I always include leek and potato soup in my detox plan as potatoes are a source of iron, potassium, vitamin B6 and fibre. Baked or boiled whole with the skin lowers the glycaemic effect as fibre slows digestion and the starch is not readily available. To slow this down further, add a low-fat protein such as yoghurt and beans. Animal proteins will also lower the glycaemic effect.”

Multigrain bread: Healthy or not

If seven grain is healthy, 12 grain must be even better, right? Not quite, multigrain just means that there are two or more grains present in the pasta or bread. It has nothing to do with how refined the flour base used is, and if it’s white, that means it has been stripped of most of its nutrients. When choosing a multigrain bread, look for 100 per cent wholewheat, which means that all of the grain kernel has been used so you’re getting as much fibre and nutrients as possible.

What about cheese? 

Cheese can be good or bad for you depending on how you eat it; slathered on pizza or nachos it cancels out any health benefits. On the other hand experts say cheese is the key to a healthy heart. Beyond making a significant contribution to your daily requirement, the protein in cheese supports weight loss. “Cheese should not be taboo unless you react to the curd protein casein,” says Karl. “Probably cheese is made out to be a bad guy because of the fat content, but it is a good fat as long as it mixes in the right crowd and doesn’t dominate over other fats, because you do need to get a range of fatty acids from different sources.”

Cheese is best taken with veggies and protein and not with a starchy carb such as bread. Starch will send the fat into storage, as the carb will be used for energy. Enjoy halloumi or feta with your salads or meals that are not a major carb hit.

Pasta equals weight gain?

Pasta has gotten a poor reputation because it is carb, which many people believe leads to weight gain. Eating too much of any type of food can lead to weight gain. Pasta is made from hard wheat or durum wheat and this is easier to digest and not so inflammatory on the immune system. Soft wheat used for making bread relies on a kneading technique that develops a protein called elastin, which forms a structure to allow the yeast to create air and subsequently a soft and desirable light product.

This is difficult to break down during digestion and often causes food sensitivity.  “Buckwheat is an awesome food and I would urge everyone to try it,” says Karl. “It is hard to distinguish from durum pasta, higher in fibre, and has slower glycaemic effect. Otherwise the pitfall with pasta is that you can overeat because it can be revved up to be so appetising.”

Avocados are high in calories but...

Avocado is a nutrient-dense fruit and although they’re high in calories and fat, that doesn’t make them bad for your health. They are rich in monounsaturated fats, which promote heart health and basic body functions. When you eat them in moderation, they can make a healthy addition to your diet plan.
“Avocado has a beneficial fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid, which many people take as a fat oxidising supplement,” says Karl. “It is a healthy fat but again watch what you pair it with and how much you eat at one meal. Half an avo has only 10g or 1 level dessertspoon of great fat, which supports the brain 
and all cell tissue.” 

Is agave nectar better than sugar?

Since people know sugar to be bad for health, they replace it with options such as agave nectar, but not many know these natural sweeteners are still sugars with the same amount of calories as normal sugar and honey (60 calories per tablespoon). Instead of replacing sugar find ways to reduce overall sugar intake for a healthier you.

Chocolate is addictive

Chocolate dates back to the time of the Aztecs. The Aztecs consumed chocolate in the form of a sweetened drink, which was believed to increase wisdom, boost energy levels and have a powerful aphrodisiac effect. Modern forms of chocolate combine cocoa paste with cocoa butter, sugar and cream or milk, with a variety of additional flavourings such as vanilla and nuts that may improve the flavour but may reduce its health value.

“Chocolate is rich in magnesium for relaxation and tryptophan, an amino acid necessary to make serotonin and melatonin. Now we know why it is the go-to comfort food,” explains Karl. “It is also a powerful antioxidant to help protect the body’s cell matrix. The higher the cocoa, the greater the bitterness. A small serving of chocolate is not as bad as teaspoons of sugar in coffee. Chocolate is most likely considered bad because it is so addictive and hard to control, but it can be consumed in moderation to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Are snack bars and granola healthy?

When you’re in a rush, you’re tempted to grab one of the energy bars to keep you full. 

Often they have a chocolate or yoghurt coating and contain chemicals and artificial sweeteners. They don’t even make up for it with enough minerals and vitamins. Instead, the best snacks are fresh fruits, raw nuts and natural nut butters.

People think of granola as healthy because they think it’s wholegrain, but the problem is it tends to also have a lot of sugar and is often cooked with oil or butter and some kind of fat. Between the fat and the sugar, granola is a calorie-dense food. The energy from granola is a quick kind of false energy from the sugar. The best way to get real sustained energy is by eating minimally processed, whole natural food that does not have added sugar.

Discover your own diet

Diets such as Paleo seem to get a lot of attention but this means taking out all dairy, cereal-based carbs and pulses as they are reliant on farming and agriculture. “I tend to think you try and keep your eating to wholesome choices and find your own Paleo diet, which is fairly much what it used to be before genetic modification,” advises Karl.

Vegan and vegetarian diets use pulses and soya to get their protein fix but often this is not enough. They need to be complemented with the right foods. The vegan diet has very little zinc and iron is poorly absorbed on such a diet. Plant-based diets, especially vegan diets, are devoid of vitamin B12 factor and that is a critical factor for neurotransmitter function/brain electrical function and liver detoxification. 

So when embarking on a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is best to consult your nutritionist and understand your body’s needs. Fruit diets are not a good option as they are loaded with sugar and offer no protein or good fat. 

It all comes back to managing the ratios of all foods to achieve your lifestyle and health goals.A lot of these diets don’t adequately address personal eating styles, family and work schedules or exercise preferences. Instead of chasing cookie-cutter diet plans, experiment to create a personalised eating plan that helps you shed weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.