By Lucia Weiler BSc, RD, PHEc
There is so much health-related food & nutrition information out there. Do you struggle to make sense of it all? You’re not alone! As a dietitian, I am often asked to explain food myths. So, my first advice, choose a credible source such as a dietitian who can find the facts and translate the science and research into solid advice. They can also clearly communicate the power of food and nutrition and its connection to health.
Here are three common myths related to Canadian food ingredients and the truths behind them.
MYTH: “Canola has no health benefits”
Canola oil is a plant-based food that has both health and culinary benefits. Did you know it was developed right here in Canada? The name canola is a combination of the words Canadian and ola (meaning oil). You may see the bright yellow-flowering canola plants in fields all across the country.
Canola oil came about using traditional plant breeding techniques. More recent varieties were genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides. This enables farmers to better control weeds without damaging the canola crop. Health Canada assesses all genetically-modified foods to ensure they are safe for humans before they can be sold in Canada. To date, no study has ever caused Health Canada to alter its conclusions about any GM food product it has approved.
Canola was specifically bred to provide a unique fat composition that is high in ‘good’ monounsaturated fats, relatively high in polyunsaturated fats and low in ‘bad’ saturated fats. Canola is a ‘healthy oil’ because it is:
- Very low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat. Replacing saturated fat in the diet with unsaturated fat like canola oil may reduce the risk of heart disease.
- A good source of essential omega-3 fats which is important to get from the diet because our bodies cannot make them.
- A source of vitamin E, a dietary antioxidant.
Canola oil has a light flavour, clear colour and is an economical and versatile ingredient. It works well in many types of cooking and recipes. Look for healthy recipes with canola oil created by dietitians to unlock flavour and health benefits of food.
MYTH: “Multi-grain” is the same as “whole grain”
Multi-grain may not always mean whole grain. Multi-grain means that the food contains different or multiple kinds of grains, but they may not be whole grains. As food ingredients, grains can be either whole grains or refined.
Refined grains have some parts of the grain removed during processing. Whole grains have all three parts of the plant seed: the outermost layer called bran, the inner endosperm and the germ. Whole grain foods are a healthier choice because they provide more of the valuable nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals that play an important role in health and wellness. Examples of whole grain foods include wheat, rice, oats, barley, corn, wild rice, and rye, as well as quinoa and buckwheat.
To see if a food is made with whole grains, check the ingredient list and look for the words “whole grain” before the name of the grain. For example: ‘whole grain wheat’ or ‘whole grain oats’. If whole grains are the main ingredients in a food, they would appear first in the ingredient list. For healthy living, make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day.
Fun fact: Did you know that the top grain produced in Canada is wheat? In fact, we’re one of the top five wheat exporters on the planet and the world’s largest producer of high-protein milling wheat.
MYTH: “White potatoes are empty calories with no nutritional value”
Have you seen the Nutrition Facts table for potatoes? You may be surprised to see what this nutrition powerhouse brings to the table! For example, this Nutrition Facts table shows the numbers for a medium baked potato (including the skin) cooked without any added fat or salt.
A medium baked potato is very high in vitamin B6; high in fibre, potassium, niacin and copper; and contains iron, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, phanothenate, choline, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese. All in, this medium baked potato (with skin on) contains 15 essential vitamins and minerals plus much needed fibre!
This Nutrition Facts table busts the myth that potatoes are just calories without nutritional value.
To boost the nutrition impact of potatoes, the way you prepare them matters too! For example, skip the fries and enjoy baked potatoes with the skin on to boost the nutrient value. Also cooling potatoes increases the resistant starch which shows promising health benefits when compared with digestible starch. Resistant starch is a form of carbohydrate that is not digested and is considered a type of dietary fibre. Researchers found that resistant starch rich foods have a lower glycemic index which may produce a lower blood may produce a lower blood sugar rise and help in managing diabetes.