There are many misconceptions about healthy nutrition. Here are 5 common mistakes that people make.
Not eating enough protein
Protein means “of first importance” in Greek, so when you are choosing what to eat, first of all chose a good quality source of protein. Proteins are made of 20 different amino acids, some amino acids are essential – they must be consumed in the diet – whereas some are non-essential – your body can manufacture them. Amino acids and proteins are found in many foods. Meat, fish, seafood, dairy and eggs are primary sources of protein, but small amounts of protein are also found in grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Proteins are essential for building muscle tissue, collagen, bones, neurotransmitters, some hormones and for liver detoxification. Aim to eat good quality, lean and preferably organic sources of protein. It is recommended that we consume between 0.8-1.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. So for example a 70kg man would need to eat up to 84g of protein. Most meat is roughly 22% protein so if you divide 84 by 0.22 it will equal the amount of “meat” you would need to eat to meet that protein requirement. In practice an average chicken breast is 170g chicken breast and would have around 37g of protein in it. A 70kg male would need to eat roughly 2 eggs for breakfast, a piece of fish for lunch and a piece of chicken for dinner to get the top end of protein they require on a daily basis. Obviously, more would be needed if you exercise as exercise damages muscles and more protein is required for muscle repair. In this case more protein can be gained by using protein shakes.
Evidence exists that high protein meals improved appetite and sense of fullness. Research published in the journal Obesity demonstrated that men eating a higher protein diet (25% of total calories) had less preoccupation with thoughts of food, and a decrease in late-night eating compared to men eating a normal protein diet (14% of total calories). So eating more protein is a great way to control your weight without thinking about cutting calories.
There is an argument that using protein shakes can be useful as a meal replacement and indeed research does suggest that whey protein shakes are better for weight management compared to using soy protein or carbohydrate shakes (Baer DJ, et al 2011). However, as demonstrated in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2011 eating a protein rich (38% of total energy) solid meal was better for appetite control and sense of fullness when compared to a protein rich (38% of total energy) liquid meal.
Being scared to eat fat
Unfortunately will still live in an era where we are scared to eat fat. Fat makes us fat and clogs our arteries. Therefore low fat products and egg white omelettes still prevail. However, fats are healthy for us. There are subclasses of fats called essential fats (omega 3 and omega 6 fats) that we need to get in our diet. We even need some of the dreaded saturated fat in our diet – just not too much. We get these essential fats from cold water fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
A study published in Diabetes Care examined the value of eating 75g of nuts (food rich in healthy fats) instead of a calorie equivalent muffin (muffins are often touted as a good breakfast food). A total of 117 type 2 diabetic subjects were randomised to one of three treatments for 3 months. One group received 75g of nuts, another group received a protein-fortified muffin, and the third group received half a serving of nuts with half a serving of muffin. The results showed that the group eating nuts had significant improvements in blood sugar management and serum lipids compared to the muffin and half nuts / half muffin group. This highlights the importance of sound nutrition and eating healthy protein and fats to help control your blood sugar, energy and sense of fullness.
Not eating breakfast
For whatever reason people still skip breakfast, perhaps because they are too busy to eat, don’t feel hungry or think that it can help them lose weight. The content of a healthy breakfast is debatable with the government and mass media promoting processed sugary foods as healthy.
Scientists at the University of Missouri used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain to identify whether breakfast consumption would alter neural activity in the regions of the brain that control appetite and satiety in a group of children. The researchers found that breakfast consumption led to better outcomes in terms of appetite control and sense of fullness compared to skipping breakfast. If you eat breakfast and stabilise your blood sugar better throughout the day you are less likely to consume excess calories and sugary snacks in between meals and make better food choices through the day. They also found that higher protein breakfasts were better than a normal cereal and milk based breakfast.
Over relying on Carbs for “energy”
Carbohydrate loading is a concept that both athletes and the general pubic know of. This is largely due to the marketing of carbohydrate based products such as whole grains, sugary snack foods and sports drinks being the champion or elite sports performance, and in some part to information passed on via successful ex-elite athletes extolling the virtues of the dietary regimens that propelled them to the top of their sport. The concept of carbohydrate loading improving performance has been so successful that people think they need to eat carbohydrate for day to day energy. However, your body can make energy from protein and fats as well as carbohydrates. Most people are unaware that we predominantly use fat as our main energy source at rest with only a small contribution coming from carbohydrate. It is only when we undertake intense bouts of exercise that carbohydrate becomes the main energy source. So unless you are exercising at a high intensity several times a week you don’t need to eat as much carbohydrate as you think.
