12 March 2007

Diet fallacies

Many people are of the opinion that foods should be classified as either "good" or "bad". This is the wrong approach, as there are no bad or good foods, just good and bad diets.

Many people are of the opinion that foods should be classified as either “good” or "bad". This is a wrong approach, since there are basically no bad or good foods, just good and poor diets. This is also the basis upon which the Association for Dietetics in South Africa formulated their slogan “All foods can fit”.

This means that one can basically eat all foods, including some fats and oils, and some sugars, sweets and cakes. “Heresy!” I hear you say? No, not heresy. Dieticians are not adverse to people eating the so-called ‘forbidden foods’.

It would, after all, be totally unrealistic to expect the entire population of South Africa to stop eating fats and sweets. Dieticians are calling for more sensible diets in which the emphasis is placed on foods with a high nutritive and protective content.

If you want to, or need to lose weight, or have problems with high cholesterol levels, or suffer from diabetes, then you need to be careful of how much foods that have a high fat- or refined carbohydrate-content you eat.

But international authorities agree that even diabetics are allowed to eat small quantities of sugar, provided they exchange the portion of sugar with a portion of carbohydrate in their daily diet.

The key to healthy diets is variety and moderation. But it seems that many people just cannot get these two relatively simple concepts sorted out.

Need for variety
The South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines state: “Eat a variety of foods”. This is probably one of the most important pieces of dietary advice in the world.

Many people, however, seem to have fixed ideas about variety and insist on eating only fruit and vegetables, or only meat and protein-rich foods, or only fat-free products, or only chips and sweets. Where is the balance? We should remember that human beings are omnivores. This means that we are able to, and should eat meat, fish, eggs, bread, grains, cereals, fruit, vegetables, milk, dairy products, fats, oils, nuts, legumes and some sugar or honey.

If you think of human development over millions of years, then our ancient ancestors ate all of these foods in quantities determined by how successfully they gathered (roots, fruits, nuts, tubers, grains, seeds, eggs, insects, honey) or hunted (red meat, organ meat, birds, fish). Except for occasional meat feasts, when the hunters had managed to kill a large antelope, our ancestors ate abstemious, but highly varied diets.

If you restrict your food intake to one or two categories of food, you run the risk of developing deficiency diseases and may suffer from the consequences of an unbalanced diet. For example, if you only eat highly refined, milled and sifted bread and cereals, you will probably get constipated because of a lack of dietary fibre. On the other hand, people who are overdoing their protein intake, may develop high cholesterol levels, kidney problems or gout.

For your own sake, try to eat a bit of everything on a daily basis.

"What about fats and oils?” you ask. Well, even on low-fat diets for weight reduction, high cholesterol and diabetes, you still need to include small quantities of poly- or monounsaturated fats and oils. In addition, people eating a western diet will benefit from eating fatty fish, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

What about moderation?
Then there is the concept of moderation. Does being human prevent us from being moderate in what we do, especially when it comes to eating and drinking? Is it really so impossible to have only one or two chocolates as a treat after dinner? Must one eat a whole slab? And why can’t we stop when we have had one alcoholic drink? Must we carry on and on?

Many of these excesses are due to poor eating and drinking habits learned early in life. Children who are pacified with food and beverages to keep them quiet, or happy, or docile, will turn to these ‘comfort foods’ in later life the moment anything happens to upset their lives.

Then there is the trend of feeding small children masses of food and allowing them to drink literally litres of cold drinks and fruit juices every day. Such children grow up into adults who eat and drink excessively and are amazed when they start gaining weight or develop diabetes.

Try and modify your food and drink intake so that you are getting plenty of variety and that the amounts you eat and drink are moderate. Also try and teach your children to follow these guidelines. – (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc


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