Healthy eating: fact vs fiction
Advice on healthy eating seems to change so fast that it’s hard to keep up. But there’s no need to blow your budget on superfoods or swap your Sunday roast for a salad.
Here we address some of the most common food myths and ask the experts what we really should be eating.
What's the myth? Low-fat foods are best for us.
The reality: Although a diet that is low in fat can help you to control your weight and lower your cholesterol, there’s no need to avoid fat altogether.
The expert opinion: 'We do need some fat in our diets,' explains Eleanor Donaldson from the British Dietetic Association. 'For example, omega fats are great for circulation and can reduce the risk of heart disease.'
Why not try...? Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, pilchards and sardines are good sources of omega fats. Use olive or sunflower oil for cooking, and if you are trying to reduce the amount of fat you eat, there are a number of different options:
- Trim visible fat from meat.
- Choose lower-fat versions of traditional foods.
- Buy or try making your own oven chips instead of fried.
- Save cakes, biscuits, pies and pastries for an occasional treat.
Fruit and veg
What's the myth? Fruit and vegetables should be eaten fresh.
The reality: Unless you’re feeding a family, it can be hard to get through a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables before they go off. Buying tinned or frozen means that you only use what you need, so there’s less waste.
The expert opinion: Eleanor Donaldson says: 'Freezing preserves the food’s vitamin and mineral content, is a great way to get your recommended 5-a-day and there is no wastage from peel, seeds and stalks.'
Why not try...? Why not eat frozen vegetables with your meal, add them to soups and stews, stir tinned sweetcorn into a salad, or enjoy frozen berries with yoghurt, ice cream or custard.
What's the myth? A cooked breakfast is bad for you.
The reality: Breakfast is an important meal and a cooked breakfast can be a healthy way to set yourself up for the day.
The expert opinion: Eleanor Donaldson says: 'Eggs are a brilliant source of lean protein, tomatoes are packed with antioxidants and grilled lean bacon is a tasty addition. But have a think about how you cook the foods and instead of a "fry up" have a "grill up".'
Why not try...? Give the frying pan a rest and opt for poached eggs or baked beans on wholemeal toast.
What's the myth? Red meat will kill you.
The reality: Recent research has linked red meat to an increased risk of dying from heart disease and cancer. However, red meat is good for you, as it’s an excellent source of protein, vitamin B12, zinc and iron. That’s why the Department of Health advice says it’s safe to consume up to 500g per week.
The expert opinion: Victoria Taylor, Senior Heart Health Dietician at the British Heart Foundation, says: 'Red meat can still be eaten as part of a balanced diet, but go for the leaner cuts and use healthier cooking methods such as grilling.'
Why not try...? Try not to overdo any one type of food and vary the protein part of your meal. Instead of beef, lamb or pork-based meals, why not give chicken, beans or lentils a go?
Kevin Hargin from the Food Standards Agency explains how to take care when handling and cooking chicken
What's the myth? Snacking is bad for you.
The reality: There’s nothing wrong with snacking in between meals - provided that you don’t rely on chocolate, crisps, cakes and biscuits to keep you going.
The expert opinion: Eleanor Donaldson says: 'Sometimes our appetite changes as we get older, and we don���t always fancy eating big meals. This is where snacks can be helpful. Eating regularly helps our body maintain a constant source of energy, so it’s fine to eat every 3-4 hours throughout the day.'
Why not try...? Starchy foods make good, healthy snacks. A bowl of cereal with semi-skimmed milk or toast with a healthy topping are great choices. You could also try a small lump of cheese with crackers or fresh fruit.
What's the myth? It’s important to eat superfoods.
The reality: We often hear that foods like blueberries, broccoli or spinach are ‘superfoods’ which are packed with nutrients and beneficial to health. But there’s no evidence to show that they are any better for you than other fruit and veg.
The expert opinion: Eleanor Donaldson says: 'There’s no legal definition for this rather unscientific marketing term, which is used to refer to foods with high levels of nutrients. These foods are no more "super" than good old potatoes, tomatoes or apples.'
Why not try...? Provided that you eat a ‘rainbow’ of fruit and vegetables, you’ll get all the nutrients you need without spending a fortune on superfoods.
Written by Ceri Roberts
Please help us be there for older people in need
By donating today, you could help us answer more calls to our advice line, campaign harder for older people’s rights and fair treatment and provide regular friendship calls to people who are desperately lonely.