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Lifestyle Health and Fitness

7 Nutrition Mistakes Maltese People Commonly Make

From counting calories to pronouncing 'quinoa'

We’ve seen more changes to our food supply in the last 50 years then we have in the last 10,000. Just 100 years ago we ate fresh organic food that hadn’t been tampered with. Now Malta has one of the highest prevalence of obesity in Europe. So what happened?

Social media is full of misinformation, with posts relating to nutrition being largely void of any solid research. Mix this with industry bias, and nutrition is just one big misportrayal of what is truly beneficial to improve health. Like many countries, Malta has fallen victim of several nutrition mistakes.

The food industry started telling us and selling us what to eat. We have more
food available to us than ever before yet we are the most malnourished. Your information on how to truly eat for health comes from the what is naturally available to us, the way nature intended. When you keep this in mind and bring it all back to basics, nutrition doesn’t seem too confusing.

So here's a non-biased article that may help you be less of a chronic nutrition Googler. Here is a list of some of the most common nutrition mistakes made by Maltese people and others in the world alike. Have a seat and take it all in.

1. Counting calories as a measurement of health

Contrary to popular belief, calories are not created equal. It might make sense for many people that the human body is just a simple equation whereby energy in and energy out was the only thing needed to consider for weight loss. But this concept denies nutrition and that the human body is a mechanism in which what our body does with its nutrition is far more relevant than its mathematical equations. To cut a long biochemical story short, our bodies utilise different foods in different ways, due to its nutrient content. Ignoring this is suggesting that a soft drink and a banana have the same effect on the body, so long as you are ingesting the same amount in calories.

Let’s compare 200 calories from a banana and 200 calories from a soft drink. The banana contains an abundance of nutrients and most importantly, fibre. Because of this fibre, this fruit is not going to get rapidly absorbed and spike your blood sugar levels. You will be ingesting nutrients beneficial for your cardiovascular system, your hormones, your brain, your skin, your nervous system and your musculoskeletal system. Not only that, but you will be supporting healthy metabolism and weight loss mechanisms.

The flipside of this is consuming 200 calories from a soft drink. Because there’s no fibre, it gets absorbed immediately, causes a sudden rush of hormones in an attempt to break it down and gets stored as fat. The high fructose drink you have just consumed can also raise your triglycerides, visceral fat, damage liver enzymes and disrupt your hormone function. It can also negatively alter your gut bacteria, which then implicates your gut health, immunity and mental health. This ‘food’ is also void of all the said nutrients bananas contain. Do calories seem equal to you now?

When being recommended a ‘low calorie’ diet, always remember that just because a food item is low in calories does not in any way mean it will help you lose weight, or that it is superior to any other foods. 

Focus less on numbers and more on nutrients. You should take a high calorie nutritious snack over a low calorie junk food any day. Too many people are counting calories and not enough people are counting nutrients. It really is that plain and simple.

2. Thinking Kinnie is healthy because it's a citrus-derived drink

If your heart rate just increased, it's OK. Just read the rest of this article at your own pace.

3. Avoiding fat and prioritising 'low fat' products

Even when we all thought avoiding fat was benefiting our health back in the past, the scientific evidence was still fairly weak. In a nutshell, a man by the name of Ancel Keys put forward the hypothesis that dietary fat raised cholesterol, which could lead to heart disease. The American Heart Association took Keys’s hypothesis on board and from this day forward, butter, eggs, meat, and other fats contributed to heart disease and a low-fat diet was the way to go.

The problem is, Ancel's research didn't consider factors such as refined carbohydrate intake. Some research has also shown opposite results, but it was too late. Manufacturer's and industry jumped on board and started marketing products to be ‘low-fat’. It was a new and impressive angle that had great potential. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but it did make a lot of money. As a result of every single product being marketed low fat, the general understanding was that any food containing fat was problematic.

First of all, the evidence quite clearly tells us that low fat diets actually contribute to ill-health, not prevent it. Its been found that people lacking fat in their diet are more likely to develop diabetes, cardiovascular and hormone complications, weight gain, and decreased brain and vital organ function.

Secondly, our brains are made of approximately 60% fat. Our brain cell membranes are made of essential fatty acids, so it’s quite simply required for our cognitive health.

Thirdly, many vitamins require fat to metabolise.

