Health Myth Debunking: What Should I Believe?
In my last blog, I talked about making New Year’s resolutions. As can probably be guessed, health and fitness are some of the top themes for formulating these personal goals. Still, what exactly does it mean to “be healthy”? Is what is “healthy” for me also “healthy” for my neighbor? With the proliferation of media surrounding health and fitness, what should I believe? IT’S ALL SO CONFUSING!
We know. And that is why we’re here to help: let us here at 6AM Health help you debunk some commonly held health myths!
1. All fat is bad.
Wrong. Believe it or not, your body needs fat. While you should avoid trans fats and limit saturated fats, unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats are good for you! Fat stores in our bodies are used for energy, cushioning, and warmth, and some dietary fat is even necessary for your body to absorb specific fat-soluble vitamins. In short, these monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health! Count me in!
Monounsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in olive, peanut, and canola oils, avocados, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans), and seeds (pumpkin and sesame). Polyunsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, walnuts, flax seeds, and fish. Omega-3 fats are an essential type of polyunsaturated fat. Our bodies cannot make these, so they must come from food. Eating fish 2-3 times a week is an excellent way to get these omega-3 fats. Good plant sources of omega-3 fats include flax seeds, walnuts, and canola or soybean oil.
Empirical Evidence: A randomized trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart) showed replacing a carbohydrate-rich diet with one rich in unsaturated fat lowers blood pressure, improves lipid levels, and reduces estimated cardiovascular risk (source).
2. Eating before bed makes you overweight.
Wrong. There is no magic hour you should stop eating before bed. What is true is that we happen to eat more junk food in the evenings. You may be likely to choose unhealthy, calorie-dense foods with little nutritional value at night, such as chips, soda, and ice-cream. When it comes to weight loss (if that is your goal), what you eat matters more than when you eat. If you are eating within your daily calorie needs, you won’t gain weight simply by eating at night.
However, what research has shown is that not sleeping enough can impact both hunger and weight gain. Thus, it might be worth thinking through why we are looking for food (and what we are looking for) when night falls.
Here are some lower-calorie high nutritional value foods to try at night: carrot and celery sticks with hummus, apple slices with nut butter, air-popped popcorn, frozen grapes.
Empirical Evidence: Researchers from Wake Forest University found that people who slept 5 hours or less each night gained nearly 2.5 times more abdominal fat than those who logged 6 to 7 hours (source).
3. Chocolate causes acne.
Wrong. While chocolate may not be good (all the time) for overall health, there is no evidence that chocolate itself causes acne. Yes, that means that occasionally eating a chocolate bar, or two or three, or, well, you get it, will not cause pimples.
What should you be on the lookout for? There is research to support the idea that dairy can irritate or cause acne for some people. Most evidence-based studies agree that acne can be irritated by dairy, but researchers are unsure of its underlying condition. They know that whey and casein, the proteins in milk, stimulate growth and hormones in calves. When we digest these proteins, they release a hormone similar to insulin, called IGF-1, that is known to trigger breakouts.
Empirical Evidence: 65 subjects were provided with candy bars, some containing ten times the typical amount of chocolate, others containing no chocolate, over one month. At the end of the study, researchers could find no noticeable increase in acne amount in one group or another (source).
4. Diet fads are the only way to eat healthily.
Wrong. Fad diets such as paleo, keto, and Whole30, often do not reflect standard dietary recommendations. Not only are fad diets impractical, but they frequently offer the wrong kind of weight loss. Instead of losing fat, weight loss could be a loss of fiber, lean muscle, or even water.
As most fad diets focus on eliminating certain foods, or in some cases, food groups, it isn’t surprising that participants initially experience weight loss. Yet, subjecting yourself to strict food restrictions won’t provide you with long-term healthy habits, nor benefits, for that matter. As such, it might be worth it to be very skeptical of any fad diet that overemphasizes or vilifies a particular type of food.
Empirical Evidence: UCLA took a look at 31 different food and diet studies that lasted 2-5 years, concluding in 2007 that 30-60% of all dieters regained all of the weight they lost, and even gained a little bit more (source).
5. Canned and frozen foods have little nutritional value.
Wrong. While it is true that fresh fruits and vegetables are one of the best things you can eat, overlooking canned and frozen foods is unwise. For many people, canned and frozen foods are an affordable, convenient way to include fruits, vegetables, and even protein, in their diets.
Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are typically processed within hours of being harvested, which helps preserve their nutrients in the long run. So, here’s our tip: focus on fresh food, but know that it is totally ok (and encouraged!) to incorporate cheap, healthy options when you’re in a hurry or don’t feel like cooking with fresh ingredients.
Empirical Evidence: A large-scale study out of the University of California-Davis found that American’s collective aversion to frozen foods doesn’t have much merit and that storing fresh food for days on end is a sure way to end up eating less nutrient-rich food (source).
6. Weight training makes you bulky and manly.
Wrong. This one is especially for the women out there! This myth keeps many women from prioritizing weight training at the gym, worried that they might bulk up and lose their “ladylike” figure. The idea of a “female weightlifter” usually leads to images of heavily muscular female professional bodybuilders.
Lifting heavy will indeed promote hypertrophy in muscles leading to a size increase, but that doesn’t mean that this will lead to a “bulky” look. Weight training actually allows women (and everyone!) to burn more calories and shape their bodies, not necessarily making them bigger.
Empirical Evidence: A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who weight-trained burned an average of 100 more calories 24 hours after the training session ended, even if they were just parked on the couch.
7. If you exercise, you can eat what you want.
Wrong. It can often seem like an active, calorie-burning lifestyle can remove any need to monitor what we eat, but this is usually not the case. It is very easy to “out-eat” your exercising. More importantly, however, it is essential to both workout and eat right for successful weight-loss and maintain good health.
So, while you can’t “out-exercise” a bad diet, you can definitely learn to eat what you want, mindfully. Don’t deny yourself certain foods (especially if they are your favorites!), but maybe try to change your mindset to pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. After all, it is your body!
Empirical Evidence: Research from Stanford University suggests that it’s best to begin living a healthier lifestyle by bettering both your nutrition and your activity level. Abby King and colleagues enrolled 200 people over age 44 whose diets and physical-activity levels were well below healthy standards. The study found that the control group (who received stress-reduction counseling) did not meet exercise or nutrition goals. Those in the diet-first group met their dietary goals, and those in the exercise-first group met their activity goal. However, only those in the simultaneous group met both (source).
And… last but not least… “If they are doing it, I should, too!”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Our bodies are all different. Not everyone experiences health the same way. Healthy is not necessarily size, but more of a lifestyle.
As such, we must make holistic health and wellness choices for ourselves and our bodies while respecting the decisions of those around us.
At 6AM Health, we work every day to make nutritious food easy to access and encourage movement and better mental health. As relayed in our story, we aren’t trying to push any trendy diets or required lifestyles; we just want to make it as easy as possible for people to make healthy choices. What is one healthy habit you will commit to in the coming weeks and months?