[This article was originally published in 2017]
With scientific research drawing new conclusions all the time, it’s hard to keep up with what we should be eating.
Is butter bad for us or not? Should we still be drinking smoothies and juices if they’re so sugary? What if they have veggies in too? And is dairy good or bad?
There are certain rules many of us believe that it turns out are completely false and could be hindering our health.
In a world full of confusing nutritional advice and fad diets, registered nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert is a beacon of sense .
Her no-nonsense tips help people re-develop a healthy relationship with food, so we spoke to Lambert to find out five of the most common nutrition lies and what the truth really is.
1. Eating too many eggs is bad for you
Many people fear eating too many eggs because because they’re high in cholesterol, which has been believed to increase the risk of heart disease. But despite their high cholesterol levels, Lambert explains that eggs don’t actually raise the bad cholesterol in the blood.
“In fact, eggs consistently lead to elevated levels of HDL (the ‘good’) cholesterol, which is linked to a reduced risk of many diseases,” she told The Independent, adding that there are countless studies now demonstrating how eggs are not associated with heart disease.
Lambert believes eggs are in fact a faultless food, given they’re high in protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and unique antioxidants - a claim few foods can make.
“Eggs contain all the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) in the right ratios, so our bodies are well equipped to make full use of the protein in them,” Lambert says, “Eggs also score high in satiety which measures the ability of foods to induce feelings of fullness.”
The general consensus nowadays is that eating up to three whole eggs a day is perfectly fine, and although there’s no proof that eating more is bad for you, it’s something that hasn’t been researched enough yet.
2. Vegetable oils are healthy
According to Lambert, the claim that vegetable oils are healthy “isn't quite the truth.”
Previous studies have shown that polyunsaturated fats lower your risk of heart disease and this is the main reason people think vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil, are good for you.
“However, it is important to realise that there are different types of polyunsaturated fats, mainly omega-3s and omega-6s,” Lambert says.
“While we get omega-3s from fish and grass-fed animals, the main sources of omega-6 fatty acids are processed seed- and vegetable oils. Importantly, we need to get omega-3s and omega-6s in a certain balance and all too many people are eating too little omega-3.”
The main reason vegetable oils are dangerous is because they’re subjected to further processing.
“If you want to lower your risk of disease, eat your omega-3s and opt for different vegetable oils like olive oil or rapeseed oil,” Lambert says.
3. Meat is bad for you
A lot of the meat on our supermarket shelves today is miles away from what our ancestors ate - animals are reared in captivity and the meat is highly processed. This means that some meat can have a negative effect on your health, but not all meat is created equal.
Lambert cites the largest study of diet and disease ever to be undertaken (and still ongoing), aptly named EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition): “It reported in 2013 that for the 448,568 participants, processed meat increased the risk of death, while no effect was seen for unprocessed red meat.”
She says that it’s perfectly fine to eat unprocessed, properly cooked red meat once a week, as it’s rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and loaded with healthy proteins and fats that have profound effects on our health.
When it comes down to it, eating healthily is about balance.
“There is no one right way to eat for everyone,” Lambert points out. “We are all unique and what works for one person may not work for the next. But, once you start eliminating whole food groups like meat, you do run the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.”
4. All calories are equal
Some people say that if you want to lose weight, you simply need to create a calorie deficit. But that’s not true. What you eat is more important than the number of calories you’re consuming.
“Different foods go through different metabolic pathways in the body and the foods we eat can directly impact the hormones that regulate when and how much we eat, as well as the amount of calories we burn,” Lambert explains.
Eating protein will reduce your appetite in comparison to the same amount of calories from fat and carbs because protein is high on the satiety index, which keeps you full.
What’s more, it’s a lot easier to overeat - or harder to stop eating - certain foods than others. Think about how easy it is to polish 400 calories of ice cream compared to the same amount of broccoli. Quite.
So the foods to focus on - which are high on the satiety index - include potatoes, beef, eggs, beans and fruits, whilst you should avoid sweets and cake, unsurprisingly.
“Whether you choose fulfilling foods or not will have a major difference on energy balance over the long term because a calorie from a boiled potato is not the same as a calorie from a doughnut,” Lambert says.
“Even though calories are important, saying that they are all that matters when it comes to weight or health is completely wrong.”
5. Eating fat makes you fat
Back in the 1970s, it was decided that fat made you fat, and supermarket shelves were brimming with low-fat and fat-free products.
Now, however, this outdated advice has been proven totally false. And what’s more, many low-fat products are actually laden with sugar to make up for the lack of flavour from fat.
But Lambert believes telling people to eat more fat is problematic: “Without the correct nutritional information there is a danger that the majority will misread this information. Many embark upon a daily diet of fatty meats and dairy and start to exclude the carbohydrates, fruit and even vegetables.”
Here’s what you should be eating to get your fix of healthy fats, according to Lambert:
“Despite fat having more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, diets that are high in fat do not make people fat,” Lambert explains.
Eating a diet that is high in both carbs and fat will make you fat, but it’s not because of the fat. In actual fact, studies have shown that people who eat lots of healthy fats lose more weight than those who follow low-fat diets.
Avocados all round then.