Nutting out nutrition nonsense

There are studies being thrown at us left right and centre, one day we are eating too many carbs so you cut the toast at breakfast, the next we are avoiding skim milk because it is too high in sugar or maybe you have heard that cooking your food in copious amounts of coconut oil is fine because saturated fat isn’t a problem. All the while we continue to wonder, will this help us lose weight? Is this healthy?

STOPPPP right there, if you’re starting to get confused about what to actually believe then it is time we nut it out once and for all. Let’s start off by getting a few simple, common things straight.  

1.    You can’t believe everything you read.

2.    If it sounds a little to obscure then it probably is.

3.    No single food/ nutrient is the cause of any major chronic disease, it is ALWAYS a combination of factors.

Now that we have that out of the way, how do we begin to understand what is being printed in the newspaper, magazines, on TV and wherever else we are fed information? You need to get a little bit suspicious!

Let’s take an article and have a bit of a closer look. This study was published in the American Journal of Nutrition and appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald the other week1. It highlighted that people who ate a diet with a high glycaemic load (GL), heavy with refined grains, starches and sugars, gained more weight. Here your first questions should be:

1.    How many people?

2.    What type of people?

3.    In comparison to who else?

Whenever you read the phrase ‘a recent article published by …’ you need to put your critical thinking hat on. Ask yourself what are these scientists trying to test? In what type of people are they testing it? Is the test fair and accurate?

In this study for instance they were actually trying to test the effect of protein on weight. This article did a pretty good job of listing all the key findings, which you should keep your eyes out for. Then you need to put the findings into CONTEXT! I would say this is the most important part because if we can’t apply the evidence to real life then what is the point? When findings are taken out of context this is when we get begin doing all sorts of crazy things like avoiding entire food groups, not eating noodles after 5.34pm and telling others that gluten is an enemy.

Here are a couple of key findings of this article and the explanation of what they actually mean (or don’t mean) in reality:

Increasing intakes of red and processed meat were most strongly associated with weight gain.

What this means:

Amongst the people who gained the most weight, they also happened to eat larger amounts of red and processed meat. So, people who ate more red/processed meat were more likely to gain weight.

What this does not mean:

That red/processed meat directly causes weight gain. A whole host of factors influence weight gain, but one of the factors that those people who gained weight had in common was that they had higher intakes of red/processed meat.

Take home message: If you are struggling to lose weight and eat red/processed meat more than 2 – 3 times per week than some of the following suggestions may help you:

·      Swapping processed meat (salami, sausages etc) over to leaner options (chicken, turkey, fish, tuna)

·      Reducing your portion size of meat (no more than palm size at one time)

·      Eating more vegetarian based meals

Increasing other dairy products, including full-fat cheese, whole milk, and low-fat milk, did not significantly relate to either weight gain or weight loss.

What this means:

The types of dairy products that people were eating didn’t seem to affect any weight gain or weight loss.

What this does NOT mean:

That low fat or full fat dairy products are good or bad.

It doesn’t matter how much cheese or milk you eat, neither will affect your weight.

Full fat dairy is not a significant contributor of saturated fat to many peoples diets or that you should swap all dairy products to full fat varieties without making educated decisions about other things you may need to compensate for in your diet.

Take home message:

·      Think about dairy in the context of your diet. Full fat dairy products are still sources of saturated fat, so for those aiming to reduce their total energy intake then swapping to low fat varieties will save you energy, better spent on eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

·      If you are a consumer of low fat dairy be mindful about the added sugar or artificial sweeteners, which can bump up the carbohydrate total of that product.

·      Stick to the recommended 3 serves of dairy per day; 1 glass of milk, 2 slices of cheese and 200g yoghurt.

My last piece of advice is to look up the jargon or words you don’t understand. This article talks about GL – glycemic load. But what is that? Basically it is a number that estimates how much a food will raise a person’s blood glucose level. Don’t let the scientific language trick you! If you want to know what is best for you to eat then come and talk to a dietitian aka nutrition professional – yes we have spent time examining articles with a thin toothcomb, so we can give you the low down. 

 The scientist from this study summed up what they thought was the main point pretty well saying that ‘this study encourages people to focus more on eating a nutritious diet than just filling up on nutrient – poor, highly processed ‘diet products’. So if all of the above is too much for you, skip to the conclusion and remember that the more whole, fresh foods you eat in moderation the better! The end.

 1. Link to article