Are doing you more harm than good? Does chocolate actually benefit your health? Which part of a food label is most important? Food Scientist Wladimir Budnik shares some hard food facts.
“Unfortunately many of us are turning to media personalities, bloggers, so-called health and nutrition 'gurus', and anyone with an opinion (usually not scientifically supported) to learn what’s good to eat and what’s not," cautions Food Scientist and head of the education department at Vitality Brands, Wladimir Budnik.
"The danger of this is that the nutritional advice is rarely unbiased, may - and often does - have commercial motivations, does not follow sound nutritional advice supported by the appropriate science and is not endorsed internationally by nutrition and health organisations.
“This often results in people following diets that eliminate various important food groups that have a proven record of health benefits."
Here are some other facts and falsities when it comes to food and drink:
1. Sports Beverages
These are loaded with sugar and provide no proven benefit other than hydration “which can be achieved by drinking plain water.”
2. Soft Drinks
These are also full of sugar and, together with sports beverages, have been pinpointed as a major factor in the rapidly escalating obesity crisis in most developed countries of the world, not to mention increased rates of dental issues in children.
“Recent research has shown that encouraging children to drink milk in place of soft drink has the potential to significantly reduce the incidence of obesity in children,” advises Wladimir.
3. Processed Breakfast Cereals
“Touted as ‘healthy’ and often advertised specifically at children, many of the major branded breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar anywhere from 20-40 percent,” explains Wladimir. “The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has put some of the major brands on notice with respect to misleading advertising that targets children."
Wladimir suggests choosing more simple breakfast cereals, that are either low in sugar or contain no added sugar (e.g. Weet-Bix), and then add fresh and/or dried fruits to make them more appetising for children.
4. Cereal and Nut 'Health Bars'
Imagine a bowl of Muesli or of plain breakfast cereal such as oats or puffed rice. Now, instead of milk, pour a hot, thick, sugar syrup over it and mix it well. You now have the makings of a traditional ‘health bar’.
“The sugar-cereal mix is cooled, formed into bars, wrapped and packed, and sold and marketed as health bars with anywhere from 20 to 50 percent sugar content,” Wladimir says.
Replace sugar-laden cereal and nut bars with a healthier alternative, such as 'Well Naturally' No Sugar Added Cereal Bars where the sugar has been replaced with Stevia and soluble dietary fibre. This offers a double-whammy health benefit – reduced sugar and increased fibre.
“People generally think chocolate is bad for you, but it’s not the chocolate itself that is bad, it’s actually all of the added sugar that makes it so unhealthy,” Wladimir claims. “Some popular brands of chocolate available on the market contain around 50 per cent sugar!"
Wladimir prefers opting for chocolates with high amounts of cocoa - at least 70 per cent cocoa - for proven antioxidant benefits.
If people only check one thing on a food label, what should it be?
“Sugar!” assures Wladimir.
“Check the sugar content per 100g (this is the percentage of sugar in a product) on the nutritional panel as this is a good reference that allows you to compare various foods and beverages. For foods, preferably choose those with less than 15g sugar per 100g (15 per cent) and for beverages, choose those with less than 7.5g of sugar per 100g (7.5 per cent)."