We’ve all heard or read them. Grand pronouncements over what foods are sure to be the cause of disease or others that are sure to be the cure-all. Then a few years (or decades) later, actual studies and population data prove it all wrong. First eggs were bad, then they were good. Ditto chocolate, coffee, tea and wine. Others were thought to be good, until they were proven otherwise. Think of sugar substitutes throughout the years. Remember the fifteen minutes of fame Olestra had?
Some of these myths persist beyond what should be their lifespan. Sometimes because the myths seem logical or intuitive, as in the case of calorie-free sugar and fat substitutes being better for us than real sugar and fat. Sometimes, unfortunately, false myths stay alive because they’re kept alive by those with vested interests. From food manufacturers and agricultural groups to animal rights and environmental organizations, both sides of this wide spectrum wield a great deal of resources and political sway. If it’s wrong for cattle ranchers to manipulate data to convince the public that beef is a health food in order to get people to eat more of it, then it’s equally wrong for environmental groups to manipulate data to convince the public that beef causes disease in order to get people to eat less of it.
Food and exercise and their effects on our bodies, good or bad, are very complex and we’re far from knowing all the answers. But, every study gives us more clues to discover the truth. Knowledge is expected to evolve over time. Sometimes the experts will be right and sometimes they’ll be wrong. But, it’s important for us to know when they’re wrong even if the truth goes against our preconceived notions about what is and isn’t healthy or conflicts with our individual biases that guide our choices about diet and exercise. Behold, five health myths that just won’t die:
I could write a book on this but Nina Teicholz already has. Suffice it to say that avocado, coconut and dairy – all of which are sources of saturated fat – show evidence of doing more good than bad inside our bodies.
In the meantime, more studies are showing that some diseases we used to attribute to saturated fat consumption may be due to an imbalance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids. Put simply, we don’t get enough Omega-3s (polyunsaturated fats found in fish) and we get too much Omega-6s (polyunsaturated fats found in plant oils/seeds, packaged snack foods, processed meats, and butter/meat from grain-fed beef).
Despite this evidence, government agencies continue to advise a very low saturated fat consumption, no limits on Omega-6s and no suggestion to increase Omega-3s.
2) Detoxes & Cleanses are Healthy
The liver is the organ that naturally cleanses our bodies of toxins. The remainder of our lower digestive system does the rest. If you have a liver that isn’t working properly, a cleanse isn’t going to fix it and you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Detox. The truth is, cleanses are a waste of time, money and effort and could be harmful.
3) Juicing is Healthy
While it’s true most Americans don’t consume nearly enough fruits and vegetables for optimal health, juicing may not be the answer. The main reason has to do with fiber. While fiber isn’t technically a nutrient, it is treated as such because it’s vital to a healthy digestive system. The other important feature dietary fiber provides is satiety. It helps us feel fuller and lessens the chance we’ll overeat. Juicing strips the fiber out of produce. Save time and money, eat your fruits and veggies, don’t drink them.
Gluten is the protein portion of wheat, rye and barley. For the small percentage of the population who have Celiac disease or a gluten allergy or intolerance, gluten must be avoided. For the rest of us, it’s perfectly safe and healthy. Avoiding gluten unnecessarily puts one at risk of B vitamin and iron deficiencies and makes it more difficult to consume enough daily fiber.
5) Height & Weight Charts Determine Health
The most common chart most doctors still use to determine a patient’s health is the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI uses a ratio of height and weight to place a person into one of four categories: underweight, normal, overweight and obese. The problem is, people with certain body types can routinely be placed in the wrong category. Studies comparing test subjects’ BMI over a period of years show that the chart is very poor at predicting an individual’s mortality and disease risk. Furthermore, more studies are showing that overweight and active is healthier than thin and inactive.
A better measure of fitness is waist-to-hip ratio (waist circumference/hip circumference). Rather than aiming to decrease the number on the scale, aim to decrease waist circumference by eating properly portioned, healthy foods at least 80% of the time, increasing your total daily steps and decreasing total minutes sitting each day.
Maybe these myth-busters fit exactly with your preferences. Or maybe they’d be easier to accept if the myths turned out to be backed by science. Chances are, these revelations tend to be a mixed bag for most of us. Remember, it’s always better to be informed than uninformed. Only with all the facts at hand can we make the best choices for ourselves and our families.