10 Health Myths We Want To Believe (But Shouldn’t)

I’m kind of confused as to what to eat these days. You have magazines telling you diet sodas make you fat, bread is Satan and starving yourself (they call it “fasting”) for a day or two is perfectly healthy. Your doctor says everything is pretty much okay in moderation, but the Internet spotlight was recently on a guy who lost 37 pounds by eating solely McDonald’s. Is it just me, or is all food suspect? Should I just stock up on astronaut meals (wait, those are super caloric, right?) or what?

While doing research for this article, I came across a lot of information. I mostly used the Internet, but I flipped through some women’s magazines, too. Some facts contradicted others (like the egg debate; I’m still not sure whether they’re good for you or not), and I’m pretty sure some of these sources will change their minds in a couple of years (like many health studies do). But for now, let’s discuss some of the health myths and crazes that are straight up bogus (at the moment) but are widely believed to be true.

1. Some foods magically burn fat away.

I’ve heard this one. Supposedly eating grapefruit, celery and cabbage soup (there’s  even a special cabbage soup diet) will burn or melt away the fat in our bodies. No food can do that. Caffeine, for example, can speed up your metabolism, but this doesn’t mean you will lose weight. Eating grapefruit, celery and cabbage soup is good for you because you’re able to fill up on something that isn’t too caloric. But you won’t see fat “melt away.”

2. Muscle turns to fat after a while.

Muscle and fat are two completely different types of cells. You’re able to burn fat and build muscle. You can also lose muscle mass, but it isn’t converted into fat.

3. Low-fat options are the best options.

Ugh, wrong. In many cases, reduced-fat (as well as lowered sugar) snacks are super misleading. People buy into the low-fat allure because they think they can eat all the crap they want and it won’t affect their bodies at all. But, according to Brian Wansink Ph.D., “When people are given foods marked as low-fat, they chow down 25 to 44% more calories than when foods are labeled as regular fat.” And since these low-fat snacks are less filling, it’s easier to eat more because we find ourselves dissatisfied with the suggested amount. According to West Virginia University, “Many processed low-fat or fat-free foods have just as many calories as the full-fat versions of the same food-or even more calories. They may contain added sugar, flour or starch thickeners to improve the flavor and texture after fat is removed.” Gross.

Also, be aware of the fat substitutes in low-fat food. For example, Olestra has shown to cause cancer.

4. Coffee dehydrates you.

Actually, no. A study done just this month in the journal, PLOS ONE, shows that one or two cups of coffee will not dehydrate you. Moderate consumption actually keeps you just as hydrated as water. Researchers observed a group of 50 male coffee drinkers (I honestly don’t know why they only tested guys out) who consumed four 200 milliliter mugs of black coffee per day and compared them to another group of men drinking the same amount of water. The researchers tested their hydration using their weight, blood, and urine. The study showed no real difference between the subjects.

5. Lose weight by not eating carbs!

Okay, kind of. But don’t think that just because you threw out all the Wonder Bread and Sprinkles in your house, you’ll immediately shed 20 pounds. It doesn’t work that way. 

Carbs are not necessarily bad for you. It really depends on the carbs you’re talking about. Are they simple carbs like juice, rice, bread, potatoes or pasta? Or are they complex carbs like certain fruits and veggies? Complex carbs contain fiber that actually make you feel more full, and they don’t always come with a ton of calories.  The bad part about carbs is when you combine fat and simple carbs, because your body ends up storing the fat and your blood sugar spikes.

I went gluten-free (but not carb-free) as an experiment for HelloGiggles, and it actually worked. But I not only cut out gluten, I ate more fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. I made healthier choices because I kind of had to if I wanted to see results. You can go gluten-free (or go on the Atkins diet) and still eat processed foods and junk and therefore not lose weight.

6. Fasting makes you lose weight.

Initially, yes. But it can actually prevent weight loss long-term. Fasting removes fat and muscle. The loss of muscle causes a fall in your basal metabolic rate (netdoctor). This basically means that your body will become used to a smaller amount of calories, so when you do start to eat more after your fast, you’ll gain weight faster.

7. Spicy foods boost your metabolism.

I was pretty bummed when I read about this one. I always hoped eating a number 8 green curry would somehow make me thinner, but alas, it will not. Your metabolic rate is determined by your gender, height, present weight and body composition and age. Whether we eat spicy food or not doesn’t affect anything.

8. You need to drink eight glasses of water a day.

There is absolutely no evidence that shows you need 8 glasses of water a day. In fact, we get a lot of water from our food. Even a potato is 75% water. This isn’t to say water isn’t good for you; it is. But there isn’t exactly a rule of thumb for water consumption, since all bodies are different. A trustworthy way to tell if you need water is to look at your pee. If it’s dark, you need more water. If it’s not, you’re in the clear. Literally.

9. Olive Oil is healthier, better, stronger, faster (wait is this a Daft Punk song?).

REAL olive oil is probably better for you than canola oil (although, who knows?) but a huge majority of the olive oil we have been consuming isn’t real. Olive oil is 1.5 billion dollar industry in the U.S. and according to Tom Mueller, a journalist who wrote a book about it, 70% of extra virgin olive oil isn’t really olive oil. It has some olive flavoring, but it’s mostly cut with cheaper oils.

In 2008, 400 Italian police officers arrested 63 people and shut down 85 farms for adding chlorophyll to sunflower and soybean oil and selling it as olive oil in Italy and abroad. Just last year, UC Davis tested 124 different kinds of olive oil and 70% of the imported oils weren’t actually pure olive oil.

When I want olive oil, I make sure to purchase California olive oil rather than the stuff “imported” from Italy or Spain. It’s more expensive, (about 13 dollars a bottle) but it’s more likely to actually be olive oil.

10. Vitamin supplements.

First of all, vitamins are not like carbs or fats. Our bodies can’t take in more than we are allotted when it comes to vitamins and minerals, so taking pills that claim “120% vitamin C” is a waste. Furthermore, I’ve read a lot of studies about how vitamins don’t actually offer any health benefits. Since they’re not regulated by the FDA, companies can be putting whatever they want in their products. Whether or not vitamins are the real deal, don’t rely on vitamins supplements. Eat food that is nutritious. Stay away from a ton of garbage.

So, what have we learned from all of this? 1. There are no short cuts in life. If we want to be healthier and lose weight, we need to do our research, and 2. The Italian Mafia has been lying to us all these years.

Cheers to a healthier 2014!

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