Is Breakfast Healthy? Can You Eat Yoghurt After Expiration? How To Prepare Meat Safely? We've Asked a Nutritionist. (Interview)
Petra Kopecká is a nutrition consultant that helps people eat right and stop believing all of the nonsense they find online. We have asked her about healthy and unhealthy foods, frozen meat, frying and fats in general.
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People have a tendency to believe a lot of nonsense when it comes to food. „It's definitely necessary to detox, but in a natural way, through liver, kidneys and skin. These are our detox organs, basically, and there is no magical substance that would cleanse us,“ says Petra Kopecká, nutritionist that teaches people to understand how to eat in a way that helps them drop some pounds, gain muscle or maintain their weight.
According to her, people didn't necessarily start losing weight during lockdown, they just started taking care of their bodies more. So instead of food myths, they ran into fables about how fats in food automatically form subcutaneous fat which would cause them to gain weight.
Petra explains these myths more in the interview and states that there's no such thing as healthy or unhealthy food. „It's one of the many mistakes that people keep repeating,“ says the nutritionist. People then doom white bread, even though a sandwich after training might be the ideal after-training treat for some people.
- Why our body doesn't need rice or juice detox
- How skipping breakfast reduces the risk of cancer or improve performance
- Why it's not necessary to condemn white or whole-grain bread
- How to defrost meat correctly and when not to freeze it again
- Whether it's necessary to rinse meat in running water before cooking
- Whether frying or grilling is healthier
- How people still think they'll gain subcutaneous fat if they eat more fat
- Whether you can eat food after removing mold from its surface
What's the biggest mistake people make in their eating choices?
Perhaps the biggest mistake is the nonsense that they believe. This nonsense circulates the internet, because of course, it is not regulated who is allowed to speak on nutrition. So there's a lot of Facebook groups where you'll learn that fat is evil or that bread is death.
It often happens that a client shows up saying that he eats rice crackers for breakfast, because regular bread is unhealthy. And that he eats vegetables for lunch, because protein destroys the kidneys. My biggest challenge is people not knowing where the truth is. They're over-informed and overwhelmed with misinformation.
So they're prone to believe in nutrition nonsense. Did the pandemic contribute to this?
It certainly helped some people spend more time studying. They have time for themselves, so they read and educate themselves, but only a few are willing to seek out a professional. 90 percent of people prefer to just go online. There they find weight loss groups, often run by different supplement brands, so suddenly the best way to lose weight is to drink this special artificially sweetened soy cocktail for breakfast. They believe it, because they read it in the group.
Another contributing fact is that there's only a few relevant sources online. Trained experts make their living by providing nutrition advice, so they won't give out free tips. Their livelihood is at stakes here.
Is it necessary to occasionally hop on a juice or rice detox to rid the body of toxins? Do such detox diets make sense?
It's definitely necessary to detox, but in a natural way, through liver, kidneys and skin. These are our detox organs, basically, and there is no magical substance that would cleanse us. It's great to help these organs with occasional fasting or semi-fasting. Fasted liver then has the space to focus on the body.
There's this plant called milk thistle, that contains a substance called silymarin. It can help the liver detox efficiently. The liver is such a miraculous organ. Even if we'd only keep 25 percent of it, it would regenerate back to 100 percent in size, which cannot be said of the lungs or the heart.
We can help the liver out substantially, but what I don't understand is why are people willing to pay such incredible money for detox diets. It is a waste of money, because no supplement is able to magically cleanse the body in any other way than the organs that are already intended for this function.
Do people still have the tendency to divide food into healthy and unhealthy categories?
It is one of the mistakes that people keep repeating. I try to explain to them that if losing weight is their goal, they should avoid these particular foods. It's not because they're unhealthy, but they'd slow down their weight loss process. Let's say these foods raise insulin. Insulin is a hormone that prevents weight loss. Or maybe they have an unnecessarily high number of calories, so they're not suitable for weight loss.
