25 Health Myths You Need To Stop Believing
There's a ton of misinformation out there about how you should be eating and working out.
Few areas of life are as full of misinformation and fudged facts as personal health. It's an arena where the coldly scientific and the deeply emotional overlap, so it's not surprising that some things would get misstated or misrepresented. Add in the millions of dollars that can be made with a headline-worthy new diet fad, and it's inevitable that we'd hear some questionable tips and alternative facts concerning diet and exercise. To help you separate fact from fiction, we consulted a number of health experts about some of the most common health myths.
Myth: Cholesterol is bad for you.
Fact: Not all cholesterol is bad for your body. "The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA 'total cholesterol') isn't nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood," explains Lynne Wadsworth, a holistic health coach and founder of Holistic Health & Wellness, LLC. While too much LDL cholesterol may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease, HDL cholesterol—the good kind—helps keep your LDL levels in check and therefore helps maintain your heart health, as the American Heart Association explains.
Myth: Egg yolks are bad for you.
Fact: "Egg yolks are recommended for everyone unless allergic—even people with heart disease," says family physician Mashfika Alam, a doctor with online health consultancy platform iCliniq. "They are loaded with HDL, which is a good cholesterol and actually counteracts the effects of bad cholesterol."
Myth: "Starving yourself" can be effective for weight loss.
Fact: Starving yourself may seem like an effective strategy for losing lots of pounds quickly. In reality, though, a radical shift in your eating—even if it leads to a caloric deficit—can have the opposite effect.
"Eating too little or starving yourself is a very bad idea, and it actually leads to rebound weight gain," says Alam. "Eat a balanced-out, low-calorie diet—that will help you to lose weight."
Myth: A "detox" is the best way to jumpstart weight loss.
Fact: While the purging of toxins via a cleanse or detox may seem like it would be a healthy thing, these "weight loss" methods don't actually have all that many health benefits. "Our kidneys and liver take care of removing the toxins that are in our bodies, so unless you have problems with these organs, there is not going to be some type of big build-up," explains Julie Lohre, a certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist.
And even if you do experience weight loss during a detox, it's not likely to last. "Most regiments used in a typical detox dehydrate the body and can cause bowel issues like diarrhea, so the weight loss you see within a few days is typically just from the loss of water." Instead of a detox, Lohre suggests simply drinking more water and consuming more vegetables.
Myth: The bigger you are, the less healthy you are.
Fact: Though we often associate a person's weight with their health, registered psychologist Angela Grace notes that the two aren't always connected. "We need to stop focusing on weight and instead focus on genetic predisposition combined with positive health behaviors."
What's more, Grace notes that when we stigmatize being bigger, we put overweight individuals at a greater risk of mental health issues. Being on the receiving end of weight-related stigma causes more devastating mental health concerns than actually having more flesh on one's body: "Feeling fat is worse than being fat," Grace says.
Myth: Coffee can stunt childhood development.
Fact: "The basis of this myth stems from the idea that caffeine in coffee can be the cause of osteoporosis, a vitamin D deficiency that makes the bones fragile. However, after numerous studies, no conclusive findings have been made to suggest a relationship between coffee consumption and impaired growth," says Kristen Scheney, a nutrition expert with CCS Medical. When it comes to kids drinking coffee, the only thing you have to worry about is excess caffeine leading to disrupted sleep or heightened anxiety levels.
Myth: Bottled water is better for you than tap water.
Fact: Bottled water companies may tout the health benefits of their product, and conspiracy theorists may warn you about the fluoride the government adds to tap water, but the fact of the matter is, save for the occasional disaster like that in Flint, Michigan, tap water in most municipalities is totally safe and healthy.
"Most municipal water is quite safe and, if palatable, can be taken directly from the tap. It often contains useful minerals, magnesium, and calcium," explains Morton Tavel, MD, author of Health Tips, Myths and Tricks: A Physician's Advice. Plus, Tavel explains that drinking tap water can eliminate expenses and help the environment immensely. Ignore this health myth—drinking tap water is a win all around!
Myth: Cracking your knuckles will lead to arthritis.
