PICK WISELY: Choosing a food based on how many calories or kilojoules it has doesn't take into consideration its nutritional value.
PICK WISELY: Choosing a food based on how many calories or kilojoules it has doesn't take into consideration its nutritional value. Thinkstock

Dieting tips that are hit and myth

WANT to lose weight or overhaul your eating habits for good? Chances are your Dr Google search leaves you with more questions than answers.

Don't make losing weight harder than it needs to be.

Here are the top four terrible diet tips that could be messing with your slim-down strategy.

Calories in v calories out

A calorie is still a calorie, right? So if you had a choice between a chocolate brownie or a handful of nuts, which one would you choose?

Both have roughly 170 calories but the problem is, not all calories are created equal.

Choosing a food based on how many calories (or kilojoules) it has doesn't take into consideration how nutritious or filling it is. FYI: brownies have 14 times more sugar, three times more saturated fat and two times less fibre than nuts. Go figure.

Reality: Calories are important for understanding portion control, however taking a mathematical approach to weight loss is not the only factor in good nutrition and overall health.

Go gluten-free to lose weight

You're aware of the gluten-free craze but don't really understand what gluten is, yet many are turning their lives upside down to avoid it.

The problem is not the gluten - we eat too many processed foods made with refined grains and not enough whole grains.

"Often people who follow a gluten-free lifestyle feel better because they end up cutting out high-fat desserts, cakes and takeaway foods and eating more fruit and vegetables,” gastroenterologist Dr Samuel Douglas said.

"They make the mistake that it was the gluten, rather than just eating sensibly that made them lose weight.”

Reality: There's no scientific evidence that gluten (a type of protein found in some, but not all, grains) is fattening. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that people eating three to five serves of grain foods, mainly wholegrain (eg one slice of wholegrain bread or ½ cup brown rice) are more likely to have a smaller waistline and less likely to be overweight than people who eat less.

While coeliac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that requires an individual to completely eliminate gluten from their diet, self-diagnosis, on the other hand, can be dangerous as it means making unnecessary changes to the diet.

Some sugars are better than others

Most "sugar-free” diets advocate eliminating sucrose (the most common form of added sugar to processed food and drinks), however many of us are being fooled into thinking we are quitting sugar when in fact we are eating products laced with other sweet alternatives - for example rice malt syrup, which is only free of fructose yet is still a refined sugar that provides more calories, contributes to tooth decay and causes a much higher spike in blood-glucose levels.

Reality: Some sugars (eg honey, coconut sugar) may be "less bad” than regular sugar but are not something you should eat in large amounts.

Healthy eating is expensive

It's easy to blame poor diets on the cost of healthy food, however new research shows Australian households spend the majority (58%) of their food budget on discretionary or "junk” foods and drinks, including takeaways (14%) and sugar-sweetened beverages (4%).

According to Professor Amanda Lee, who led the research for the Sax Institute, healthy diets are more affordable than current unhealthy diets - costing households 15% less.

"Less than 4% of Australians eat adequate quantities of healthy foods, yet more than 35% of energy (kilojoule) intake comes from discretionary foods and drinks, which provide little nutrition - and this is hurting our health and our hip pocket,” she said.

Reality: Healthy eating doesn't have to be expensive. Rather than resort to two-for-one meal deals or discounted soft drinks and biscuits, plan ahead and meal prep carefully and your weekly shop will stretch further, while your overall food bills (and waistline) won't.

To really help save costs, swap legumes for meat products, buy less-expensive produce such as apples, oranges, carrots and spinach and purchase healthy whole grains such as rolled oats rather than expensive muesli.

Kathleen Alleaume is a nutrition and exercise scientist and author of What's Eating You? Follow her @therightbalance

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