The truth behind health food
Omega 3 is good for the heart, soya is beneficial for women, you should get a diet rich in iodine and avoid bad sugars… There are so many rules around for getting healthy food on your plate. How do sort out what is true from what is just plain wrong?
Obviously, what we eat has an impact on our health. But how do you know exactly what is “good” for you? To get a clearer picture of brands’ healthy eating claims, and what is true or false, here are a few explanations taken from the French Food Safety Agency’s publication Nutrition and Dietary Dangers.
You should increase your omega 3 intake: True!
Products enriched in omega 3 have invaded supermarket shelves. And they seem to have suddenly become essential for our health. But is omega 3 really that important? For scientists, Omega 3 acids have unrivalled benefits against cardiovascular diseases. They help to lower blood pressure in those with high blood pressure, and triglycerides in individuals with elevated levels. They do not, however, have an effect on bad cholesterol.
The only downside is that all these benefits have been proved mainly in individuals with a family history of heart trouble. The benefits for people who are in good health are merely assumed. Nevertheless, the French Food Safety Agency emphasises the fact that we don’t get enough omega 3. While it should represent 0.8% of our total daily energy intake, studies have shown that we only get around 0.1% to 0.4%. Eating fish, rapeseed oil and foods enriched in omega 3 is therefore essential.
You are probably deficient in iodine: True!
Iodine is a mineral that is required for the production of thyroidal hormones. These are essential for pregnant women (for the cerebral development of the foetus), in children, adolescents, and also in adults. Studies have shown that 17% of pregnant women present deficiencies in thyroidal hormones at the end of their pregnancies, and 11% have a goiter. The risk of deficiency is equally high in adolescents and adults. On the other hand, children’s requirements before the age of ten are largely covered, and there is even a risk of getting too much iodine for under threes!
To avoid deficiencies, it should be noted that iodine is not found on land but in the sea, and there are not many foods which are a source of this nutrient, except for the obvious food groups: fish and seafood… Nonetheless, eggs and dairy products are also good sources, as well as foods enriched in iodine of course. But for the moment, it is mainly table salt which is supplemented with iodine, and you should be careful not to get too much salt. Health authorities are looking into changing this, and enriching bread, biscuits and confectionery with iodine instead.
You should eat less sugar: False!
As paradoxical as this may seem, to fight against the obesity epidemic, you should not be eating less sugar. On the contrary, to get a healthy, balanced energy intake, you should replace fat in your diet with complex sugars (carbohydrates). It is still true that you need to reduce your consumption of simple sugars; for example, fizzy drinks and other sugary drinks which are your figure’s worst enemies. The body does not take account of calories in liquid form, which are therefore automatically excess. You need to be able to spot hidden sugar:
- Yoghurt with three types of fruit = 3 sugars
- Can of fizzy drink = 6 sugars
- A chocolate bar = 5 sugars and a teaspoon of oil
- A packet of chocolate biscuits (300g) = 15 to 20 sugars and 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil
Soya is good for menopausal women: False!
Foods which are based on soya, and other food supplements, are really taking off, especially among menopausal women. But why? This plant contains substances which are similar to female hormones: phytoestrogens. Could these compensate for the lack of hormones produced by the ovaries? According to the scientific literature on the subject, these phytoestrogens in soya are not recommended for women. The effect on hot flushes has never been officially proved. Phytoestrogens do not have a convincing effect against osteoporosis either (no decrease in the number of fractures), even if they seem to encourage the mineralisation of bone. Protection against cancer is also difficult to confirm… The only benefit that seems to have been demonstrated is the improvement of cognitive function.
Be careful also not to mistake other things for soya, like those little white shoots you find everywhere, especially in salads or in spring rolls… these aren’t what they seem! There are actually mung beans. On the other hand, tofu, soya milk and soya yoghurts and desserts are all good sources.
Now you are ready for real healthy eating, bon appetit!