Superfoods, low-carb diets and protein powder. Lean in 15, clean eating and juice detox galore… We are inundated daily by fitness freak tips and tricks and “magic” solutions to shedding those stubborn pounds that seemed to have piled up horizontally since you stopped growing vertically. Unfortunately, richness of information seems to have a negative correlation with quality of said information. Basic nutrition can be simplified to a handful of truths…
- No food groups are bad food groups
Kicking yourself for eating carbohydrates three meals a day? Devastated that you succumbed to toast after staying off the bread for three days? Perhaps take carb restrictions with a pinch of salt (they’re tastier that way).
There is nothing inherently wrong with carbohydrate-rich foods, in fact, we require carbohydrates in order to synthesise energy to keep us going. Carbohydrates are the body’s first point of call for energy release. That being said, lipids (fats) release more energy per gram than carbohydrates, so be mindful of your macronutrient intake.
Furthermore, do not cut out food groups because you heard they’re bloating/fattening/go straight to your thighs. We are biologically programmed to synthesise organic compounds, please just trust your body on this one… The exception is those who have a clinical aversion to certain foods e.g. those who cannot digest certain foods due to a medical condition such as coeliac disease, lactose-intolerance or over-production of stomach acid. That is not to say that you shouldn’t watch out for what to eat if you have not been diagnosed; listen to your body and understand what makes it more or less uncomfortable. Just don’t cut out foods for the hell of it.
2. “Superfoods” do not exist
Some foods are simply more nutrient dense than others. This does not mean that your chia seeds are going to change the face of your health forever, and your abs are going to look noticeably sharper after only eating spinach with your chicken. The most pertinent misunderstanding with so-called “superfoods” is that a food which primarily belongs to one food group, is somehow superior to another food in the same food group because it is fortified with a different nutrient composite. For example, the infamous quinoa vs. the humble brown rice. Primarily, both foods belong to the carbohydrate food group. However, quinoa has a higher protein content. Note that even though quinoa is enhanced because of its protein content, there is no difference in its value as a carbohydrate compared to rice. In other words, quinoa is no less of a carbohydrate because it has something else attached to it.
Similarly, the omnipresent sweet potatoes vs. white potatoes debate. Sweet potatoes may have a slightly higher fibre index and higher proportions of manganese, potassium and other minerals, but in terms of being a carbohydrate both types of potato confer the same properties.
3. All sugar is the same
It is important to note first and foremost that sugars in their simplest form are still carbohydrates. The main sugars we consume can be distinguished into monosaccharides glucose and fructose, and the disaccharide sucrose. The distinction between the mono- and di- is to do with the number of units that constitute the sugar, and the difference between the sugars is the way in which they are metabolised.
Glucose is the body’s preferred energy source and is metabolised very rapidly. This is found in breads, pastas, cereals and many legumes. Studies suggest that this sugar is the lesser of evils where sugars are concerned and have the is the weakest lipogenic, ie. it acts the least as “fat” in the body.
Fructose is found in fruits and soft beverages. In high concentrations, fructose is seen to have a lipogenic effect, so proceed with caution with your soft drinks; however under no circumstance should you cut out fruit in light of this. In a country where fruit consumption is chronically inadequate, if anything, we should be eating way more.
Lactose is found in milk and dairy products.
Sucrose is what is commonly known as table sugar; the “free” sugar we add to cakes, desserts etc. It is also found in some fruits and vegetables. As sugar constitutes empty calories (intake of calories devoid of nutritional gain), it is agreed that we should avoid adding sugar as much as possible- this is linked to weight gain!
The next time you do a food shop, make these nutritional considerations. Don’t sell yourself out to mass marketing of food fads and listen to your body and the science behind your next meal.