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09/02/24

False Healthy Food: which foods to avoid

A healthy food for every age

The search for healthy food often comes up against false myths about nutrition. These myths are related to misunderstandings, popular beliefs and fashions. While our grandparents – or those who had lived in poverty – considered ‘nutritious’, i.e. high-calorie, foods to be a good food choice, since the 1980s and 1990s there has been increasing talk of ‘light’ (later to become ‘zero’) foods.

The crusade against fat

During the light food fad, fats were targeted. Cheeses were skimmed of the fat part and confectionery products made without butter. Fats are of course the most calorific macronutrient, almost twice as much as proteins and carbohydrates, but their elimination led many to unbalance their diets on sugars, which are decidedly less satiating and have a high glycaemic index.
At this time, bread substitutes such as rice or corn cakes, which are very low in fat, but often also low in protein (because they are made with gluten-free or very refined flours) and therefore have a high glycaemic index, are becoming popular. While galettes are a handy aid to quantify the calories we eat, they should not be considered more ‘healthy’ or wholesome than a traditional baked product. The same applies to dry croutons, which last much longer in the cupboard than bread, but are very ‘concentrated’ and therefore have more calories per 100g.

We got it wrong with the wrong fats

With the advent of keto diets, the situation was reversed with a systematic elimination of sugars and carbohydrates. Again, it should be remembered that a prolonged carbohydrate-free diet can have negative effects, for example on hormones. Protein’ products are often blended or ‘softened’ with the presence of emulsifiers and fats of various kinds. It must therefore be remembered that the Omega 3 fats contained in fish, dried fruit and some vegetable oils are preferable to the many hydrogenated fats in industrial foods and in general the Omega 6 fats that cause inflammatory processes.

What are false healthy foods

  1. Gluten-free products: the presence of gluten in flours means that the glycaemic index of the final product is lower as well as the total calories. Unless one suffers from coeliac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that only a doctor can diagnose, it is better to prefer wholemeal to refined flours also because of the fibre contained in the whole grain of cereals.
  2. The glass of wine: the consumption of alcohol at the table, preferably of high quality, is an Italian tradition of conviviality. Wine has vaso-dilating properties and is rich in flavonoids; beer contains a certain amount of minerals and vitamins. That said, even a single glass of wine a day cannot be called a healthy choice, especially for women, who are less able to metabolise it. Ethanol cannot be metabolised by the body and damages neurons and also represents unnecessary calories, which are immediately converted into fat.
  3. Honey and natural sugars: Honey is 98% glucose. It is a valid alternative to refined sugar because it is natural, has slight antibacterial properties and its consumption encourages beekeeping and the protection of pollinating bees. That said, it should be consumed with the same care as simple sugar or at least without exaggeration.
  4. Zero products: zero products are the new fashion, following on from light products. Compared to light products, sugars are often absent in zero products due to a more effective use of sweeteners (also called sweeteners). It must be remembered, however, that sweeteners are mainly of chemical origin, have laxative power and are restricted by law. While a single sweetened product cannot harm us, the continued consumption of sweeteners may have effects that have not yet been established.
  5. Avocado: the avocado is a very fashionable tropical fruit. The wide consumption in recent years (we often find it in sushi and poke) involves importing the fruit from far-flung tropical areas, which are often threatened by the intensive cultivation of this fruit. The avocado is sponsored as a ‘healthy’ food, when it is a very fatty and caloric fruit, with nutritional characteristics no higher than those of olive oil. It should therefore be consumed in moderation, or more so when in producing countries.
  6. Sodium glutamate: if there are false healthy foods, there are also false dangers. Glutamate is a substance capable of increasing the savouriness of meat and cheese, discovered by a Japanese chemist. A different flavour from simple ‘salty’. Glutamate is related to the amino acid glutamine and because it is related to sodium, it should be used by balancing it with the salt already present in food (e.g. not adding soy sauce to food that is already salty or very tasty). In itself, it poses no danger to our health.

The good old balanced diet

Traditional, let’s say, eating patterns such as the Mediterranean diet – incorporate seasonal foods, a high content of legumes, vegetables and fruit, and protein mainly from fish, eggs and poultry. Other eating habits with a long history, such as those of the Chinese, have similar nutritional characteristics. Balancing all nutrients at every meal (40:30:30 being the most common) is a good eating strategy. So too, limiting the consumption of fried, highly processed or high-calorie foods such as sweets and red meat, especially if overcooked, are trivial but still valid recommendations. Quantifying salt consumption is then the key to surviving the challenge of healthy and conscious eating. Trivial advice yes, but always fashionable.

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