The right fats actually help our bodies to metabolise foods, balance our hormones, support energy production, lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the body, which is one of the main causes of disease. The key is to source proper quality fats, not highly processed vegetable oils or fried bacon. Studies support that quality sourced fats actually contribute to weight loss, amongst being anti-inflammatory and promoting healthy bacteria in the gut. Health supporting fats include: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, free-range / pasture raised eggs, organic, pasture-raised meats, avocados, nuts and fatty fish such as salmon and trout.

4. It's pronounced kin-wa, not kin-owa

While we're on the subject of healthy food, let's make sure we're at least pronouncing things properly, shall we?

5. Opting for sugar replacements like agave

The detrimental effects of added sugar is one of the few things that most health professionals and science actually agree on. The next obvious step was that sugar replacements would make their way to the shelves. And boy, did they ever.

A plant based sugar alternative such as agave nectar sounded really good when it was pushed as a healthier option, but I think we forgot that sugar, which comes from cane sugar, is plant based too.

Actually, agave nectar is much higher in fructose than regular cane sugar. Fructose can only be metabolised by the liver in small amounts, so when it’s overloaded, it starts turning this sugar into fat. This opens the doors to many metabolic problems and diseases such as our good old Maltese mate type 2 Diabetes. This ‘healthy’ plant based sugar, which can be up to 90% fructose (35% more than regular cane sugar) is one of the most harmful and unhealthiest sugars in the world.

6. Choosing processed protein powders

No supplement is more widely consumed than protein powders. You know the drill. You sign up to the gym, you walk through the front door and there you are faced with that over-sized plastic tub of 'energetic' goodness that is being sold (almost always 20% off!! Buy now!! Must sell!!) as the most essential factor to your gym and fitness experience. According to these tubs of heaven, you will get bigger muscles, lose weight faster, feel fuller and receive proper nutrition. But what's actually in them? 

It makes zero sense that we started obsessing on consuming synthetic white powders for health support. Plants and animals provide an abundance of proper and nutritive sources of protein that are recognisable by the human body. Western diets more than exceed the required protein, including those of vegetarians (if you think that’s worth the risk of being disowned by nanna). 

Many (most) protein powders contain high amounts of refined sugar, toxic oils, synthetic sweeteners, chemicals, preservatives and food colourings. Now not all of them do, there is a wide range of actual food based protein powders, but do we really need them? There is only a very small number of medical situations that require a protein powder. Other than that, marketing pulled the wool over our eyes again and promoted a product we’re actually already consuming. Not only that, we’re already consuming a lot of it.

Powders will never do what real food will do, and you've just got to accept that.

7. Prioritising exercise without diet

Contrary to what feels like popular belief, you cannot exercise your way to health. 

Sure, exercise and a poor diet is better than no exercise and a poor diet, but the current level of understanding is that they are achieving the same things. Exercise does not address nutrient deficiencies and someone’s lack of exercise is not the reason they are sick, or overweight. Exercise certainly does help, but it is a small piece of the puzzle. Yet time and time again, we are being told that the reason our society has gotten to this point of illness and obesity is because we do not go to the gym.

Social media is flooded with quotations of “no pain, no gain”, “the only barrier between you and your health is your gym”, and “willpower is all you need”. As much as the inclusion of exercise needs to be supported and is a vital part of acquiring health, prioritising it as the main player of the game is ineffective.

Willpower is NOT all you need. The idea that eating less and exercising more, which has been drilled into our brains by various industries, is not what you need to re-establish your health. We have been conditioned and introduced to foods such as sugars and processed flours that we are addicted to and have caused havoc in our bodies. Forcing yourself to leave the house at 5am to workout before the day starts will not help rectify the damage from these foods if you are still consuming them. You need a balanced nutrient dense diet, you need to reset your hormones, you need to take your body out of an inflammatory state, you need to reduce your stress. You need to consume enough water and get enough sleep. And this is just the very beginning.

Eat a nutrient-dense, whole food balanced diet. This needs to be the primary objective to achieving health and wellbeing. Other contributing factors cannot achieve the same results, nor have their mechanisms useful without the foundation of diet being established first.

Tag someone who definitely needs to read this!

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Written By

Lana Micallef

Lana is a clinic nutritionist and the founder of The Nutrient Project

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