The truth about five common food myths

By Cara Rosenbloom

Rather than buying expensive supplements, sticking to a diet of fresh, unprocessed food is one of the best ways to give your health a meaningful boost. Photo / Getty
Rather than buying expensive supplements, sticking to a diet of fresh, unprocessed food is one of the best ways to give your health a meaningful boost. Photo / Getty

Is agave really better than white sugar? Will cleansing help my body detoxify? We all hunger for nutrition advice, but not all the advice you hear is worth believing.

Here are the truths behind five common nutrition myths:

Processed meat causes cancer

Remember that scary headline? "World Health Organisation Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer." Turns out, the science was not as dire as the headline made it sound.

The WHO report said that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day (about one hot dog) increased the relative risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. That's not the same as "causing cancer."

To put it into perspective: The average person has a 5 percent risk of developing colon cancer; those who eat a lot a processed meat increase their risk to 6 percent.

While the health issues associated with processed meats may be overblown, meats such as beef and veal are far better for you than deli treats such as salami and sausages. Photo / Getty
While the health issues associated with processed meats may be overblown, meats such as beef and veal are far better for you than deli treats such as salami and sausages. Photo / Getty

Meats that are not processed - such as steak, veal and fresh pork (like pork chops or loin, not bacon or ham) are less strongly linked to colorectal cancer than processed meats.

So what does this mean for your dinner plate? The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests avoiding processed meat and limiting red meat to no more than about 500 grams per week. Steaks and pork chops are better choices than sausages, deli meats or bacon.

Natural sweeteners are better than regular sugar

Let's face it: If you bake cookies using a cup of sugar, it really doesn't matter what type you use if you eat all of the cookies, right?

Whether it's date sugar, agave or evaporated cane juice, when it comes to sugars, the quantity you consume matters more than the type.

Guidelines recommend no more than six (for women) to nine (for men) teaspoons of any type of added sugar daily. Higher consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Maybe you prefer coconut sugar because it's less refined or may cause less of an insulin spike than white sugar. That's fine, but you still need to watch portion size.

Despite the different colors, textures and flavors, all sugars contain a similar number of calories (10-20 per teaspoon) but scant amounts of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Enjoy a spoonful in your coffee or in that bite of dessert, but don't believe any sugar is a health food.

Sea salt is healthier than table salt

Much like natural sugars, the health halo over sea salt is also undeserved.

Although it's often marketed for its content of trace minerals, like copper and manganese, they're in such tiny quantities that they contribute very little to the body. Plus, we already get enough of these nutrients from the foods we eat daily.

The truth is that sea salt and table salt contain the same amount of sodium by weight, and that's the nutrient of most concern. Consumed in excess (more than 2,300 mg/day), sodium may put you at higher risk of stroke, kidney disease and high blood pressure.

From a culinary point of view, however, the type of salt matters. Different varieties will change the flavor profile and texture of a dish.

For example, flaky Maldon adds a terrific crunch, while Hawaiian sea salt imparts an earthy flavor. So choose a pinch of a particular salt for its culinary characteristics, not because you're sprinkling health onto your meals.

Quinoa may be a popular health food, but it isn't as high in protein as many believe. Photo / Getty
Quinoa may be a popular health food, but it isn't as high in protein as many believe. Photo / Getty

Quinoa is super-high in protein

Quinoa is often listed alongside poultry and meat as a stellar source of protein, so it's time to set the record straight. Quinoa has eight grams of protein per cup, but a three-ounce serving of meat or poultry has around 25 grams of protein - hardly comparable.

The confusion lies in the terminology. Quick science lesson: Protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids. A "complete" protein contains all nine essential amino acids - and quinoa is one of relatively few plant-based foods in this category. But being a complete protein isn't the same as being high in protein.

Quinoa is delicious and does add some protein to your meals, but with 40 grams of carbohydrates per cup, its culinary use is as a grain, not a protein.

When compared with other grains, quinoa has a moderate amount of protein - not as much as wheat, but more than brown rice or oats.

Cleansing helps remove toxins from the body

Cleansing involves using laxatives, juices or herbal remedies to remove "toxins" from the body to accelerate weight loss or boost energy.

But there is little scientific research on the effectiveness of cleansing, simply because most "detox diets" don't identify the specific toxins they aim to remove.

Some people report feeling "energetic" after cleansing, but that may be because most detox diets involve eliminating processed foods.

The downside to detoxing? Expensive supplements, possible nutritional deficiencies and false hope from unsubstantiated claims.

You can skip the extravagant juice concoctions and costly supplements, since your body self-cleanses daily.

We all have built-in detox systems: the skin, intestines, liver and kidneys effectively remove waste from your body through sweat, urine and feces.

So, a good workout (to sweat), some water (to pee) and a high fibre diet (to poop) will cleanse you naturally. And of course, you'll have less to "cleanse" if you don't drink too much alcohol, smoke or rely on a diet filled with processed foods.

- Washington Post

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