Fact: Though cracking your knuckles may result in people not wanting to sit near you for a prolonged period of time, it's not going to give you early-onset arthritis, as some might have you believing. "The 'crack' is simply the popping of bubbles in the fluid that lubricates the hands, known as synovial fluid," says Scheney.
However, while this practice does not cause arthritis, Scheney warns that it can cause other negative side effects. "It can lead to reduced grip strength and swelling in the hands," she notes.
Myth: The best indicator of a workout's intensity is a heart rate monitor.
Fact: While your heart rate is an important indicator of how intense your workout is, you might not want to put your faith in what a machine or monitor tells you. "The finger pulse is not as accurate as an arterial pulse, so only use the machine heart rate reading as a guide," says Meghan Kennihan, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. "If you want a true indicator of your intensity, wear a heart rate monitor that straps around your chest."
Myth: 10,000 steps is the magic number when it comes to activity levels.
Fact: Anyone who uses a FitBit or similar step-tracking device has likely gotten used to setting "10,000 steps" as their goal for any given day. But "10,000 steps, like 8 glasses of water, was an arbitrary guideline written by one person who calculated how many calories walking 10,000 steps burned and determined that was a good number," Janis Isaman, owner of Calgary-based My Body Couture, explains. She points to 2004 research published in Sports Medicine that classifies 10,000 steps per day as "active" only in "apparently healthy adults." For older individuals as well as those living with a chronic disease, more steps are required in order to be considered active.
Myth: Doing crunches alone is a surefire way to get a six pack.
Fact: "Building core strength with a specific ab exercise is great, but if you maintain a layer of body fat over those abdominals, you will never see your six pack," says Lohre. "If you really want a tight and defined core, combine strengthening exercises with a super clean nutrition plan that balances veggies, protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats."
Myth: Chocolate is an aphrodisiac.
Fact: A box of chocolates is always a good idea on Valentine's Day. However, any stimulating effects that gift may have has nothing to do with the chocolate itself. As the Mayo Clinic explains, "research has shown [chocolate] to be largely ineffective at producing a sexual response in either men or women."
Myth: Chocolate causes acne.
Fact: Chocolate is all too often blamed for people's pimples. But in a pivotal 1969 study, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine studied the skin-altering effects of chocolate on 65 subjects, and found that those who ate bars with 10 times the typical amount of chocolate in them looked no different than those who ate bars containing no chocolate at all.
Myth: The flu shot gives you the flu.
Fact: Flu vaccines are made with either a weakened or inactive strain of the flu virus, or no virus at all. "This means you will not get the flu from getting a shot," explains Chad Masters, regional medical director of MedExpress Urgent Care.
"There may be some minor side effects, however. The most common are soreness, redness, swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever, headache, and muscle aches. It's easy for some to confuse these symptoms with the flu, which is why this myth may persist, but they are side effects that go away rather quickly."
Myth: Starve a fever, feed a cold.
Fact: Speaking of the flu, Masters adds that the old aphorism "starve a fever, feed a cold" is nonsense. "With rare exception, one of the best things to do when you have a fever is to maintain a regular diet as best as you can," he says. "Even though you may not feel like eating, your body actually requires more calories when you're sick so that it can heal properly and quickly."
Myth: Cold, wet weather can cause a cold.
Fact: "I tell my patients that the only way you can get sick is from infections caused by bacteria or viruses," says Masters. "However, mom and dad weren't completely wrong when they told you to put on a hat before venturing outside with wet hair. Water carries heat away from the body much faster than air does, so you lose heat more quickly when you or the clothing you're wearing is wet. And when you lose heat quickly, you're more at risk for hypothermia and frostbite."
Myth: Sunblock is only needed when the sun's out.
Fact: "No matter what the weather is like, you should be diligent about applying sun protection all year round," says Joel Schlessinger, a board-certified dermatologist and contributor to RealSelf. "Each morning you should be applying a broad spectrum sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin and reapplying your sun protection at least every two hours."
Myth: Loofahs are a great way to get clean in the shower.
