3.    If my cholesterol levels are good, it’s safe to eat lots of red meat

Prepared properly, in modest amounts, red meat can be a part of a healthy diet; among other things, it's rich in readily absorbed iron. However, there's good evidence that eating more than 500 grams (roughly a pound) per week is associated with an increased risk for colon cancer, a risk level that appears to continue climbing in tandem with the level of consumption.

Description: red meat

If my cholesterol levels are good, it’s safe to eat lots of red meat

"Red meat by itself puts more iron and saturated fat into the digestive system, and a lot of the iron goes undigested and ends up in the colon," explains James Kirkland, an associate professor of human health and nutritional sciences at the University of Guelph. Iron is a pro-oxidant, meaning it produces by-products that can damage cells, which, over time, could trigger tumour formation.

Kirkland adds that the relationship between colon cancer and red meat consumption increases with cooking time and temperature: the more well done the meat, and the hotter the stove or grill, the greater the risk. "The chemistry behind that is very well recognized," he says. "When you start cooking the meat more extensively, carcinogens form."

4.    All types of peanut butter reduce diabetes risk.

There's good research linking peanut and peanut-butter consumption with a variety of health benefits, including a decrease in Type 2 diabetes risk, but you may be missing out, depending on the brand you buy.

Description: All types of peanut butter reduce diabetes risk

All types of peanut butter reduce diabetes risk.

"In the United States, if a product contains less than 90 percent peanuts, it must be called a peanut-butter spread, but Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency do not have any such regulation, "Schwartz explains. Consequently, the contents of the jar in your cupboard could be something more akin to peanut-flavoured icing, since some brands contain ingredients such as icing sugar, unhealthy fats, and corn-syrup solids. (Incidentally, since peanuts contain healthy fats, reduced-or low-fat versions aren't desirable: the fat content is cut by substituting non-nutritious fillers.) "You're not going to get the same health benefits if the product contains 75 per cent peanuts as you would if it's 95 per cent or 100 per cent peanuts," Schwartz stresses.

So how can you choose a peanut-butter brand that's most likely to deliver on the health promises held out by research? Check the list of ingredients on the label: the best options will contain only peanuts. Another tip: "Look at the amount of protein listed on the label," suggests Massimo Marcone, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph. "The higher the level of protein, the more peanuts the product contains, and the less carbohydrate and other fillers."

5.    "Whole wheat" equals "whole grain."

"When you see 'whole wheat' or '100% whole wheat' on the label, you assume you're getting a whole grain," Schwartz says, "but maybe not."

Description: whole grains equal

whole grains equal

While writing a column for the National Post, Schwartz discovered that, according to Canadian regulations, flour can have much of the germ (the most nutritious part of the grain) removed and still be labeled "whole wheat." (In fact, the product that prompted Schwartz to probe the rules around flour labeling was a brand of white flour with added bran that carried the claim "contains the goodness of whole wheat.") What's more, even many nutrition professionals were un aware of the loophole. "I contacted people at Ryerson who teach nutrition—they didn't know," Schwartz says. "I did a survey of dietitians across the country—and they didn't know."

So how can you tell if your so-called whole wheat flour hasn't had most of the germ stripped away? "You have to look for the words' whole grain whole wheat'" on the ingredients list, Schwartz says.

Another Diet Myth Debunked

"Another huge myth is that weight management is equally about exercise and food—and it's just not," says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert and the medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa. "Even people who believe exercise to be a tremendous benefit calorically to weight loss will tell you it's primarily food, with perhaps 80 per cent of a person's weight relatable to his or her dietary choices, and 20 per cent to fitness." (Of course, that's to say nothing of the many other benefits of exercise, such as the ability to help improve your blood fat profile and blood pressure and to boost the body's sensitivity to insulin.) True, in theory it doesn't matter whether you cut calories from your diet or use them up by exercising, but the latter is much more difficult than people realize.

"One of the struggles people have is they feel exercise earns them the right to indulge a bit more," Freedhoff observes, "and the moment that occurs, you can pretty much kiss any caloric benefits of exercise goodbye. I can eat a chocolate bar or drink an energy drink in about a minute, but it's going to take me 40 minutes of exercise to get rid of those calories. To lose a pound through exercise requires a marathon of effort. You just can't out-train a bad diet."


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