General Health Wednesday March 21, 2012

Dieting myths are damaging our health

The constant battle to force ourselves to eat an apple instead of the delicious looking chocolate cake is part of a woman’s daily existence. Being surrounded by images of the media’s idea of a perfect female body is not the kind of environment likely to lead to self-acceptance and confidence, and a new study has shown that the average 45-year-old woman has tried out over 60 diets in her life.

The bread making company Warburton’s carried out a survey of over 2,000 British men and women to gain some insight into our attitudes towards nutrition and dieting. A shocking 60% of respondents said that their children had asked to cut natural carbohydrates such as bread and potatoes out of their diet, in the mistaken belief that they were unhealthy. These dietary myths which used to only be part of the lives of the overly neurotic have now seeped into the minds of young teenagers, shaping the way they plan meals and ultimately depriving them of many nutrients and vitamins which are essential to a healthy and balanced diet.

Many of the incentives by the Department of Health to help people improve their diets have proved counterproductive. The “five-a-day” campaign was implemented as a way to help people to understand what constitutes a portion of fruit or vegetables based on the theory that eating five every day would decrease chances of cancer and heart disease.

Unfortunately, this advice has been widely misconstrued by people who incorporate these guildlines into an unhealthy diet and are under the impression that this will reverse the damage which excessive amounts of fast food is doing to their bodies.

Similarly, the contentious issue of food labeling in the UK is still cause for debate. The current system recommends using guideline daily amounts (GDAs) to label food with a traffic light colour coding and ‘low, medium, high’ descriptions of the amount of calories, sugar, fat and salt on every package. Unfortunately, this can cause confusion to the average consumer, who glances at the information without realizing that it pertains only to half the pizza or one slice of the cake, for example.

Many parents are worried about the impact which advertising has on children and have called for a ban on advertisements for food high in sugar, salt and saturated fats during television programmes aired before the 9pm watershed, regardless of whether they are aimed at children or not.

Many of the diets which people try to lose weight with have a detrimental effect on their health and Warburton’s survey found that people under the age of 26 typically know less about the need for calcium in their diets, for example, which can be found in white bread. An average of 61 uninformed diets by the age of 45 means that the body has been deprived of so many vital nutrients that it may no longer be able to absorb them in a natural way.

Diets are designed for people who are overweight, and by calculating your BMI you can establish whether you are in need of medical assistance in order to lose weight. If your height-to-weight ratio is healthy, any alteration to your eating habits should be a permanent change towards a more balanced diet without cutting down on calorie intake or particular food groups just to lose a few pounds.

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