It's easy to get in a pickle about what's good for us and what's not when it comes to picking the best foods to eat. It seems there's new headlines out each week telling us to go for a low calorie diet one minute, then to pick a low fat one the next and all sorts of confusion about which fats which should be eating and which we should avoid. So we asked a panel of top health and nutrition experts to debust the jargon and give the definitive answers to your most common foodie questions.
It's easy to get in a pickle about what's good for us and what's not when it comes to picking the best foods to eat. It seems there's new headlines out each week telling us to go for a low calorie diet one minute, then pick a low fat one the next and all sorts of confusion about which fats which should be eating and which we should avoid. So we asked a panel of top health and nutrition experts to debust the jargon and give the definitive answers to your most common foodie questions.
Canned food vs. frozen food
We all know fresh is best but sometimes it's not always practical to stock up on fresh things that often go off quickly and spoil. So which should we pick to make our lives easier but still stay healthy: canned or frozen?
Michela Vagnini, a Nutritionist at Nature's Plus suggests "frozen rather than canned is usually best when fresh food is not an option."
"Very often fresh food spends up to a few weeks with producers, wholesalers and retailers, until it reaches our shopping basket, which means frozen food can often be as good as fresh. Just try to go for organic frozen products for the healthiest option. If you are in a rush and need a quick fix for your dinner, steam or stir fry frozen vegetables to lock in as many of the good nutrients as posisble" says Michela.
"Canned food also contains potentially harmful metals which can leak into your food, especially in cans of fish, tomatoes or other acidic foods. So it's best to keep the amount of canned food you eat to a minimum."
Skimmed milk vs. whole milk
For years we've been told that whole milk is a less healthy choice than skimmed milk, but is it really true? "Whole milk often contains more fat than semi-skimmed and so might seem the unhealthy option, but that's not the end of the story" says Katy Mason, a Nutritionist at NutriCentre.
"In fact, the fat that you get in milk can help us to absorb certain vitamins – such as vitamin A and vitamin D – that are found in, or sometimes added to, milk. This means milk that contains more fat helps us better absorb these health-boosting vitamins."
"You might have also heard a lot in the news recently to say that fat is no longer the villian we thought it was. This is because fat is often not the main reason for us putting on weight- eating lots of sugary and starchy foods are more often to blame" says Katy. "Fat helps to make us feel fuller and more satisfied, which means we might not actually consume any more calories drinking full fat milk than when we choose skimmed."
Sweetener vs. sugar
Dr Marilyn Glenville, Nutritionist and author of Fat Around The Middle, says "sugar is a problem because it can make you gain weight. Sugar also produces insulin in your body that makes you crave the sweet stuff even more."
"But if you really can't ditch your milk and two sugars routine in tea, do use the real stuff and don't be tempted to switch to a sweetener to cut calories. If a food or drink is described as 'low sugar', 'slim line' or 'diet', it usuallys contain an artificial sweetener and these have been previously linked to mood swings and depression."
There's also been studies to say that people who regularly eat artificial sweeteners tend to gain weight because these increase your appetite. For a much better option, you could try getting your sweet fix from cinnamon sprinkled onto your natural yoghurt or porridge."
Multivitamin vs. individual vitamins
Looking at all the different types of vitamins on offer at the supermarket or in the chemist can make your eyes glaze over- which do you choose?
Michela Vagnini, Nutritionist at Nature's Plus says it depends on what you are wanting them for. "Multivitamins are great for your general wellbeing, energy and hydration. But if you have a specific deficiency or problem, I tend to choose single vitamins and minerals" says Michela.
"Before you start popping the tablets, have a blood test at your GPs and discuss what vitamin levels they'd recommend. Taking supplements for nutrients that you're not actually deficient in, for example iron, could in fact do you more harm than good".
Low fat vs. low carb
"Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates – such as white bread, standard 'white' pasta and other foods made with white flour- have very little nutritional benefit" says Shona Wilkinson, Head Nutritionist at NutriCentre.
"They're also low in fibre which means the carbohydrates in them are absorbed into your blood as glucose, which affects your body like sugar. This can cause you to gain weight, as well as affecting your mood and behaviour, often making you crave more sugary things. So you want to focus on having smaller amounts of carbohydrates, or opting for high fibre foods like brown pasta and rice."
Margarine vs. butter
What should we really be spreading on our morning slice on toast? For Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville the ingredients list of both gives you the answer. "Most margarines list hydrogenated oil on its ingredients, as do many fast foods, crisps, biscuits and crackers.
When a food is hydrogenated (made more spreadable), it changes the unsaturated fats in the food into trans fatty acids which have been linked to an increased risk of having a heart attack" says Dr Marilyn. "For this reason, I stick with using butter, but only in moderation."