Everyone’s an expert on what you should and shouldn’t eat these days: Our dietitian dispels some of the disinformation
These days we’re bombarded with diet and nutrition advice: what to eat to burn fat, build muscle, boost metabolism or ward off disease.
It comes from our friends and family, our co-workers, our personal trainers, the Internet, magazines and food companies.
But how accurate is what we hear? With everyone a nutrition expert, misconceptions are bound to arise – and linger. Whether based on outdated science, old wives’ tales or plain old lies, some of the advice you hear can’t be believed. This week, I take on common nutrition and fitness myths – some of which may surprise you.
Baby carrots are soaked in chlorine and are toxic
This message has been circulating in an e-mail for months now. Yes, it’s true that chlorine is used to process baby carrots. It’s used to prevent the spread of bacteria that cause food poisoning. (This is the case with much of the pre-packaged produce we consume.) But the trace amount used to keep the carrots, the processing water and the equipment sanitary is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is comparable to the amount acceptable in drinking water. What’s more, the chlorinated water is rinsed off before the carrots are packed.
The fact that baby carrots turn a whitish colour is not the result of chlorine “resurfacing.” The whitening is natural; it’s the result of moisture loss that occurs because the outer peel has been removed.
Seniors require less protein
Just because our calorie needs drop as we get older doesn’t mean our protein requirements follow suit. While the official Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is the same for all healthy adults, there’s considerable evidence that older people need more.
As people get older they tend to eat less food, putting them at risk for under-consuming protein. When the body has too little protein, it breaks down muscle to get the protein it needs for other vital body functions, leading to reduced strength. Insufficient protein has also been linked to an increased risk of hip fracture.
The current RDA for protein is based on body weight: Adults need 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. (People who work out regularly have higher requirements.) To help preserve muscle, most experts advise older adults to aim for 1 gram of protein per kilogram. For a 150-pound person, that’s 68 grams of protein a day, an amount that can be found in seven ounces of chicken and 21/2 cups of milk or soy beverage.
Coffee is dehydrating
We’ve heard for years that caffeine robs the body of water. The truth: If you regularly drink a few cups of caffeinated coffee, tea or a soft drink, caffeine is no more dehydrating than plain water.
The notion that caffeine dehydrates was based on research: When scientists gave folks who abstained from caffeine a single dose of it, their urine output increased. But the body develops a tolerance for caffeine after three to five days of regular use, and this significantly diminishes the weak diuretic effect.
In fact, current dietary recommendations of the U.S. Institute of Medicine state that caffeinated beverages can count toward our daily water needs. (Men require three litres (13 cups) of water a day, women 2.2 litres (nine cups).
All yogurts are ‘probiotic’
Probiotics are live bacteria that, when consumed in adequate amounts, exert health benefits. A yogurt is considered “probiotic” if it contains a strain of bacteria that’s able to survive the acidity of the stomach in sufficient quantities to reach the intestinal tract. These include bifidobacteria and L. acidophilus.
In Canada, all yogurts are made with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus and typically provide up to 300,000 live bacteria per serving, an amount thought to be too low to survive the acidic stomach.
Some food companies have added bifidobacteria and L. acidophilus to boost probiotic content. Danone Activia, Astro BioBest and Yoplait Basket-Panier are brands that have a higher probiotic content and contain strains proven to survive stomach acidity.
Most experts recommend a daily intake of at least 1 billion live bacteria to achieve health benefits. If a yogurt label does not state how much bacteria is present, call the manufacturer and ask.
Eating frequent mini-meals speeds up metabolism
The theory goes that eating five or six small meals each day will help your body burn more calories and fat than eating three square meals.
But despite years of research, there’s no consensus on which meal pattern is best for boosting metabolism. Most studies have shown that eating frequency has no effect on metabolic rate.
Weight loss comes down to how many calories you consume. My advice: Divide your day’s calories into three meals and two snacks to keep your blood sugar stable and prevent becoming too hungry and overeating.
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