The truth behind some of the biggest nutrition myths
They may be good for you (or claim to be, as in the case of some of these rogues), but that doesn’t mean you can eat with reckless abandon. If you’re watching your weight, you still need to think about how much you’re consuming, even if it’s the right things. Ahlaam Ali, managing director of UAE nutrition company Powwer Eat (www.powwereat.com), shares her advice.
Avocado ‘They may count as one of your five-a-day, but avocados are high in fat. The good news is, it contains healthy monunsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are good for your heart and in some studies have even been linked to helping dieters shed belly fat. Great for lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol.’
Recommendation: Mash up half an avocado, add lemon and a dash of salt and use it instead of butter or margarine on a piece of whole grain toast as a breakfast or snack option.
Calories and suggested serving size: Half a medium avocado counts as one of your 5-a-day and contains 138 calories and 14.1g fat
Quinoa ‘A healthier, wholegrain, un-bleached alternative to rice, quinoa is a great way to bulk up salads to keep your blood sugar levels steady throughout the day. Compared with rice, it is a much more complete protein, which means it can be had on its own as a protein source with vegetables. The protein content is almost double that of brown rice, as well as the fat, however the carb content is significantly lower. It’s high in the amino acids required to maintain healthy muscles, and has three times more iron than brown rice.’
Recommendation: Half a cup of quinoa with vegetables is a great way to get a complete meal if you don’t feel like animal protein or if you are a vegetarian.
Calories and suggested serving size: 222 calories per cup serving.
Nuts ‘Like avocados, untoasted, unsalted nuts are high in the good fats our bodies need, linked with good brain function, heart health, and strong, shiny nails and hair among other things. Some, such as almonds, are also a good source of protein. They might be a far healthier alternative to afternoon snacks such crisps, but that combination of protein and fat is what makes these a calorific snack. They are also very high in mineral and vitamin content especially vitamin E, folate and choline, and potassium.’
Recommendation: Snack on a maximum of ten to 12 almonds on their own or chopped or flaked almonds in your bowl of cereal or on your bowl of mixed fruit is ideal.
Calories and suggested serving size: In one serving (which is one cup of whole almonds), there is a whopping total of 824 calories of which 13 percent is carbs, 74 percent is fat and 13 percent is protein. As you can seem the extreme high fat content is what makes up most of the calories in almonds.
Greek yoghurt ‘It may have fewer carbohydrates than regular natural yoghurt, but its thicker consistency is down to a higher protein content, which bumps up the calories.’
Recommendation: Best used as a spread instead of butter, rather than using it as a pot of yoghurt snack. You can add za’atar (Arabic thyme) and sesame seed mixture you usually see on Lebanese bread.
Calories and suggested serving size: In a 225g serving, there are 150 calories. Of that, there is 9.1g carbs (sugar), 24g protein and almost negligible fat. The sodium content is quite high though at 90 mg, and cholesterol at 15mg.
Smoothies ‘Would you sit and eat a banana, 10 strawberries, a handful of berries, oats and a bowl of yoghurt for breakfast? That much fruit in one go is a lot of calories and natural sugar for your body to process all at once – and much more than you need.’
Recommendation: It would be a better idea to break up the above into three days’ breakfasts. A banana with four strawberries or a bowl of oats with handful of berries or yoghurt with berries.
Calories and suggested serving size: A whopping 485-500 calories depending on quantities.
Fat-free frozen yoghurt ‘Always be wary of anything claiming to be ‘fat free’. The removal of any nutrients means it has to be replaced by something, and those frozen yoghurts that claim to be healthier than ice cream can contain an alarming amount of sugar to ensure they still taste good. It is always better to have the regular option rather than low fat, as it consists of less sugar. One way to overindulge is by deluding ourselves that it is ok to have loads of the low fat options, which is not true.’ Recommendation: Eat it as a treat, and view it in the same way you would ice cream. The number of calories in the regular serving of frozen yoghurt is approximately 230 to 250 whereas the low-fat option has approximately 220 to 240. There’s really not a lot of difference. Calories and suggested serving size: About 250 calories per cup depending on the flavour (chocolate is a little higher) and brand.
Olive oil ‘A good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat – the good fat that some studies show, helps lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Olive oil also contains phytochemicals thought to help dilate blood vessels, prevent blood clots, and decrease inflammation in the body. The downside? Just a tablespoon in a dressing over your salad can add more than 119 calories to your meal.’ Recommendations: For dressings, it’s advisable to go for maximum 1 tsp of virgin or extra virgin olive oil as it has the maximum number of phytochemicals and nutrients. The best option when using olive oil for cooking is to use a cooking spray which gives you one calorie per one spray. Calories and suggested serving size: One tablespoon is 119 calories of which all of the calories come from fats. No carbohydrates and no protein content whatsoever.
Peanut butter ‘Peanut butter is another great source of healthy fats. Always opt for sugar-free – even better if you can find one that’s salt-free too. Natural, pure peanut butters are the best around (those without added palm oil), but step away from the jar and put the spoon down – portion control is key here, or you’ll quickly overdo it on the calories.’ Recommendation: As long as you’re tracking the number of calories taken in throughout the entire day, you can include this in your diet without a problem. Calories and suggested serving size: One tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter weighs in at 94 calories, of which 68 calories are from fat, 12 calories from carbs and 15 from protein.
