Diet Myths

Diet Myths

As the people of the developed world eat more, move less and get consequently fatter, there is a lot of money made and a lot of column inches written regarding advice on how to change this situation. Unfortunately this means that there are many myths and misunderstandings about the simple basics of healthy living and weight control.

There is only one method of controlling weight that works permanently, and that is to balance calories taken in through food with calories expended through movement. This can be summarised as ‘eat healthily, move more’. Four simple words which won’t make anyone any money!

The repeated use of fad diets makes it completely obvious that they do not work, (otherwise why would they need to be repeated?) but this fact also means that they are a rich source of income as they are used over and over again. Fortunes have been made recently selling books about low-carbohydrate, high fat diets. These are popular because a ‘slimming regime’ that recommends steak, bacon and so on without exercise is clearly going to be attractive – we are all programmed to like fatty foods as it is the fat that gives the taste.

These diets produce a short-term weight loss but the weight quickly goes back on again, and the lack of carbohydrates means that the ‘dieter’ has no energy for exercise, or indeed to enjoy life. Taking in excessive fat is repeatedly proven to increase the chances of stroke or heart disease. Medical authorities recommend a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet combined with exercise; the usual guidelines are that 40% of daily calories should come from complex carbohydrates such as rice, bread, pasta and potatoes.

There are several other diet traps for the unwary. ‘Health’ cereal bars are a particular item that can lead dieters astray. Doing the calculations can prove interesting here. For example, one popular cereal bar weighs 28 grams and has 110 calories, includes 71% carbohydrate and 21% fat. The smallest size of a common milk chocolate bar is 42 grams, which has 230 calories, 12 grams of fat and 26 grams of carbohydrate. This equates to 61% carbohydrate and 28% fat, and if the chocolate bar weighed the same as the cereal bar it would have 153 calories. Given that both can be classed as ‘treats’, the small fat and calorie saving really does not seem to be worthwhile!

In general, be wary of low-fat foods – sugar and flavourings often have to be added to improve taste, and these mean that what appears to be a ‘healthy’ food may have a lot more calories and processing than expected. Eating a smaller portion of the standard version could well be tastier and healthier.

A final and simple food tip is to control portions and to eat more slowly. Spend time enjoying your food and put a little less on your plate – food should not be served in heaps! If you’ve cleared your plate and want more, wait a few minutes and see if you still want another helping after that. You may find that your appetite has eased.

Exercise is the other half of the weight control equation. To lose weight, about an hour of exercise five days a week is recommended, and this needs to be ‘moderate intensity’. The definition of moderate depends on how fit an individual is, but is usually something that gets you a little out of breath, warmed up and a little sweaty. It doesn’t matter what the exercise is; a fun fitness class in the gym, a brisk walk (with or without a dog!), mowing the lawn, washing the car – anything counts as movement! Once goal weight is achieved, only thirty minutes of exercise five times a week will do the trick. It is all perfectly achievable.

In summary - eat healthily, move more and don’t be fooled by fads!

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