Let’s face it: you can’t believe everything you hear, even if everyone is saying it. It’s the same when it comes to food. These are some of the more common pieces of food wisdom that belong on the compost pile.
1. The food pyramid
As it turns out, that classic “food pyramid” diagram, the one with bread and cereal on the big bottom layer and bacon and eggs sequestered to tiny pockets at the top, is mostly bogus. Although fat has been long demonised for weight gain, sugar and carbohydrates are much bigger culprits.
Watching one’s fat intake and cutting back on foods rich in saturated fats and cholesterol can be a healthy choice, but fats are one of several essential macronutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates).
Don’t: Shy away from butter and guzzle skimmed milk (which has fewer nutrients than whole milk and has not been linked to lower obesity rates).
Do: Cut back on sugar and simple carbs like rice and bread (for weight loss), but make sure you’re getting enough of every macronutrient.
2. Red wine is good for you
Yes, we want an excuse to crack open a nice midday bottle of Merlot as much as you, but unfortunately the old adage “a little wine is good for your heart” isn’t true – or, at least, the benefits are so small that they are outweighed by the health damage of consuming alcohol, according to new research.
Don’t: Drink to your health.
Do: Drink to your fun (in moderation).
3. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
The myth that breakfast is to be prioritised above all meals has been the cardinal mantra of the breakfast cereal industry (which already has a rather weird history). As it happens that industry also funded most of the research showing the importance of breakfast, according to a research analysis by the New York Times that exposes just how sketchy these studies have been and highlights conflicting research that suggests breakfast might not be all that.
Don’t: Spend your day full of breakfast guilt if you blow off your morning meal.
Do: Eat in the morning if you feel hungry.
4. We need eight glasses of water per day
They say we should drink eight glasses of water per day. Who is “they”? Not scientists, apparently. Although dehydration is very harmful, going out of one’s way to consume excessive amounts of water has not been linked to any significant health benefits. And don’t worry if you rarely find yourself actually drinking water: We tend to hydrate through water-based beverages – coffee, milk, juice and even soda – and much of the food we eat also contains water.
Don’t: Go out of your way to guzzle water.
Do: Drink water if you feel thirsty or are at risk of dehydration, such as during an illness, hot weather and periods of strenuous activity.
5. Genetically modified foods are unhealthy
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are food plants have been genetically engineered to prosper in adverse conditions, resist insects and disease, go longer without rotting and exhibit other advantages. Genetic tampering tends to give people pause (and there are loads of political and ethical tangles around things like commercial farming and copywriting plants) but in terms of health, most scientists say there is nothing to worry about. In fact, since GMOs tend to need fewer amounts of fertilisers and pesticides, they can actually be safer for the consumption and better for the environment than non-GMO plants.
Don’t: Pass up seeds for your garden or vegetables from your local farmer’s market just because they are GMO varieties.
Do: Eat local if possible and choose ethically and environmentally responsible brands.
6. Vitamins supplements will help you get over illness faster
Reaching for some vitamin C pills (or better yet, those fun effervescent tablets that fizz and bubble when dropped into water) when you’re fighting off a sickness might actually work, but mostly from the placebo effect. Obviously the body needs its vitamins and minerals, but the jury is still out whether vitamin supplements actually make you healthier. Current research shows a slight negative correlation between taking vitamins and falling ill, but no link between taking them and getting over illness faster (other than through the power of suggestion, which is surprisingly potent).
Don’t: Count on vitamin pills to help you when you catch a cold.
Do: Regularly eat foods that are rich in essential vitamins and minerals.
7. Microwave ovens are dangerous
Microwave ovens certainly don’t make food taste any fresher. But there is nothing dangerous, experts say, about eating food cooked or reheated in a microwave, or being around a microwave when it is running.
Don’t: Wear a lead vest when reheating last night’s casserole.
Do: Microwave without fear, but don’t be surprised if the food doesn’t taste great.
8. Locally-produced food is always better for the environment
Don’t get us wrong – we strongly encourage eating local! But be smart about it. Your neighbourhood farmer might be using more pesticides and fertilisers (carrot for carrot) than their commercial competitors, and even organic farms can be less energy efficient and have a higher environmental footprint. Sometimes those farm-to-table meats and veggies can actually be worse for the planet.
Don’t: Automatically trust something from a local market or with an “organic” sticker.
Do: Eat local and natural while remaining aware of where your food comes from.