We might think foods like fruit juice and low-fat convenience foods are healthy, but it seems that the truth isn’t quite as clear cut. We asked nutritionists for their views on ‘healthy’ foods we should probably be eating only in moderation...
Fruit juice contains vitamins and helps keep us hydrated. But too much of it can leave you with some nasty side effects. We asked Nutritionist and Personal Trainer Anna Ferguson, ‘Orange juice in particular will give you bellyache and too much can give you diarrhea. This is because too much vitamin C can cause a laxative effect,’ she explained. She also told us that because our stomach enzymes are stronger in the morning, an afternoon fruit juice can cause stomach ache, and the high sugar levels in juice can ‘irritate the gut and cause inflammation.‘ But don’t give up your morning glass of juice completely. ‘In general though fruit juice is very good for you,’ Anna says, ‘just everything in moderation.’
We all know that nuts are good for us. They contain antioxidants, natural fats and are a good source of protein, after all. But again, it’s a question of moderation, as Skin Specialist and Nutritionist Debbie Williamson explains. She tells us that nuts can be high in omega-6 fats, which can actually prevent the good, anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fats working. ‘It's primarily the omega-6 that's considered the problem,’ she says. ‘So, a quarter cup full of nuts (such as almonds, cashews and hazelnuts) every day won't damage you, but over-do it and you counteract the health benefits of nuts, making them a pointless addition to a healthy diet.’
Commercial low-fat and low-sugar foods
Planning to buy commercial ‘low-fat’ and ‘low-sugar’ desserts for your Christmas feast? Check the labels. ‘There is a very simple rule if you cannot pronounce the ingredients in a low fat/sugar food or drink then maybe you shouldn't be eating it,’ Anna tells us, revealing that eating lots of low-fat foods containing artificial sweeteners can slow down the body’s metabolism. ‘I had a client who switched from full sugar soda to diet soda in a bid to lose weight. Unfortunately she was drinking up to 7 cans a day and was struggling to lose weight even with exercise and a healthy diet. As soon as we altered this, her metabolism picked up again.’ She says that chemical man-made foods ‘confuse’ the body, and recommends sticking to whole-fat, natural foods. ‘Just eat in moderation, you will be much healthier and thinner in the long run,’ she says.
Vegetable and olive oils
Vegetable oils might be perceived as healthier than butter, but we should still take some care when using them. Some oils, when exposed to high temperatures or light, can turn rancid which isn’t great for our bodies. Nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche of Lunchbox Doctor recommends using saturated fats for cooking at high temperatures. ‘Coconut oil, ghee and butter are ideal for cooking as the heat from cooking does not easily damage them or form free radicals,’ she told us. ‘Polyunsaturated oils like sunflower, corn, soy or safflower should be strictly avoided for cooking as they are too easily damaged.‘ Jenny adds that you can use olive oil for cooking up to 180ºC, but extra-virgin olive oil is best used as it is, drizzled onto salads.
‘Free From’ foods
You might assume that gluten-free, wheat-free and dairy-free foods are also generally more healthy, as they’re often placed alongside the health foods aisle in supermarkets. But, as Jenny says, ‘gluten-free doesn’t equal healthy’. Many of these foods are processed and can still contain large amounts of sugar. We found one gluten-free individual mince pie that contained 25.6g sugar - just over 28% of your recommended daily allowance. Jenny advises that if you have a gluten sensitivity, you’d be best opting for natural gluten-free foods, like quinoa, buckwheat, rice, potatoes and pulses.
Abundant at this time of year, in cakes and gingerbreads, but there’s a common belief that brown sugar is less refined - and therefore better for your body - than plain old white sugar. But Nutritionist and University Lecturer Yvonne Wake told us otherwise. ‘Brown sugar is essentially purified sugar that has been coloured and flavoured by molasses,‘ she said. ‘Brown sugar has very slightly less calories since it has more water in it, and in the main it’s the same as white sugar without the molasses.’ The verdict? ‘White or brown sugar is no better or worse for us,’ Yvonne says, adding: ‘It’s not especially good for us though either, so avoid if possible.’
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