From drinking water to eating carbs and more: Debunking healthcare myths

  • Sanchita Sharma & Apoorva Dutt, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 13, 2015 12:50 IST

Twenty-eight-year old Krutika Jigar, a resident of Walkeshwar, Mumbai, didn't think she needed to diet, until she visited a nutritionist last December.

I had just gone to keep my mom company. I thought I had a healthy eating and work-out regime under control," says Jigar. "I was plump, but I was also careful. I would eat home-cooked food before heading out to parties, I had cut down on carbohydrates, and I wasn't eating a lot of fattening food." It turned out that what Jigar thought was a healthy lifestyle wasn't necessarily so.

Since December, under the watchful eye of her nutritionist, Jigar says that she has lost nine kilos, despite eating more than ever. "I wouldn't eat fruits and nuts earlier because I thought they were fattening," she says. "But now I include them everyday for a balanced diet. I've also upped the protein content in my food. So now my intake is up, but I'm healthier than ever."

The more established rules of healthful eating - less junk food, more vegetables - are not often under debate. But increasingly, some diktats of supposedly healthy eating are coming into question. "There are certain ideas which people buy into without question," says Mumbai-based nutritionist Suman Agarwal. "People replace all their meals with fruits, insist on 'detoxes' and 'cleanses' that only succeed in making them lose water weight for a while, and so on. Many of these are myths perpetuated by a lack of information."

For example, in their zeal to cut down on fat intake, many people have replaced good fats found in ghee, mustard oil and coconut oil with highly processed, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which contain harmful trans-acids that can clog arteries and cause heart disease. These increase cholesterol in the body's tissues even more than saturated fats in butter and bacon do.

Trans-fats in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils found in processed foods increase the risk for heart disease and certain cancers more than the saturated fat from animal foods such as meat and butter do.

Another popular misconception is about the health-giving properties of juice. Although juice is 'natural' and considered healthy, too much juice - even freshly squeezed juice - can be a major source of calories and should be avoided by those looking to lose weight. Each glass (200 ml) contains 200 to 300 calories of unwanted calories a day, which can add upwards of a kilo each month.

The natural fibre in fresh fruit makes people feel satiated and eat less through the day. "Apart from the calories, what's worrying is that juices have replaced more nourishing beverages such as milk and yoghurt-based drinks that are a major source of calcium needed for bone health," says nutritionist consultant Dr Santosh Jain Passi, former director of the Institute of Home Economics, New Delhi. There are other myths where 'greater doses' are believed to yield better results.

For instance, when Gurgaon resident Preetha Raju, developed joint pain, lack of appetite and chronic fatigue in February, she put it down to stress and overwork. Ignoring the symptoms for the first few weeks, Raju finally saw a general physician (GP) when the joint pain persisted.

Raju, 43, had been diagnosed with Vitamin D toxicity, and the cause of her woe was a Vitamin D supplement she had been taking every day since December. "My blood tests had showed a Vitamin D deficiency and I was prescribed daily doses of a Vitamin D supplement for three months, which I had without fail every day," says Raju. "When another GP reviewed my prescription, she told me the medicine prescribed had to be taken weekly, not daily."

Vitamin D toxicity usually occurs when people ingest 40,000 IU per day or more for a couple of months or longer. "I was told that since Vitamin D is fat-soluble, the body has a hard time getting rid of it. The symptoms disappeared a week or so after I stopped the supplement," says a relieved Raju.

Then there is the popular myth about drinking eight glasses of water a day. Experts say there is no scientific basis for this number. Required water intake can vary from person to person. Dieting and fasting cause electrolyte imbalances that make the body lose water faster. Fluid needs are greater for people who are ill, especially if the illness involves a fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea.

"Then again, if you drink too much water, it can flush out vitamins and dilute your digestive juices," says Mumbai-based nutritionist Dhvani Shah. "You need more or less water depending on your body weight, what kind of activity you are doing, whether it's a job in the hot sun or a sedentary desk job."

And the worst myths of all, say nutritionists, are those that cause people to substitute normal food with 'low-fat' versions. "People are better off having a combination of unprocessed fats like ghee, butter, coconut and olive oil than hydrogenated or polyunsaturated oils used in processed or packaged foods, especially the ones marked 'low-fat', 'lite' or 'light," says Dr Passi.

Myths Debunked

You must drink eight glasses of water a day

Experts say most people get adequate fluids in the normal course of the day because more than water, it is the overall fluid intake through the day that matters, which includes water found naturally in fruits and vegetables, juices, milk and yoghurt, and even much-abused diuretics such as tea and coffee.

Myth: Detoxes or cleanses will help ypur system

A cleanse can cause more damage than a piece of mithai, say nutritionists, because the binging-starving cycle can upset your digestive system. It's ideal to strike a balance. When wedding season comes around, eat in moderation, rather than binging and starving later.

Myth: You need a daily dose of multi-vitamins to stay healthy

If you're eating healthy, a multi-vitamin will be flushed out of your system. Rather than taking a multi-vitamin, eat all the food groups in the right proportions. Only resort to multi-vitamins if you have a pre-existing condition that necessitates extra nutrition.

Myth: Low-fat or sugarless is always better

Low-fat food often contains extreme amounts of preservatives, additives and sodium to retain flavour, which are unhealthy. If not eaten in excess, good fats can actually help you keep weight off because they make you feel full longer. What experts now recommend is cutting back on health-damaging trans-fats and refined

carbohydrates - sugar and refined food such as bread, pasta and potatoes - and not worrying too much about fat from fresh sources.

You shouldn't eat carbs after 7pm

What you eat matters much more than when you eat it. While your dinner should be comparatively light, not eating carbohydrates won't make a difference on the weighing scale if you are gorging all other times.

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