Although it sometimes feels as though we live in a world where there are always differences and no one can seem to get along, there is one thing that unites seven billion people across the globe – food. Whether you’re sitting in the Oval Office furiously tweeting, or going on a highly unsuccessful Tinder date at Rymill Park, at some point during the day your stomach will tell your brain that your body needs food and fluid.
Dr Mantzioris is one of Adelaide’s most experienced and respected dieticians, with more than three decades of experience in the field. She has done advanced research on the effects of fish oil on inflammatory mediators and is regularly consulted by media for her take on any issue –even during this interview she received a message from a journalist at the ABC.
For this edition of Verse, we got her to bust several commonly held myths on nutrition.
What is the number one myth you hear about diet?
Oh gosh the number one myth … there are so many of them!
I’ve got a bottle of coconut water there and I’ve got it there not because I like it, but to display the amount of misinformation that there is on food packaging. Coconut water doesn’t offer you any nutritional benefit at all. It says it has ‘some’ electrolytes in it, but if you are relying on that for your source of electrolytes you are never going to get enough of them. They [electrolytes] are so abundant in our diet that you don’t need to go to coconut water. It’s a great marketing scam. You get hydrated from just drinking plain old water.
Is it true you need to drink two litres of water per day?
It’s not true. You need to have two litres of fluids a day. Whether they come from tea, coffee, milk or the fluids in fruit and vegetables – that all contributes to your total fluid count. The best measure of working out if you’re well hydrated is the colour of your urine in the morning which should be a light hay colour.
Should we be cutting carbs from our diet?
Another myth that’s been said for many many years is that carbs are bad and you need to remove carbs from your diet to lose weight.
When we consume carbohydrates our body needs to regulate the amount of glucose in our blood level and it’s a pretty tight regulation system. What the body does is it converts the glucose in our blood into glycogen and when our glucose levels run short, the glycogen gets converted back to glucose and overnight your glycogen gets refuelled again, so it’s got a store of it for the next day. But the way glycogen is
stored in our body is with two water molecules, so if you deplete the carbohydrates in your diet, you then use up the glycogen that removes the water molecules, and that’s why people see this rather immediate ‘weight-loss’. You lose this immediate water, which comes up as weight on the scales, but in reality when people want to lose weight they don’t want to lose water they actually want to lose adipose tissue [fat], so it defeats the purpose of losing weight. Another problem is that you then start using fats to produce glucose and that causes ketosis, which makes you crabby and have bad moods. By depleting carbohydrates from your diet you also lose the nutrients that come with those carbohydrates.
A guy I know went on a diet where he only ate eggs, cucumber and oats for two weeks with the purpose of losing weight. Would that actually work?
Apart from being incredibly boring in terms of weight loss, yes, it would lose weight and so people would say it’s successful; however the issue is what happens alongside that.
That diet would have been low in calcium, which may not be that problematic when you are young because you are still building up bone, but we know by the early twenties you stop building up bone. If your calcium intake was dodgy to start with, that’s going to be put at further risk. It’s more of an issue for women, who have higher rates of osteoporosis and are more likely to get it.
That diet has got the protein that comes in through the egg, it’s got the fat that comes in through the egg, it’s got the fibre that comes in through the oats … I’m not quite sure what the cucumber is replacing, however that said I love cucumber but cucumber is not going to replace all the other nutrients you find in all the other types of fruits and vegetables. To limit yourself to one item in a food group is risky because you’re not going to get all the nutrients you need.
What are the benefits of supplements?
Unless someone has a diagnosed deficiency in a particular nutrient, there is no benefit from taking any supplements. It’s no use taking iron supplements unless you know you have anaemia, likewise it’s no use taking B-group vitamins unless you know you’ve got a B-group deficiency. That’s one of the other great myths that’s been perpetrated by the supplements industry that we ‘need to’ take supplements to feel better. We are better off spending the money that we spend on supplements on the food we like.
On average, how good is the diet of your average uni student?
Well our nutrition students are pretty good!
For a university student, typically, they are time poor, and it’s probably worse if they live out of home and have to do all the housework and duties, so I guess cooking becomes the last thing that is on their mind. With an abundance of quick food that can be purchased there’s a tendency to get take way or easily prepared meals.
I know there’s a limitation of funds but when you look at a whole box of Cheezels and you think, “How can they sell all that for a dollar?” And I always think, “What are Cheezels?” Like can you describe what it is, what food group it is? I can’t, I have no idea what a Cheezel is, but everyone loves sticking them on their fingers!
What advice would you give to uni students?
Uni students need fruit and veg in their diet. Going for the seasonal fruit and veggies will always be cheaper. Frozen or canned fruit and veg is also good; you’ve got to be careful with the canning though because of the amount of sugar that is added to fruit, and salt to veggies. Frozen fruit and veg is quite cheap, and it means they’re accessible for you all the time and it minimises food waste which is another big concern we have at the moment.
Other cheap foods which are still really nutritious are your pasta and your rices and they can be bought at fairly cheap prices. It’s also important to be sure that dairy comes in, such as the yoghurt, the milk and the cheeses. The other thing I would say is not to exclude any food groups. One of the larger expenses for students is meat, but you can replace meat with beans and you get most of the nutrients you get in meat in beans, plus all the fibre.
When I told people I was interviewing an expert in diet and nutrition, they begged me to ask this question, so I’m going to ask it. How much caffeine is it okay to have in a day?
Normally it’s about 400mg per day which equates to about two-to-three cups of coffee per day. So the reason why uni students use caffeine is so they can stay up later and do their assignments and what it does is restore your alertness to what it was before you started becoming tired. It’s also used by athletes because it makes the effort they put into work seem less.
I’ve read that you shouldn’t start the morning off with a coffee because your adrenalin gets you going anyway and your first coffee should be 10am. We know that there are health benefits to coffee but once again it’s limiting it to not more than two-to-three – but it also depends on your body size as well. Some countries have included in their national guidelines that drinking tea and coffee is beneficial, but Australia hasn’t done that yet.
So what about alcohol?
Well interestingly there’s been a lot in the media about alcohol recently, because the World Cancer Research Fund released a report that any alcohol consumption increases your risk of death from cancer, no matter what you have.
Once upon-a-time we always used to say there was a J-curve, so that those people who completely abstained from alcohol had higher risks than those that had one-to-two glasses per day. It seems like that may not be the case but, having said that – having a little bit of red wine, with a good diet, may be protective for heart disease but it’s a really murky area in the science with what people are saying. The evidence that shows us that a little bit of alcohol might be good for heart disease is mainly the epidemiological evidence and they often cite the blue zones [areas where populations have a high longevity].
It’s a difficult statement because I know students are going to drink, right? For me to say you can’t drink isn’t going to work, so then it would be a matter of not having more than one-to-two glasses at a time. Certainly it’s binge drinking that causes the most problems.
Finally, if you had a magic wand and you can complete eliminate three foods/drinks out there in the world, which three do you pick?
I’m a mum with kids, and the three things I don’t let them have are: potato crisps, lollies, and soft drinks or fruit juice. Having said that I know my husband sneaks them in when I travel!
Words by Ryan Colsey
Image supplied by Dr Mantzioris