Think you know all there is to know about a good diet?
Nutritionist Tracey Raye examines some commonly held beliefs to separate fact from fiction
Eating well is pricey
The line-up of superfoods, supplements and powders on shop shelves makes people think healthy eating is expensive.
But by following simple principles, such as sticking to seasonal and frozen produce, buying generic brands, meal planning and bulking out dishes with plant protein, you can easily create delicious meals for less.
Never have dessert
Restricting all treats from your diet can make it really challenging to maintain a healthy routine in the long run. And a well-nourished body will generally handle the occasional treat just fine.
Some may opt for a small treat every day, others might choose a particular day, perhaps enjoying their favourite dessert every Saturday.
The key is to manage your frequency and portion size.
Also, try to find healthier options made with dark chocolate, or use yogurt instead
And always take the time to enjoy every bite rather than eating mindlessly.
Vegans are the healthiest people
There are many benefits to a vegan diet, such as a higher consumption of fruits, vegetables and legumes.
However, a vegan diet doesn’t automatically translate to a healthy one. From a nutrition perspective, the benefits really come down to the increased focus on plant foods. But it depends what you replace the meat in your diet with.
Many meat substitutes are highly processed or contain lots of salt or fat, so if you go vegan, aim to cook from scratch using lentils, beans and pulses instead.
You can exercise away a poor diet
Exercise offers a variety of benefits, but it won’t lead to sustained wellbeing or weight loss by itself. In fact, you can exercise all day long and still feel tired and overweight.
While a healthy attitude to exercise can be very helpful when trying to lose the pounds and boost energy, your body requires proper nutrition from protein, healthy fats and other nutrients in order to replenish your body after a workout.
Without this, you may struggle to maintain a routine and end up snacking on junk food even more to fill up after a workout.
Bread is bad
Bread gets a bad rap when it comes to nutrition, however it’s very possible to enjoy it as part of a healthy diet. As ever it’s about making wise choices. Highly processed varieties tend to be easier to overindulge in as they’re less satisfying, often leaving us feeling tired and sluggish after a few slices.
However, choosing minimally processed varieties, such as sourdough, pitta or soda bread, is a great way of enjoying bread while maximising nutrient load, leaving you feeling fuller for longer.
Raw fruit and veg is better than cooked
The truth is, while cooking can decrease certain nutrients, it actually increases others.
Cooking tomato, for example, boosts its level of the antioxidant lycopene, while nutrients such as iron, magnesium and calcium found in spinach are more easily absorbed when cooked.
For those with digestive issues especially, cooking your fruit and vegetables can make it easier for the body to break them down and extract the nutrition. With that said, certain produce like broccoli and garlic, may offer more benefits when raw, so the ideal approach is a mix of both – and not to overcook, which will make you lose some of the plus points and, more importantly, the flavour and texture.
Processed food is unhealthy
We tend to hear a lot about the downsides of processing but there are two categories of foods that fall under this umbrella: processed and ultra-processed.
Ultra-processed foods, such as packaged cakes, biscuits and crisps, tend to be high in sugar, salt and fat, while being devoid of nutrients.
Other methods of processing can offer much-needed convenience with minimal impact on nutrition. For example, if time is a factor holding you back from eating more healthily, there’s nothing wrong with leaning on items such as pre-cooked rice and beans, dips like houmous and salsa or frozen veg that can support you getting a nutritious meal on the table quickly.
Eating at night causes weight gain
Physiologically speaking, calories don’t count more when consumed at night – overeating can lead to weight gain regardless of timing.
What studies do suggest is that we tend to consume more calories and make poorer food choices when eating late at night versus during
Research is ongoing, but most experts agree it’s worth leaving a two- or three-hour gap between your last meal and bedtime to give your digestive system time to process food and ensure a better night’s sleep.
All calories are the same
While it’s true that all calories have the same amount of energy, the idea that they’re all the same is incredibly misleading. Different calorie sources can have significantly different effects on things like energy output, hormones and even brain function.
Protein takes more energy to break down than carbs and fat, but is also more satiating, while ultra-processed foods take less energy to be broken down than wholefoods, which also offer fibre, vitamins and other nutrients that the body requires for good health.
It’s why you’ll hear the phrase “empty calories” about junk food and alcohol. A pint of beer, for example, has the same calories as a 100g sirloin steak but none of the nutrients.
So remember, it isn’t just calories you should be looking at if you’re trying to curb hunger pangs.
* Tracey is BBC Good Food’s health editor and a registered nutritionist. The January issue of BBC Good Food is out now, with recipes and ideas for a Seven-Day Healthy Diet Plan. Sign up to the BBC Good Food Healthy Diet Plan for free at bbcgoodfood.com for more recipes and expert tips.