The other mistake people make is that they need to get their carbohydrate in the form of bread, rice, pasta and potato. But there are so many other foods that are sources of carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes and pulses. All of these foods should be consumed to provide carbohydrate not just starchy grains and potato.
In order to turn your food into energy it has to go through many chemical steps that require vitamin and mineral co factors. The process of breaking down carbohydrates to energy required a host of B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, iron, copper, selenium and CoQ10. Clearly these nutrients don’t just come from starchy grains and potato but from a balanced diet of meat, fish and seafood; vegeeables, nuts, seeds and fruit as well.
Deciding the best way to lose weight can often be a little tricky – the basic premise of taking in less calories and burning more calories in the form of exercise holds true but there are a couple of caveats. The Department of Health recommends a calorie intake of around 2000 calories per day for women and 2500 for men and there have been calls to increase these guidelines by another 400-500 calories. However these guidelines may be too high or people just do not follow them and eat too many calories considering the number of people that are overweight in the UK. If you eat fewer calories you should lose weight, however the type of calories consumed can also have an impact on weight loss.
Research from Harvard School of Public Health investigated what would happen to people who eat a 1500-calorie low fat diet (1800 calories for men) compared to an 1800-calorie low carb diet (2100 calorie for men). The findings were that the higher calorie low carb dieters lost more weight than the lower calorie low fat dieters. A third group was studied who consumed a 1500-calorie (1800 calories for men) low carb diet and these people lost the most weight.
Another study looked at people on a calorie matched low carbohydrate or low fat diet, the food ratios were as follows:
• Low-fat: 60:20:20 (carbohydrate:fat:protein)
• Lower-carb: 45:35:20 (carbohydrate:fat:protein)
Women eating the low carb diet lost an average of 3.4 lbs (1.5 kg) more than the women eating the low fat diet (an average of 19.6 lbs v 16.2 lbs). Even the low carb diet was still fairly high in carbohydrates and could have been reduced further to maximise weight loss.
This would suggest that lower carb diets are better for weight management that low fat diets, but calories also need to be accounted for.
Avoid these common mistakes and make sure you…
- Eat more healthy proteins such as lean meats and oily fish.
- Eat breakfast every day. Eat eggs, fruit and yoghurt or porridge.
- Eat healthy fats such as fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil.
- Cut back on the starchy carbs for energy, you don’t need as much as you think. Instead eat more vegetables.
- Be aware of the calories you eat but don’t count them religiously.
Baer DJ, et al. Whey protein but not soy protein supplementation alters body weight and composition in free-living overweight and obese adults. Journal of Nutrition. 2011; 141(8):1489-94
Greene, P. Willett, W. Devecis, J. and Skaf, A. (2003). Pilot 12-week feeding weight-loss comparisons: low-fat vs low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. Obesity Research. 11(suppl): A23.
Leidy H. J, Bales-Voelker LI, Harris CT. A protein-rich beverage consumed as a breakfast meal leads to weaker appetitive and dietary responses v. a protein-rich solid breakfast meal in adolescents. British Journal of Nutrition. 2011 Jul;106(1):37-41. Epub 2011 Feb 15.
Leidy H. J, Lepping, R. J, Savage, C. R. And Harris, C. T (2011). Neural Responses to Visual Food Stimuli After a Normal vs. Higher Protein Breakfast in Breakfast-Skipping Teens: A Pilot fMRI Study. Obesity, 19, (10), 2019–2025.
Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CL, Martin CB, Campbell WW. (2011). The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men. Obesity, 9 (4):818-24. Epub 2010 Sep 16.
Sandercock, G. R. H. Voss, C. and Dye, L. (2010) Associations between habitual school-day breakfast consumption, body mass index, physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness in English schoolchildren. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 64, 1086-1092 (October 2010) | doi:10.1038/ejcn.2010.145
The Endocrine Society. “Cutting Carbs Is More Effective Than Low-Fat Diet for Insulin-Resistant Women, Study Finds.” ScienceDaily 21 June 2010. 7 July 2010 <http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2010/06/100619173919.htm>.