Wholemeal bread ‘It may be better for you than heavily processed white bread, which has virtually no fibre, but the calorie content is the same, and in some cases slightly more.’ Recommendation: One or two slices of bread with 1 tsp of olive paté or nut butter will give you a complete balanced serving of carbs, fats and protein. Calories and suggested serving size: One serving is one regular size slice, which has 97 calories, of which 9 are from fat, 69 from carbs and 17 calories from protein.
Whole wheat pasta ‘Similarly to wholemeal bread, it may be better for your digestive system and contain more nutrients, but the calorie content is by no means reduced.’ Recommendation: One serving of pasta with a basic tomato or pesto sauce (keep oil to a minimum) and add a portion of lean protein like turkey or smoked salmon. Calories and suggested serving size: One serving size is one cup of dry pasta, of which the total number of calories is 210. When you add the sauces the calories will increase accordingly. Of the 210 calories, 4.2 are from fat, 29.5 calories from carbs and 14.7 calories from protein.
Sugar-free cookies ‘As with fat-free labels, sugar-free usually means the sugar has just been replaced with something else. Often, there will be a difference of barely five to 10 calories between sugar-free cookies or biscuits and regular options – the carbohydrate content is still high, and they’re likely to contain more fat.’
Recommendation: Save them for when you’re having a ‘cheat’ meal, and opt for the regular cookies. During a diet, sugar-free versions just aren’t worth the extra calories for the sugar hit that your brain is craving, and won’t get with these.
Calories and suggested serving size: One serving size is about three cookies depending on the size. Total no of calories from cookies is 160. Of which 65 calories are from fat, 82 from carbs and 11 calories from proteins.
Sweetcorn ‘The “healthy snack” they serve at the cinema as an alternative to popcorn. Sweetcorn is a carbohydrate and as such, not much of a better option – especially if you opt for butter and extra flavoured seasonings.’
Recommendation: Stick to a single serving – don’t opt for large options if you’re having it as a snack in the mall – and hold the butter.
Calories and suggested serving size: One cup of sweetcorn consists of 105 calories – and although it is high in protein, there carbohydrate content is 64 percent.
Dried fruit ‘Would you sit and eat 10 apricots or a whole bunch of grapes in a single sitting? Probably not. Though dried fruit in small quantities makes a good, non-perishable snack if you’re burning a lot of calories (they’re great to have on hand if you’re trekking), the reality is that this is far too much concentrated natural sugar if you’re just sitting at your desk.’
Recommendation: All the calories are carbohydrates, so stick to four or five pieces (or a quarter of a cup) when you are working out for an energy boost.
Calories and suggested serving size: One cup of dried fruit weighs in at 500 calories.
Tabbouleh ‘Freshly-prepared tabbouleh is a great source of iron and vitamins thanks to the enormous quantities of parsley it contains, and bulgar wheat that some varieties contain is a good source of fibre. On the downside, a lot of restaurants can be a little too liberal on the olive oil, so you’re better off making your own, or asking if the restaurant will make a fresh batch for you and serve the oil-lemon dressing on the side.’
Recommendation: Opt for an un-dressed salad.
Calories and suggested serving size: This fairly innocent-looking salad clocks up 600 calories per one-cup serving.
Tinned fruit ‘Fruit that’s been sitting around in a tin for weeks, if not months, loses some of its nutritional value. Add to that a syrup (light, or worse, heavy) or fruit juice that it’s sitting in, and you’ve got yourself more unwanted calories, and few of the health benefits fresh fruit offers.’
Recommendation: Stick to fresh fruit or tinned options in juice and not syrup if you’ve really got your heart set on it. Be aware of your portion sizes, though – one tin will contain several servings.
Calories and suggested serving size: 1 cup of tinned fruit consists of 76 calories of which 98% is from carbohydrates (sugar content). There is negligible protein and fat content.
Salmon ‘A great source of healthy oils, including omega-3, salmon is known as a healthy brain food, but those good fats still add up to calories. Grill your fish to get rid of any excess, and don’t go wild on your portion sizes. A small tuna steak is a leaner option.’
Recommendation: Cook without oil or butter and don’t add any extra sauces.
Calories and suggested serving size: 6oz of fillet consists of 242 calories if pan fried with no oil.
Coconut ‘All the celebs might be guzzling coconut water for its isotonic properties, and supposed abilities to increase metabolism, but coconut cream, milk and even flesh are high in calories. Coconut oil is full of good fatty acids, and has been described as one of the healthiest oils on earth, making it a great alternative to other vegetable or animal fats when cooking.’
Recommendation: Although coconut water is a great electrolyte, it needs to be used sparingly and you can’t be guzzling the water of six coconuts a day unless you are doing high-intensity workouts.
Calories and suggested serving size: One cup of coconut water is 46 calories.
Lentils ‘Including lentils in your diet is a fantastic way to make sure your blood sugar levels stay constant, meaning no pangs of hunger an hour after lunch. A good source of iron and protein, they are also a ‘good’ slow-releasing carbohydrate, which don’t cause an insulin spike and leave you feeling full for longer.’
Recommendation: Stick to small portions – around half a cup with a spinach salad should provide a satisfying lunch.
Calories and suggested serving size: One cup of uncooked lentils consists of 320 calories, of which 67 percent is carbs and 33 percent protein. The good news? No fat.