Diet myths busted: a guide to healthy eating

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Beth Meertens

Beth Meertens is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Heart Foundation spokesperson on healthy eating.

Have you heard the latest health craze about kale or coconut oil?

If it rings a bell, it’s likely because it flashed across your news feed or you noted a news story while preparing dinner. You may have clicked on an article, scanned a few paragraphs or lifted your gaze from the chopping board for a few seconds to take it in.

What's more, you'll likely have bookmarked a few stories as 'facts' in your memory bank - especially if believed the source was credible. Some claims about the benefits of healthy foods and diets make them sound like miracle cures. But all is not as it seems.

The fact is that many claims are in fact misleading and miss the point altogether.

So how do you tell food fact from fiction? Let us help you.

Food facts versus fiction

Constant conversations about healthy eating take place on TV show and in news and social media feeds across the country. This food and nutrition 'white noise' can be very overwhelming, so it's no wonder we get confused.

There is a way around this, however. First, take any new diet information that you see, hear or read about - pardon the pun - with a grain of salt. Beware of any diet that claims to be a quick fix or if you hear buzzwords like 'gamechanger' and 'revolutionary'.

Even when a scientific study makes the news, it's not always for the right reasons.

Why does this happen?

Sometimes, people writing news stories get the wrong idea and misinterpret a study's findings and overstate its importance. Also, a study that finds something unusual or even controversial often receives more coverage than one that doesn't.

A new piece of research can be valuable on its own. But a new study is only ever 'standing on the shoulders of giants ' as the saying goes. That simply means that we uncover the truth by building on previous discoveries. It's extremely rare for a single study to turn existing evidence on its head and healthy eating is no different.

Five tips for healthy heart eating

Yes, it's important to eat less salt, fat and refined carbohydrates, but how do you actually do it?

The trick is to switch your focus from nutrients to the foods that make up your whole diet. Heart-healthy eating is based on a combination of foods, chosen regularly, over time. For example, the make-up of your weekly shopping list should consist mostly of foods that follow five basic principles.

If you do this, you’ll be eating a heart-healthy diet without worrying too much about nutrients.

And remember, how you prepare any of these foods also makes a big difference to whether they’re heart healthy.

Plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals

Eating vegetables and fruits is consistently linked to healthier hearts. Research shows that higher intakes of vegetables and fruits can help lower your risk of heart disease. Try filling half your main meal plate with vegetables, and aiming to include vegetables at other meal and snack times.

Eating wholegrains can have a positive impact too. The term `grains’ usually refers to wheat, corn (maize), rice, barley, oats, rye, millet, quinoa, teff and similar foods. Eating more wholegrains means, choosing brown rice rather than white, eating wholemeal pasta, grained bread and oats.

Learn more about eating fruit, vegetables and wholegrains .

Eat a variety of healthy proteins

Not all animal proteins are created equal.

Choose fish, lean cuts of meat and poultry without skin and avoid processed and deli meats like sausages and salami. This can help reduce the total saturated fat and salt content in your diet.

Legumes (e.g. lentils, beans, chickpeas), nuts and seeds are good sources of plant proteins, high in fibre and healthy. But beware of canned legumes and roasted nuts and seeds. This adds extra salt and fat to your diet. Choose low salt legumes (if you buy them in cans) and unroasted and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Learn more about healthy proteins .

Reduced fat dairy

Unflavoured reduced fat dairy foods are good sources of protein and calcium. Eating reduced fat unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese, as part of a healthy eating pattern, can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Learn more about healthy dairy foods .

Healthy fats

Steering clear of bad fats such as trans and saturated fats is a lot easier to do when you focus on foods that have good fats .

These include nuts (unsalted or roasted), seeds such as linseed, chia or sesame, avocados, and cooking oils made from plants or seeds like olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, soybean, rice bran, sesame and safflower.

Eating margarines based on olive, canola, peanut and sunflower oil are better than butter. Because unlike butter they’re low in saturated and trans fats.

Learn how to replace bad fats with healthy fats .

Herbs and spices

Now, for the last piece of the pie. If you eat a diet using the above principles, it’s naturally low in refined carbs, saturated fats and salt. So be careful how much salt you add to food you prepare yourself. One way around this is to use herbs and spices to flavour dishes.

Learn more about ways to cut down on salt and herbs and spices you can use instead. You can also use these healthy meal ideas to help you keep your heart healthy.

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