So you think you know the truth about what’s on your plate? Don’t be too sure. Helen Foster looks at 13 common food myths and busts them wide open.

Description: Vegetarians need to mix foods like rice and beans at every meal

1.    Turkey can help you sleep

It is true that turkey contains tryptophan, supplements of which have been shown to help people fall asleep, “but the amount of tryptophan required for this to happen if you tried to consume it via food would be that found in about 18kg of turkey”, says Dr Michael Breus, author of “The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan” (Rodale, $34.95). “A better tip would be to drink tart cherry juice (the substance that has the most naturally occurring melatonin, which makes you sleepy) and eat bananas, which are rich in magnesium and potassium (both of which help with sleep). Or make a smoothie containing them both.”

2.    Coffee dehydrates you

Most natural therapists you meet will tell you this, but studies form the University of Nebraska found coffee has no diuretic effect in regular drinkers. The only time it does cause a small loss of fluid is if you are what experts call “caffeine naive” – that is you never drink it – and you suddenly have a mega dose (two to three cups) in quick succession.

3.    Blueberries are the fruit with the most antioxidants

The amount of antioxidants in a food is measured by something called its ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value, and the ORAC value of 100g of prunes is more than twice that of the same weight of blueberries. “Prunes really are under-rated super food,” says Melbourne-based nutritionist Lola Berry. “They contain 27 different types of antioxidants – plus they are powerhouse of minerals, containing potassium, magnesium, copper and iron. Recent studies also suggest that eating prunes regularly might even reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.”

Description: Blueberries are the fruit with the most antioxidants

4.    Vegetarians need to mix foods like rice and beans at every meal

It was suggested that if vegetarians didn’t do this they wouldn’t get adequate protein as no one plant food contains all eight essential amino acids, which meat does. “But this myth was based on misunderstanding of nutrition and food composition and the faulty assumption that a diet containing meat is ideal and that vegetarian diets should try and emulate it,” says Amanda Benham, an accredited practicing dietitian in Brisbane. “Vegetarians need not concern themselves with precise combinations of amino acids. Eat a nutritious, mostly wholefood diet consisting of legumes, soy products, nuts, seeds, wholegrain, vegetables and fruit and you’ll get plenty of protein.”

5.    Bigger is better for fruit and vegetables

Not when it comes to the nutrient content. “The large a fruit or vegetable grows, the more water, sugar and simple carbohydrates it usually contains. Higher levels of water and sugar dilute the concentration of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients,” says Dr Charles Benbrook, chief scientist of the US-based The Organic Center. “Moreover, smaller produce tends to taste better and also lasts longer when it’s stored because of higher levels of natural antibiotics.” The effect is particularly strong in strawberries, melons and other “high moisture” fruits and vegies, so think quality not quantity when buying these.

6.    Nuts are fattening

Actually, new research from the University of California has found that people who snacked on pistachios as part of a low-kilojoule diet lost more weight than those eating pretzels. “Protein and fiber in nuts help to satisfy your hunger. In addition, the fat content in nuts help release satiety hormones in the digestive system with curb hunger,” says Lisa Yates, dietitian at Nuts for Life. Add a handful or two of nuts to your diet each day.

Description: Eat carbs if you want to energize

7.    Eat carbs if you want to energize

A shock new finding from the UK’s University of Cambridge shows actually it’s protein that positively affects the brain cells that keep us alert. The cells, called orexin cells, send out electrical signals that make us more alert, but glucose from carbohydrates actually blocks this activity – this is one reason, say scientists, why you feel sleepy after high-carb meals. However, protein stops this blockage occurring.

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