Fact: Your loofah probably isn't as clean as you think it is. "Loofahs can harbor bacteria, mold, and yeast, among other harmful things," says Schlessinger. "Make sure you allow your loofah to dry completely each time and replace it frequently."
The same goes for washcloths. "If you cleanse with a washcloth, grab a fresh one every day and don't use it on your face," advises Schlessinger. "This is very irritating to the skin and ends up causing dry areas, breakouts, and even sores."
Myth: Diet fads are a healthy way to lose weight.
Fact: While the latest diet fad might make headlines and gain an army of evangelizers seemingly overnight, that doesn't mean it's actually good for you. "If [diets] are used as a quick fix for weight loss, they can become obsessive and lead people down the path of eating disorders," warns Grace. "Severely restricting food for weight loss, which is often touted by the diet and fitness industry, can be harmful and trigger disordered eating."
She emphasizes that it is important to use food "for fuel" and "not to restrict important nutrients" in order to attain a certain look. "We have to remember that new research is coming out that our bodies need high quality fat, which 20 years ago were touted as the 'enemy' and caused a host of health issues in otherwise healthy people," Grace adds.
Myth: If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want.
Fact: When you hear stories of the 10,000-calorie diets that some professional athletes follow, it can seem like an active, calorie-burning lifestyle removes the need to pay attention to what you eat. However, "this could not be further from the truth," says Kennihan. "Our individual metabolism determines how many calories we burn at rest and while we exercise. If we eat more calories than we burn on a consistent basis, our bodies will accumulate these extra calories as fat—regardless of the amount of exercise that we do."
Myth: You should remove sugar entirely from your diet.
Fact: Becky Kerkenbush, a clinical dietician at Wisconsin's Watertown Regional Medical Center, says she often has patients tell her that they avoid sugar because it is bad for them. "They don't realize that there are different types of sugar, [and] that natural sugar can be found in fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and grains," she explains.
When patients approach her about a "low-sugar" diet, Kerkenbush says that she emphasizes limiting sugar intake rather than eliminating it altogether. "A teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams of sugar. If a cereal has 12 grams of sugar, that is equal to 3 teaspoons. Now imagine a 10-ounce can of soda with 40 grams of sugar—that's 10 teaspoons of sugar!" she explains.
Myth: Gluten is bad.
Fact: "The gluten-free diet is only healthier for people with gluten-related disorders such as celiac disease or gluten intolerance," says Kimberly Hershenson, a New York City-based therapist who specializes in eating disorders. "Individuals who have celiac disease require a gluten-free diet because gluten causes an adverse reaction in the body that damages the intestines and can lead to serious health problems."
And ultimately, most gluten-free alternatives aren't much healthier than their regular counterparts. This gluten-free flour, for instance, contains 25 grams of carbohydrates per 1/4 cup serving, while this regular one contains only 22 grams for the same serving size. The gluten-free option has even more carbs!
Myth: You need to work out at least one hour a day in order to be healthy.
Fact: "Regular exercise has great health benefits, but fitting in a workout every single day is not often feasible or even recommended," says Hershenson. "Everyone needs a rest day to let the body recover. Additionally, any activity is good activity, even if it's a 15-minute walk. Don't cheat your body out of moving a bit because you think you don't have enough time for a full workout."
Myth: Weight training is guaranteed to make you look bulky.
Fact: Women tend to worry about pumping too much iron and bulking up. However, personal trainer Kennihan says there's no need to worry.
"Due to the fact that women do not, and cannot, naturally produce as much testosterone as males do, it is impossible for a woman to gain huge amounts of muscle mass by merely touching some weights," she explains. "Women who conduct weight training without the use of steroids get the firm and fit cellulite-free looking body that you see in most fitness/figure shows these days."
Myth: If you stop weight training, muscle turns into fat.
Fact: "Muscle and fat are two totally different types of tissue," says Kennihan. "What happens many times is that when people decide to go off their weight-training programs, they start losing muscle due to inactivity and they also usually stop their healthy diet."
Bad eating habits combined with a lower metabolism due to inactivity and reduced muscle mass give the impression that a person's muscle is being turned into fat. In reality though, "what is happening is that muscle is being lost and fat is being accumulated," Kennihan explains.