Reliable health advice is hard to come by these days. Every influencer on Instagram is touting a different new diet, and it seems like the science can’t agree on anything when it comes to eating well. Low-fat? Low-carb? What’s a person supposed to eat?
Some of the wellness mantras make a lot of sense — like “Eat the rainbow!” or “Drink lots of water!” But others are seriously overhyped. And a lot of the beliefs people hold about health and wellness are somewhat misinformed. Here are some of the popular health myths it’s time you stopped believing.
You’ve probably heard the myth that eggs are bad for your heart because the yolks have cholesterol. But it’s not that simple. Cholesterol is a complicated equation — and while eating more than a couple of eggs each day could have an effect on your cholesterol count, research shows that eating one or two eggs a day won’t do harm. In fact, some evidence shows that eggs could be helpful for your cholesterol count. In fact, there are many reasons to eat an egg every day.
You might feel like you get sick more often when it’s cold outside. But the weather might not be to blame. When you get sick, it’s because you’ve been infected by either a cold or flu virus. Both of these strains peak in the winter — increasing your likelihood of infection. Rhinoviruses, responsible for the common cold, replicate better at cooler temperatures. Flu viruses may not replicate more efficiently at colder temperatures, but flu season does happen to fall during colder months. Some theories also say that people get sick more often in winter simply because they spend more time indoors in close quarters, where illness is more likely to spread. So go ahead and stay away from window drafts and avoid going outside with wet hair for comfort’s sake — it just won’t necessarily protect you from germs.
You might think that “eat less, exercise more” is the basic formula behind weight loss. But science shows that’s just not true. In fact, lasting weight loss of any kind through dieting doesn’t seem to hold up in the research. “There is no research that suggests more than a very small number of people are able to sustain significant weight loss long term,” said registered dietitian and intuitive eating counselor Rachael Hartley. “More commonly, attempts at losing weight through dieting result in weight gain through what we often refer to as yo-yo dieting, as 60 percent of people gain back more weight than what they initially lost.” One study that supports this idea gathered data from 2,000 sets of twins. “One twin ate intuitively and the other took part intentional weight loss activities such as eating less,” said registered dietitian Beth Rosen of Goodness Gracious Living Nutrition. “Intentional weight loss activities such as restricting intake led to weight gain in the dieting twin over time.”
While a multivitamin may be a good way to supplement some missing vitamins from your diet, you shouldn’t rely on it entirely. Vitamins and supplements are not regulated carefully by the Food and Drug Administration, meaning that the amounts listed on the bottle may not accurately represent the contents of each pill (or gummy). But don’t worry. If you eat a diet filled with a variety of nutrient-dense foods, you may not need a multivitamin at all. The vitamins and minerals found in these pills naturally occur in healthy foods you probably are already eating.
You might feel like you’re addicted to sugar, but you’re not. The headlines comparing sugar addiction to the intensity of an addiction to heroin or cocaine are somewhat misguided. “Our brains are wired with a reward system that is integral to our survival,” said Beth Rosen. Our brains release dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel happy, when we eat food. This helps us feel motivated to eat. “The hungrier we are, the more dopamine is triggered when eating in order to motivate us further to eat,” Rosen explained. “When we diet, restrict eating, or ignore our hunger, the pleasurable feeling we get when we finally eat is, therefore, stronger.” In other words, the intensity of the dopamine response to sugar is heightened by trying to cut sugar out. “The current diet trend is to restrict carbohydrates and sugar, so it makes sense that we have a stronger reward signal when we break the restriction,” Rosen said.
The idea that you need to “detox” your body — especially as a response to eating indulgent foods — is completely unfounded. Your body has its own detoxifying mechanisms. Your kidneys and liver detoxify your bloodstream on their own, filtering certain compounds from your blood and ridding them from your body — without the help of a special juice or diet. And many of these diets, including juice cleanses or short-term crash diets, can deprive your body of the nutrients it needs to work effectively.
The myth goes that eating late at night is worse for you because you don’t use as much energy while you sleep. But based on research, the body doesn’t appear to process food that way. Studies have found no relation between weight gain and the time of day that food is consumed — though at least one study did find that people who eat late at night tend to eat more overall. A study from England showed that children who eat dinner past 8 p.m. did not appear to have any significant weight difference compared to children who ate earlier.
You can slave away at a program promising rock-hard abs for as long as you want. It might work! But it also might not. Any program promising toned abs is pulling your leg. There’s no way to guarantee aesthetic results either way. You see, genetics play a large role in the shape and appearance of a person’s body. While some people are genetically predisposed to support lower amounts of body fat that would enable a toned stomach, others are not. Instead of exercising with an aesthetic goal in mind — like a six-pack or a certain number on the scale — instead focus on other aspirations such as the ability to perform certain tasks or build endurance and stamina. Focusing on how you look might actually be sabotaging your fitness goals, according to science.
Your grandmother probably recited this old adage every time you got sick as a kid. But it’s not actually founded on any real science. More accurately, the phrase would be: Feed a cold, feed a fever. Because nutrition is helpful in terms of both. It takes energy to fight off infection — energy that comes from calories in food. When you’re hungry and in need of nutrients, your body won’t work as efficiently. Next time you get the sniffles, make sure to eat healthy foods to support your immune system, fever or not. And make sure to load up on fluids, too — these drinks are some of the best options for when you have a cold or the flu.
