Sensationalist articles constantly tell you what foods to eat and what to avoid – but do they know what they’re talking about? Can you believe them or is it just paid-for advertising, political chicanery or ignorance? It’s often hard to tell so here are a few home truths about some common items on your shopping list.
By Veronika Powell, Viva! Health campaigner
If you think you can’t live without cheese then you’re probably addicted to it. The main protein in milk, casein, is broken down during digestion and one of the fragments is casomorphin. It’s a naturally occurring opiate - a compound that makes you feel good - and it can be addictive for the same reasons as morphine or codeine. And because cheese is basically a milk concentrate, it is extremely high in casein and therefore produces a good deal of casomorphins in your body.
Apart from this, cheese is also packed with saturated fat, hormones and salt and to top it off, it produces quantities of acid when digested. The little bit of calcium you get from cheese in no way compensates for the havoc it creates in your body. If you crave the taste, reach for dairy-free cheese from a health food shop.
Surprisingly, margarine still has a bad reputation and many ‘experts’ constantly warn against it, blaming it for all sorts of health problems. The truth is, margarines used to be full of hydrogenated (trans) fats that are really bad for you, especially your heart, but that changed a while ago and now most margarines are made of healthy vegetable oils, without a trace of the bad fats.
Just make sure the ingredients don’t include ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ or dairy fat – and eat it only in small amounts!
Fish and Seafood
Should we eat oily fish for healthy omega-3 oils? Or munch on a ‘light’ shrimp salad? Well, only if you don’t mind getting a good dose of mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals, antibiotic and pesticide residues!
Fish also contain a substantial dose of saturated fats and none of the fish propaganda talks about the fact that the healthy omega-3s it contains are just a tiny fraction of the total fats. For omega-3 fats you’re much better off with flaxseed, hempseed, walnuts or rapeseed oil – you get all the benefits with no hidden nasties - and there’s no suffering involved.
Over the years, we’ve written about soya a lot but as it’s still a hot topic and it feels necessary to mention it again. Dozens of studies published every year show that soya is perfectly safe to eat for people of all ages and even for cancer patients. All the badmouthing comes from a few animal experiments and from a couple of cases when people ate ridiculously large amounts of soya daily - and not much else.
All real experts now agree that soya is not just safe to eat but has many beneficial health effects, including protecting your heart, reducing menopausal symptoms and lowering the risk of some cancers.
Don’t be fooled by the name, sweet potatoes are much healthier than ‘normal’ potatoes. They're full of carotenoids, that your body converts into vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and fibre.
There are many foods that are healthier than others but the term superfoods is mostly a marketing trick. In general, it means that the particular type of food in question is labelled ‘superfood’ when it contains a dose of some important nutrient(s) and not much in the way of undesirable ingredients or substances.
Another reason some foods became ‘superfoods’ is that when you eat them, you usually eat less of something else that’s bad for you and this strengthens its effect. So be aware, there’s no need to fall for hyped, expensive products as long as you eat a diverse diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and nuts and seeds – all of which are super foods.