Food myths: The good, the bad, the delicious

When I was young, I was told that cholesterol-rich foods were bad, saturated fats were dire, margarine was superior to butter, and a daily multivitamin was best. Oh, and eight glasses of water a day was a must.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped listening to such counsel - if only because I enjoyed eggs and butter too much - and with good reason it seems. Today, there is plenty of evidence to show all those recommendations were mistaken.

Here's the lowdown.

1. Cholesterol is not the enemy.

Earlier this year, the US government's top nutrition advisory panel, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, said cholesterol was no longer "of concern". This is a huge turnaround. For 40 years, they warned against high cholesterol foods.

My father-in-law has shunned eggs for years. Blood cholesterol, which is present in every cell and comprises the "good" and "bad" types, is complex. Some scientists now argue inflammation is the cause of heart disease and have speculated the cholesterol myth was pushed by business interests.

The market for anti-cholesterol drugs runs into tens of billions of dollars.

2. Fat makes you fat!

Isn't it obvious? Well, not quite. Fats can be good, very good. Consider olive oil. Or nuts, seeds and avocados. Actually, the body needs healthy fats, but it doesn't need carbohydrates.

Recent studies have shown that eating saturated fats, present in meats, butter, coconut and oil, may not be so bad in moderation.

Despite this, the low-fat madness continues. I would never buy low-fat milk for my children - it's stripped of fat, but also of goodness, more processed and often reconstituted here.

3. Butter is back!

Sales of margarine, once promoted as a heart-healthy alternative to butter, have slipped after the discovery of the dangers of trans fats (partially hydrogenated, man-made oils). Some margarines no longer contain trans fats, but others still do, so it's hard to assess their value.

In general, I'd give processed, additive-loaded foods the thumbs down.

Butter, conversely, has been used for centuries. And of course, views on saturated fats are changing.

4. Vitamin supplements aren't necessary, and may even cause more damage than good.

Countless studies have shown this, and top medical experts have now spoken strongly on the subject.

I'd wager you can ignore most studies about new miracle supplements.

The trouble with studies on this or that nutrient is they take one component out of context, and the context of course is a varied diet and a synergy of foods.

Of course we need vitamins, but do we need supplements if you're not ill and eating an average diet? No.

5. Water - we must have lots of it yes?

Actually, that 8oz, eight glasses per day recommendation had no scientific backing.

It was simply made up. Researchers can't pinpoint where exactly it came from; some believe it originated from a US nutrition board in 1945.

Our thirst function is actually pretty good. Some people may need more water than others; diet, sweating and exercise are also factors.

The damage for all this bad advice is pretty colossal.

Consider: the low-fat craze has led to processed foods low on fats but high in sugar and additive contents. It's even been blamed for the obesity epidemic in the United States. Here is the irony - low-fat products don't help us control weight.

The real "enemy" is sugar. There's a reason why we have a national and global obesity problem. Sugar. Processed food and a lack of exercise are certainly factors too, but the sugar is omnipresent. Try eating out for a day without it.

Even curries and roti canai have added sugar sometimes.

Now, I wonder if my father-in-law will eat my special egg fried rice …