The opposite may be true for someone else. If a skinny guy wants to gain muscle, the same type of foods can be great for him. I always try to emphasize that if I advise particular foods for a given goal, it shouldn't be spread as universal truths. Just because someone advised me against it, doesn't mean it's unhealthy food. Food cannot be divided into healthy and unhealthy. We can agree that E250 is a carcinogen, but we cannot claim whether bread is healthy or not.
During lockdown, many people have lost or gained weight dramatically. Do you feel that the pandemic has inspired people to transform their bodies, from your experience?
I think the lockdown didn't have such a large effect. Most of my clients were doing great, because they had more time for food preparation. Previously, I would encounter people functioning in such a mode that they ordered food and didn't have time to pay attention to nutrition.
Lockdown is great for disciplined people. However, many clients explained to me how they have no regime at home, the fridge is available at all times, they can just get up at any time and snack all day. It's about individual motivation. If you really want it, you'll manage to get yourself through to results and you will do very well.
Does it ever happen that you give advice to someone, they lose weight, but a few weeks later the yo-yo effect kicks in and the kilograms return?
I don't try to help people by using a system where they lose 10 kilograms per week and then regain everything. My goal is to educate these people on how to eat, so that it lasts a lifetime. I do not forbid anything. I don't tell them they can't touch pizza or fries, but I do support the 80:20 principle. If a person eats healthy 80 percent of the time, the remaining 20 percent can be indulged in foods that aren't considered the most nutritious.
I try to explain to people what to eat, how to have breakfast and how to properly combine foods. Once they learn to eat this way, there is no possibility of a yo-yo effect. That only happens when you hop on a diet that isn't sustainable from a long-term point of view and is extreme in a way. If you only eat vegetables for a month, clearly you can't maintain that for the rest of your life.
In an interview with a dentist, I asked her if she could examine herself. How does it work for a nutritionist? Do you pay more attention to your eating habits than other people?
Everyone has to create their own eating system, because there's a lot of options and none of them is the only right one. I've found my own, thanks to which I'm able to keep my weight at 52-53 kilograms and I'm not limiting myself in any extreme way at all. Last time I saw how people imagine a nutritionist eats and they thought we only eat sprouts and leaves.
It's not the case at all. I follow the 80:20 principle, so I try to keep that lifestyle and 20 percent of the time, I treat myself to chocolate, ice cream or a glass of wine. I rather emphasize quality, because once I indulge myself in something, I go for good chocolate or better ice cream. The cheapest products don't taste good to me anymore. Otherwise, I don't feel any pressure and I don't have a problem with it.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Truth or lie?
It definitely isn't a guaranteed truth. I do see a positive effect of intermittent fasting on myself. It's a dietary system that fits the majority of the population. Not every woman, mainly men and more adults than children. It's a researched system with a number of studies that prove that skipping breakfast can be beneficial for the body.
It can even reduce the risk of cancer due to better regeneration of the body. More growth hormone is produced, we can perform better and we have more energy. Insulin is reduced, which makes it easier to maintain weight. I function without breakfast and it's 100 percent fine, but it doesn't suit everyone.
If someone wants to eat breakfast, the ordinary cereals are usually a disaster. They often contain up to 80 percent carbohydrates, including a huge amount of sugar. I don't think it's ideal to start the day with a load of sugar. It depends on who we are. Are we a child that has first period physical education, or are we an adult that works out before going to work? Are we going to sit at work all day?
There is no such thing as universal breakfast, but it's important to have some protein in it, such as eggs, tuna or quality ham. Carbs too, if we move during the day, but it doesn't have to be a rice cracker. It can be sourdough bread, for example, ideally paired with vegetables as well.
Many people still perceive dark bread as miracle food, while white bread is often cursed out. Do you notice that as well?
