Sometimes we can get it spectacularly wrong when it comes to making healthy living choices - here’s our guide to avoiding some of the most common mistakes.
If you’re puzzled why you’re not as healthy as you should be given you always plump for “diet” versions of snacks, avoid high-fat foods and munch on muesli - take a closer look at your lifestyle.
Here, GP Dr Roger Henderson and registered dietitians Joanna Greening and Alana Macdonald point out some of the “healthy” myths and mistakes we can all make.
1. Rewarding yourself after a work-out
‘Most of us overcompensate when we’ve exercised and reward ourselves with a high carb snack or an energy drink,’ says Shropshire GP Dr Roger Henderson. ‘We figure we have earned it, but whilst exercise has many benefits and is undoubtedly good for you – it won’t lead to weight loss without dieting too. ‘Walking for an hour at a speed of 5mph will burn 100 calories and jogging for 30 minutes burns 42 calories – so if you binge on chocolate or a cereal bar afterwards you won’t even have burnt off what you’ve eaten.’
2. Drinking red wine for a healthy heart
‘This is the one health message everyone seems to have heard about’, says Dr Henderson.
‘Red wine is a component of the Mediterranean diet, rich in antioxidants, which is thought to be protective against heart disease and some cancers. Red wine is a source of antioxidants – but these can also be found in fruit and vegetables.
‘Studies show that it’s only moderate drinking (1 to 2 units of alcohol a day) that is protective against heart disease – any more and it has a negative effect.
‘Drinkers who pour their own glasses inevitably give themselves larger measures and some wines have a much higher alcohol content than others, so it’s easy to drink more units without realising it. My advice is that if you’re going to drink alcohol stick to pub measures.’
3. Buying lower fat, lite and reduced fat products
‘Shopping for healthy food can be confusing unless you read the labels carefully,’ says registered dietitian Joanna Greening. ‘Especially when it comes to fats. Many shoppers see the words Lite, Lower Fat and Reduced Fat and automatically assume these foods must be healthy, but all the claim means is that the product has less fat than the standard version – this is not the same thing as being low fat. A “lite” cheese, for example, can contain over 20g of fat per 100g which is still a very high-fat content and considerably higher than the less than 3g of fat per 100g it would have to contain to be classed as low-fat food.’
4. Muesli and granola with milk is your cereal of choice
Breakfast cereals with nuts, berries and grains are healthy, right? ‘Well yes up to a point – they can be a great source of fibre and may contain nuts, seeds and dried fruit which are packed with micronutrients’, says Joanna. ‘But some brands of ready-made mueslis and granola are loaded with a very high sugar content. Some granolas, for instance, contain more than 30g of sugar per 100g, that’s more than 3 teaspoons of sugar in a 45g portion – and some people may have double that portion – so that’s 6 teaspoons of sugar in the first meal of the day – equivalent to the sugar content of a can of lemonade.
‘Again it’s about looking at the labels – try to find one with a sugar content of less than 5g per 100g, they are out there - and weigh out your portion size.
5. You snack on dried fruit – they’re better than biscuits, right?
‘Yes they are healthy,’ says Joanna. ‘But it’s about how much you eat. Dried fruits can be rich in fibre and iron and may help you feel more satisfied than a biscuit, but apricots, for instance, contain 36g of sugar per 100g – that’s still 20g less than the equivalent portion of milk chocolate, but it’s still high.
‘It’s useful to think about how many of the fresh version of the fruit you would eat – some people will happily munch away five dried apricots but wouldn’t dream of eating so many fresh ones.’
6. Sip fruit-flavoured water all day – what could be healthier?
‘Water is probably the best thing you can drink but stick to the most unprocessed type you can find - out of the tap is the cheapest option,’ advises Joanna. ‘Flavoured mineral waters often have a lot of sugar added – some contain more than 30g of sugar per 500ml bottle – that’s not healthy and can contribute to weight gain if you drink a lot of it.’
7. Give your kids juice instead of squash
‘Juice only counts as one of your five a day, no matter how much you drink of it, ‘says Joanna.’ It also doesn’t provide the fibre that eating fruit does. It’s also much higher in sugar than squash which is usually available with no added sugar. The acidity can also be very damaging for tooth enamel.
‘If you do give your kids juice make sure it’s just once a day and as part of a meal rather than a drink they sip all day – that way it’s less damaging to their teeth.’
8. Boost your fruit intake with smoothies
‘Sorry but smoothies are very high in sugar too – there is up to 15g of sugar in 100mls and most people will drink far more than that,’ says Alana Macdonald, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association. ‘There’s also evidence they don’t count towards your 5 a day because your body doesn’t have to do the hard work of extracting all the good stuff.
‘Smoothies are simple carbohydrates rather than fruit which contains fibre and is a complex carbohydrate. This means the sugars enter the bloodstream faster causing a spike in blood sugar followed by a drop, which can lead to sugar cravings. You’d be far better to eat something like a banana which is a complex carbohydrate and only 90 calories instead.’
9. You order skinny lattes at the coffee shop and frown on full fat
‘A large full-fat latte is up to 400 calories in milk alone,' says Alana Macdonald. ‘By ordering a “skinny” you may save 200 calories – but it’s still 200 calories and that’s without the extras such as sugar, cream, chocolate sprinkles or syrup you might be tempted by – considerably more than the 15 calories in a cup of tea with skimmed milk.’