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5 a day? Food myths busted

by Laura Palmer

Looking for a diet that will help you live your best life, reach a ripe old age, and avoid chronic disease? All you need to do is get your 5 a day of fruit and veg, avoid too much dairy and red meat, reduce your salt intake, and never eat more than 2 eggs a week. Right? Well, maybe not, according to recent studies.

In fact, your shopping basket could be about to get a serious makeover. Why? Because it turns out some of the foods you’ve always been told to limit, could actually be good for you. Yes really!

Ready to bust some diet myths? Here’s the lowdown:

Is 5 a day the secret to good health?

Restricting meat, dairy, and salt in your diet and ensuring you get your 5 a day of fruit and vegetables is what the ‘experts’ tell us is the key to staying well.

The thinking is that fruit and veg are good. While some components of dairy and meat are bad, and dangerous for your health. If you eat too much you’ll be at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. It’s enough to put you off the cheeseboard for life…

But what’s the evidence behind this, and how accurate is current nutritional advice? Is it safe to eat plenty of cheese, meat, and eggs after all? And is five portions of fruit and veg a day really the ultimate health hack?

The ‘5 a day’ mantra is everywhere…

From NHS-backed billboard campaigns, to the ‘1 of your 5 a day’ sticker you’ll find on the most processed, additive laden ready meals. But the science behind it is sketchy.

While there’s no denying eating fruit and veg can up your fibre intake and provide valuable micronutrients, there’s scant evidence that you need to eat 5 portions every day to stay well. An 8-year study by the National Cancer Institute that involved 500,000 people, in 23 different European countries, found no basis for this recommendation, and couldn’t find any relationship between eating 5-a-day and a reduced risk of cancer.

So where did the ‘5 a day’ idea come from?

Expert dieticians? Eminent Doctors, who are the bee’s knees at disease prevention? Nope. Getting your ‘5 a day’ was a marketing slogan, dreamed up by fruit and veg companies at a 1991 meeting in California. Yikes.

Already a 5 a day fanatic? Don’t stress – eating loads of fruit and veg won’t do any harm. But be wary of using it to replace dairy, meat, fish, and eggs in your diet. Fruit and veg are way less nutrient-dense and can also contain lots of sugar. Did you know that a banana has the equivalent of a whopping 5.7 teaspoons of sugar in it? Whereas an egg contains none and is one of the most nutrient rich foods you’ll find.

Rather than get hung up on 5 a day, focus on diversity. Eating a wide variety of foods each day will nourish your microbiome – the millions of tiny bacteria that live in the gut. A healthy microbiome is linked to lower obesity, fewer autoimmune conditions, and digestion problems. Not to mention a longer lifespan, good brain function, and even improved mood. And there are plenty of scientific studies to back that up!

More cheese please:

According to the NHS Eatwell Guide, lower fat dairy products are much healthier because they contain less saturated fat. And saturated fat = heart disease. It’s no wonder you might reach for skimmed milk, reduced-fat cheese, and low-fat yoghurt when you shop.

Time for a rethink though – because it turns out a diet rich in dairy fat may reduce, rather than raise, your risk of cardiovascular disease. A major study of 4150 Swedes, over 16 years, showed cardiovascular disease risk was actually lower for people who consumed full fat dairy regularly! These findings are backed up by more than 29 other studies. All of which found the consumption of dairy products can in fact protect against heart disease and stroke. Much like the 5-a-day diet myth, who knew?!

And cheese is especially beneficial for heart health because it’s rich in vitamin K, which is linked with cardioprotective benefits. Time to break out the Brie!

Pass the salt:

Like dairy, salt has had a bad rep with health ‘experts’ recently. You’re probably terrified to add a pinch of salt when you boil your pasta or veg!

The reasoning behind this is that salt can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. However, new research shows that consuming the very low levels of sodium currently advised, can actually increase your risk of heart disease risk. Doh!

This study doesn’t suggest you get crazy with the saltshaker, but rather eat a moderate amount of salt in your daily diet. Like 5 a day, it’s a case of ‘everything in moderation’ being ideal for most people, rather than hard and fast rules.

Nice to meat you:

Meat is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, but there’s a big question mark over how healthy it is to eat it regularly.

Red meat has been linked with a raised risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. But if you take a deep dive into the evidence behind this, you’ll find much of the intel has been cherry-picked from low-quality, unreliable, observational studies. And loads of the research doesn’t differentiate between unprocessed meat and chemically altered, ultra-processed meat products, like hotdogs.

In fact, there’s no definitive study that shows a proven link between red meat intake and disease. On the other hand, there’s A LOT of reliable data showing the link between ultra-processed foods and cardiovascular disease. This suggests your Friday night steak is A-OK but save the bacon and sausages as an occasional treat.

Ultra-nutritious eggs:

Back in the ‘80s, public health advice told us not to eat more than two eggs a week, because they contain cholesterol. Then science showed that eating cholesterol doesn’t affect the cholesterol profile of your blood and eggs came off the blacklist.

The government advice changed, but loads of us didn’t get the memo. A real pity, because eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. In fact, just one egg contains almost every nutrient you need, from vitamins and minerals, to protein and healthy fats.

Mind the gap:

Even if you have the ‘cleanest’, most exemplary diet, there’s no guarantee your body will get the right amount of nutrients. What’s more, there are millions of people who suffer from leaky gut, or malabsorption issues. So even if you’re eating right, the nutrients from your food might not make it where your body needs them.

That’s why, as well as eating sensibly, it’s worth taking a daily multivitamin, the ultimate ‘catch-all’ supplement. The Multivitamin Vitamin Plus Patch contains all 13 essential vitamins, plus handy minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and loads more.

In summary, to feel your best: eat the cheese, enjoy your steak, indulge in an egg whenever you fancy one, don’t worry about 5 a day, season your food, and pop on a patch. Simple!