It depends on the person. If they are active in sports and they try to gain muscle, white bread can be a great source of energy or glucose for our muscles after the training. Athletes are often surprised that they are allowed to eat a ham sandwich after training. It's really more effective than brown bread that takes much longer to digest and wouldn't regenerate the muscles that quickly at all.
The baguette is fine in the case of athletes, but if we'll feed small children with an excessive amount of bran, it won't be easy for their digestive tract. Therefore it's not necessary to feed children with wholegrain foods.
It also depends on what is actually whole grain. Often times the package says cereal, but it doesn't mean anything. It just means that it's made from some grain, but that's practically all bread. I wouldn't forbid neither one of them.
Let's move on to the freezing principles. If I end up buying too much meat and can't use it all, can I freeze some of it again?
There's one way to do this. It's possible to freeze it immediately after defrosting. In that case, the meat doesn't have enough time for the bacteria to multiply and even though it's not ideal, it is possible. If I defrost more chicken thighs than necessary, I quickly return the remaining ones to the freezer.
However, it's only possible if we've defrosted the meat in the fridge. As long as we're defrosting it outside of the fridge, somewhere on the kitchen counter, it shouldn't be repeatedly frozen under any circumstance. The freezing prevents the multiplication of bacteria, but they remain inside, so they reappear after defrosting.
Does room temperature defrosting of meat cause more bacteria to multiply?
Definitely, that's why I'm saying that meat should always be defrosted in the fridge. If we're defrosting at room temperature, the bacteria inside the meat can start to multiply quickly and we can become infected with salmonella or something like that. This can be life-threatening for young children. It also depends if we're defrosting it in the summer or winter, but in any case, it's better to defrost in the refrigerator.
Is it necessary to let the food cool down before putting it in the refrigerator? Is there a rule for that?
There is such a rule, because the amount of time when bacteria starts to multiply in food has been researched. It's a two-hour rule. So if we cook something and leave the meal outside, we should leave it out for two hours maximum.
Of course, if we cook five litres of goulash, it won't cool down in two hours. In that case it's better to pour the goulash into smaller containers to cool it down faster. When the refrigerator gets warmed up with a 80-degree goulash is also not the best of course, cause the meat can get spoiled faster, for example.
Do we need to rinse the meat before cooking?
No, meat does not need to be washed. As soon as we rinse the meat, there's a chance for contamination of the sink, counters or the splashes of water will have bacteria multiplying in the aerosol bubbles. If we're not eating the meat raw, but we're heating it, the bacteria is destroyed within 10 minutes, if the temperature inside reaches more than 70 degrees. Of course, it's impossible to destroy bacteria with water, because ordinary water isn't even capable of that on its own.
Some prefer frying, some grilling. Is one of these meat preparation forms healthier?
It depends on the method, because if we're using good oils for frying, such as ghee, coconut oil or homemade fat, then frying shouldn't be such a problem. Carcinogens are formed mainly in those oils which shouldn't be used for frying in the first place, such as the ordinary sunflower or rapeseed oil.
If we are frying at an extremely high temperature, we might burn those fats and that is not ideal either. Frying produces the cancer-causing substance acrylamide that is found mainly in carbohydrate foods. These are french fries, for example. The darker they are, the more acrylamide they contain.
And what about grilling?
Grilling produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines. Both substances are carcinogenic and those hydrocarbons are also found in cigarette smoke. If we grill directly over fire, the juice with fat drips onto the coals, these substances are formed and they rise in the form of smoke, back into the meat. If we're grilling on a tray, or we're grilling foods that don't contain a lot of fat, such as mushrooms or vegetables, the quantity of these substances is a lot smaller.
To this day, we keep hearing the rule that a person shouldn't eat a lot of eggs in a day. Apparently they contain a lot of cholesterol and are difficult for the body.
Whenever we go to extremes, our body will be affected. But if a crocodile eats five nests full of eggs in a day, he won't die from high cholesterol the next day. Eggs contain lecithin that helps with body cholesterol regulation. Although they contain cholesterol, they also reduce it to some extent.