There’s this idea that certain sugars are healthy while others are not — that eating “natural” sugars from fruit affects your body differently than eating refined sugars. And sure, eating a strawberry and eating a cookie are going to be different. But it’s not because the strawberry has a different type of sugar. “Sugar is broken down into glucose for your body to use as fuel,” explained Kimmie Singh, a dietetic intern with an MS in nutrition. “Your body does not discriminate based on what food the glucose came from, whether it is from a brownie or a bowl of brown rice.” The difference between the strawberry and the cookie is due to what else is in those foods. A strawberry has nutrients such as fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Meanwhile, a cookie has nutrients such as saturated fats, sodium, and carbohydrates.
Weight is not the determinant of health many believe it to be. “Except for at statistical extremes (both high and low), body size and weight is only loosely correlated with health,” said registered dietitian and intuitive eating counselor Rachael Hartley. “Most studies actually indicate that people whose BMI falls in the ‘overweight’ category have the lowest risk of chronic disease and greatest longevity. It makes you wonder why people are termed ‘overweight’ when statistically they have the best health!” In fact, Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, nutrition therapist and founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, said, “Studies have found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as ‘obese’ are metabolically healthy. They show no signs of elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance or high cholesterol. Meanwhile, about one-quarter of people with ‘normal’ BMI’s have diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.”
Contrary to what your fitness tracker might tell you, nothing magical happens to your body when your step count hits 10,000. The number was devised by a Japanese pedometer company as a marketing stunt to promote their device and has stuck around ever since. Is walking good for you? Yes. Do 9,999 steps fail to provide walking’s many health benefits? No.
There’s a lot of talk about eliminating sugar because it’s “bad for you.” However, that may be oversimplifying things a bit. “Certainly there have been health risks associated with excessive sugar consumption,” said registered dietitian and intuitive eating counselor Rachael Hartley. “But trying not to eat sugar almost always results in eating more sugar, anyway!” Additionally, thinking of eating sugar as unhealthy is using an oversimplified definition of health. “While there isn’t necessarily a biological need for sugar, there also isn’t a biological need for vacations, massages, or watching a movie,” Hartley said. “Like sugar and sweets, these are things that make life more pleasurable, and bring happiness to our lives — and that is healthy!”
There are many myths about gluten, but this is perhaps the most common — that gluten-free products are healthier than foods with gluten. But many gluten-free versions of otherwise glutenous foods (such as pasta, bread, and baked goods) are filled with more sugar and sodium and are actually more processed. Additionally, gluten isn’t a harmful substance in itself, unless the person eating the gluten has celiac disease, an allergy, or intolerance.
Many people assume that since carb-heavy foods such as bread, pasta, and baked goods are considered “bad for you,” eating them will automatically contribute to weight gain. But that just isn’t true. Your metabolism is a complex thing and your body knows what to do with the carbs you eat. “Your body relies on carbohydrates for fuel. Carbohydrates fuel your brain, red blood cells, and muscles,” explained dietetic intern Kimmie Singh. “Your body knows how to store carbohydrates as stored fuel for later. This allows your body to fuel itself between meals and during exercise. When you drastically reduce your carb intake, your body has compensatory ways to get fuel.” Additionally, research shows that excess calories consumed through carbs don’t result in greater weight gain than excess calories consumed through other nutrients, such as fats.
While it is true that certain diseases are correlated with higher weights, the weight itself might not be to blame. “Correlation is not causation. Research has shown weight cycling, the yo-yoing that occurs when a person diets then regains weight, may account for almost all of the additional risks associated with being at a higher weight,” Hartley explained. “Other studies have looked at how experiencing weight stigma and discrimination affect health and access to healthcare. For example, if someone is lectured about weight every time they go to see their doctor, even for something as simple as a sore throat, they are less likely to go to regular check-ups or seek treatment for early symptoms of something that could be serious.” So what does cause these health problems, if not weight? “What indicates a person’s actual health status is their metabolic health,” said Rosen of Goodness Gracious Living Nutrition. “Metabolic health is the optimal functioning of your cells and organs, as indicated by blood tests, urine tests, physical examinations, and blood pressure testing. These measurements determine your risk for chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.” In fact, Rosen points out, people of all sizes and weights have diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. “There is not one disease that only impacts people in larger bodies,” Rosen said.
Hydration is definitely important. And if drinking eight glasses of water holds you accountable for staying hydrated, then by all means, continue counting. But there is no magic number of glasses that constitutes “enough” water for a day. It likely varies by day, differing based on factors such as your environment, age, size, and activity level. Here’s how much water you really need to drink each day, according to nutritionists.
Your workout doesn’t have to hurt to be beneficial — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. While soreness and general feelings of exertion are normal while getting through a challenging workout, sharp pains are not. Pain is generally an indication that something is going wrong. Ignoring pain could cause an injury. Make sure that you’re using correct form and not overdoing it at the gym in order to prevent an injury — and pain — from happening.
Eating too much salt on a regular basis will cost you. Foods with a lot of sodium can negatively impact your blood pressure and put your heart at risk. It’s true that most Americans eat too much salt — either due to an excess consumption of processed foods or other salty options. However, salt in and of itself isn’t bad for you. In fact, cutting it out entirely could actually be harmful. You need a moderate amount of salt in your diet to remain healthy. Here are some reasons that salt is actually really good for you.
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