Giving your diet a makeover? Don’t let your hard work go to waste! Some supposedly healthy habits can do more harm than good. Here are ones to reconsider, stat.
Switching to low-fat foods
When scanning the supermarket shelves, opting for the ‘low fat’ alternative may seem like the healthier choice. However, this can backfire.
For one, foods that have had fat removed can send cravings skyrocketing. “When removing the fat from certain foods, manufacturers often increase the amount of sugar in the product to improve the taste, making a typical low-fat product higher in carbs,” says nutritionist Shannon Young. “This means when you consume low-fat products, your body digests them a lot quicker, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels. This creates more cravings, making you reach for more.” Sure, you need to be mindful of your fat intake – but in this case, a smaller portion of the full-fat version is often the better choice.
Secondly, the ‘low fat’ label has very little bearing on whether a food is actually healthy. Take a bag of lollies or a can of soft drink – they both have little to no fat, however they’re high in calories and sugar. These factors are both a recipe for weight gain.
According to Shannon, we need to let go of our fear of fat and focus on eating a natural, wholefood diet that includes the right kinds of fat. “‘Good fats’, also known as unsaturated fats, come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. For example, avocados, olive oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, almonds and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines,” explains Shannon. “It can also beneficial to include small amounts of saturated fat such as whole milk dairy, coconut oil and red meat. You want to avoid trans fats – they’re often in fried foods and processed baked goods like biscuits and cakes. They are consistently linked to cardiovascular risk and heart disease.” That’s a hard pass from us.
Eating smaller meals throughout the day
We’re often told that it’s healthier to eat smaller meals or snacks every few hours, rather than sticking to three square meals a day. However, this can sometimes be a recipe for weight gain.
“When eating every 2-3 hours, your body will consistently be supplied with a source of energy to burn, which means it will not dip into your body’s fat stores for energy,” says Shannon. “This way of eating eliminates our body’s ability to burn stored fat effectively – resulting in higher stored fat and weight gain. People who eat smaller more frequent meals throughout the day also tend to consume higher amounts of sugar and less micronutrients.”
Of course, your needs are going to differ from the person next to you. Maybe that’s a big brekkie and a smaller lunch and dinner or three square meals and a small arvo snack. “The ideal wait time between meals will vary depending on the individual and is dependent on your level of activity, state of health and your nutritional requirements,” explains Shannon. “For example, an athlete or body builder may benefit from a constant supply of food to burn as energy, whereas the average day-to-day person who has a desk job will not.” Either way, ditch the mindset that you “have to” eat every few hours and tune into your hunger signals instead.
Choosing diet drinks and sweets
This is a tricky one. Replacing a high sugar soft drink with a diet one isn’t necessarily a bad choice. However, the ideal outcome would be working to slash your sugar cravings in the first place. Using artificial sweeteners as a substitute can be problematic. “Artificial sweeteners work by stimulating the sweet taste receptors on your tongue,” explains Shannon. “Most of these sweeteners are a lot sweeter than standard sugar. This unnatural sweetness may actually increase your sugar cravings.”
It’s kind of like the issue of low-fat foods. “Artificial sweeteners are very low in calories. While this might seem like a winning situation for your waistline, the absence of calories also means you won’t feel completely satisfied,” says Shannon. “Essentially, the sweetness without the calories can lead you to want more food, adding to your overall calorie intake.”
In general, the jury is still out on sweeteners. “New research is showing a link between artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and a disruption in gut bacteria,” says Shannon. It’s important to be mindful of reducing sugar intake, but whether artificial sweeteners are the way to do it is still a little contentious.