Food Fact vs Food Fiction

Every day you are bombarded with images of food, facts about food and outright lies about food, and this constant barrage has to compete with what you already think you know about food. Sometimes you just want a few simple questions answered. So that's what we've done. With the right concise information you'll be able to do your body a favour each time you eat or drink, or at least minimise the damage.

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Is chicken a better choice than beef?

Not always. A lot depends on how the chicken or cow was raised. Skinless chicken breast from an organically fed, pasture-raised animal is very healthy, but most of us don't eat chickens that roamed free and were given healthy feed.

Today's birds are raised in a way that promotes fat growth. The result? The average piece of chicken has 266 per cent more fat than it did in 1971, while its protein content has dropped by a third, according to researchers at the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University.

Similarly, most cows today are fed enormous amounts of corn to fatten them up as quickly as possible. Grass-fed beef has a different taste and nutritional profile, with 16 per cent fewer calories than conventional beef, 27 per cent less fat, 10 per cent more protein and a healthier balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. So the better choice really depends on the quality and cut of the meat you get, not the animal it came from.

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If my options are a cheeseburger or a slice of pizza, which should I eat?

Neither is what you could with a straight face describe as "terrifically nutritious" or "really, not as bad as you might think" but if you must splurge, the better choice is a matter of toppings.

The more high-fibre veggies you can include, the better. For that reason your best option is probably a slice of pizza loaded with a combination of vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and some rocket.

It's by no means a perfect meal - the carbs in the crust will likely be the refined variety - but the pile of produce on top certainly helps make it a healthier choice. The burger is likely to be extremely fatty and the cheese of the high-fat and cheap variety.

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Are white cheeses better than yellow cheeses?

When it comes to weight loss, yes. Yellow cheeses tend to have more calories than their lighter-coloured counterparts because of their higher fat concentrations.

Cheddar, for instance, has 412 calories and 34g of fat per 100g, whereas Brie has 319 calories and 27g of fat. But let's face it, the only truly low-fat, lowish-calorie cheese is cottage cheese, which certainly has its uses but lacks a certain something. Taste, I think.

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What's better for keeping me awake: a cup of coffee or an energy drink?

Coffee. The caffeine in one cup of black coffee should guarantee you about five hours (give or take) of alertness. More importantly, coffee is packed with antioxidants, and studies have shown it enhances short-term memory and may help protect against dementia and cancer.

The jolt you feel from an energy drink comes mostly from sugar (unless it's also laced with caffeine), which, aside from adding calories, sets you up for an inevitable crash. For the same reason try not to dump sugar into your coffee.

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Is brown rice really much healthier than white rice?

Yes, because it's the whole grain. The same goes for wholemeal pasta, wholegrain bread and anything you might care to make from wholemeal flour. Wholegrain and wholemeal food is full of fibre and hasn't been stripped of nutrients by the refining process that gives us white bread and pasta.

Fibre takes up room in your stomach, which then sends your brain the signal that you're full. But if the fibre is taken out (as is the case with refined carbs such as those found in white rice and bread), fast-rising blood sugar (the sugar rush) triggers your pancreas to release a flood of insulin, the hormone that quickly lowers blood sugar.

This is why you can then suffer a sugar crash from eating these foods. This then encourages you to eat more, which in turn keeps your glucose levels in a constant state of turmoil. When the excess glucose is not used or stored as glycogen it is stored as fat.

A study from Penn State University in the US studied how much belly fat people lost when they ate whole grains instead of refined grains, and the results were significant: the wholegrain eaters lost 2.4 times more fat.

Dining at regular intervals, eating protein and fat at every meal, and choosing wholegrain foods will help manage your blood sugar and thus your cravings - and your fat storage.

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Are all sources of protein created equal?

Not quite. While many plant foods, including nuts and beans, can provide a good dose of protein, the best sources are dairy products, eggs, lean meat and fish, says Donald Layman, an emeritus professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois in the US.

Unlike plant-based proteins, animal protein is complete, meaning it contains the right proportions of the essential amino acids your body can't make on its own.

It's possible to build complete protein from plant-based foods by combining legumes, nuts and grains, but you'd need to eat 20 to 25 per cent more plant-based protein to reap the same benefits that animal-derived sources provide, says Mark Tarnopolsky, who studies nutrition at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

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Is a glass of fruit juice the nutritional equivalent of a piece of fruit?


Not even close. Most prepared fruit juices contain not only natural sugar but also huge amounts of added sugar to cut the tartness of the drink (try straight unsweetened cranberry juice sometime to see what we mean).

Plus, even juices labelled 100 per cent pure aren't necessarily made exclusively from the advertised juice. So-called 'superfoods' such as pomegranate and blueberry may get top billing even though the ingredient list may reveal that pear, apple and grape juices - cheaper to produce and very sweet - are among the first four ingredients.

To avoid a sugar surge, pick single-fruit juices, pour half a glass, and fill the rest with water, still or sparkling. Even better, stick with whole fruit.

A medium orange has just 62 calories, 12 grams of sugar and three grams of belly-filling fibre, compared with the 110 calories, 24 grams of sugar and zero fibre found in a 230ml glass of orange juice.

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