The notion that daily cholesterol intake affects cholesterol levels is outdated and incorrect. Our body produces cholesterol largely on its own, liver produces 75 percent of it and we would die without cholesterol. It is found in every cell, we need it for vitamin D and testosterone production.
What about fats. Do people still think that by consuming foods high in fat, such as avocado, they'll automatically gain weight and increase their subcutaneous fat?
This is one of the myths that's been stuck in our minds for a very long time. All of this fat demonization has occured when fat calories were found to be much higher than calories in sugar or protein. So it was claimed that fats are bad. At the same time, we are unable to directly gain fat in our body from fat consumption.
It is way more simple for our bodies to make fat from sugar, because sugar is converted into fat much easier. Fat simply doesn't convert into subcutaneous fat. We can divide it into several categories. We know about saturated fats, or 3-6-9 fatty acids. Avocados contain omega-9 fatty acids and these should make up about 50 percent of our daily intake.
We take relevant fats from avocados. It's the kind of fat that we need and it even lowers cholesterol, benefits us and has anti-inflammatory effect. Fats need to be categorized. We must pay attention to the necessary intake ratios and realize that we can't only get them from coconut oil, but also some fish, seeds, nuts, avocados or olive oil.
We can cause a lot of harm to ourselves if we eliminate fats from our diet altogether. I know some women that had switched to low-fat diet, which has messed up their hormones and their whole body real badly. They have lost their menstruation and they still can't get back on their normal cycles.
Does it make sense to only drink low-fat milk instead of whole milk?
Low-fat milk makes a difference in the amount of calories, but also in nutritional value. For example, whole milk or semi-skimmed milk contains more vitamins. I'm not a supporter of low-fat products, because I don't think it's an appropriate or tasty way to aid weight loss. I'd rather divide fats into whole foods, not artificially de-fatted foods.
A new phenomenon has appeared on Facebook. People add pictures of their expired foods and ask others whether it's safe to eat them. If the food smells good and looks good, is it safe to eat it, even if it's already past the expiration date?
There's a lot of things that are invisible to the naked eye. If we have a cod at home that's been expired for 2 weeks, and it looks fine, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's okay to eat it. The worst case scenario is food poisoning. Many of us don't have a laboratory at home to examine all of the potential threats that could occur. It should also be noted that some fungi is invisible to the naked eye, therefore I wouldn't risk it with foods such as meat or fish.
What if I find mold on the surface, remove it and no longer see any mold underneath? Can I eat the rest of it? Or is it possible that microscopic mold could enter the layers underneath it in a way that we can't see?
The softer and more watery the food, the greater the risk. Yoghurts, jams, soft cheeses, pastry and especially meat. Molds can grow through the whole food item without us being able to spot it visually.
On the other hand, the harder and dryer the food, the less risk should be posed. If we have a piece of parmesan cheese that is moldy on the surface, we can cut away the mold plus a few centimeters and there is a good chance that it didn't reach the deeper layers.
Some of the most durable foods include pasta and rice. Can I eat them indefinitely?
Hard to say. It depends on how long we store the item. If we store it in ideal conditions, in a dark dry place, and not in an environment where we'd encourage increase of bacteria and fungi, these foods can last us a very long time.
I've read that we can eat rice up to 2 - 3 years after expiration date, but it won't be so tasty. It shouldn't be inedible, though. Pasta can be eaten a year or two after expiration. Of course, we can't eat these foods indefinitely, so no one can guarantee invisible mold forming over the years.
In childhood, many of us encountered the rule not to put a licked teaspoon into a jam jar, because the jam will get spoiled. Is it really true?
This rule applies particularly to wet foods. If we scoop up sugar with a licked spoon, the risk is lower, because sugar is difficult to spoil and there is very low moisture in it. The more moisture, the higher the risk of the spread of bacteria. Therefore, we shouldn't stick a licked spoon into jams or yoghurts.
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