(Note: This is the first of a series on health, fitness, and wellness myths that may do more harm than good. Part I deals with popular diet and nutrition myths.)
Many people decide at the start of the new year that they want to get healthy.
Walk into any bookstore or health food store and there is no shortage of diet, exercise and fitness books. While a lot of these offer valuable information and may indeed help one on the path to lifelong health, the truth is there is a lot of bad advice out there that ends up doing more harm that good. Indeed, there are many things that people automatically equate with good health that actually turn out to be not so healthy.
Below are five things that come up time and again as health panaceas that actually are not:
Many of us are old enough to recall those long-running juice machine informercials where juicing was promoted as a cure-all for just about every ailment under the sun.
While fruits and vegetables may be good for us, juicing them is a different story. Juicing removes fiber. Besides keeping things regular in the elimination department, fiber also slow downs the body’s absorption of sugar. Many fruit and vegetable juices are essentially sugar water with some vitamins thrown in. (Some, like orange juice, actually contain more sugar than the average can of soda.)
While the occasional glass of juice isn’t harmful, drinking juice several times daily or several times during the week may do more harm than good, especially for those who are insulin resistant or looking to lose weight and keep their sugar consumption under control.
Bottom line: If you’re going to drink juice, either prepare your own or stick with freshly prepared ones which contain maximum amounts of vitamins and enzymes. Bottled, pasteurized juices usually contain little of the former and none of the latter.
2. Going vegetarian
There are many good reasons to go vegetarian including ethical, environmental and health reasons. However, the idea that a vegetarian is automatically healthier is wrong. It’s possible to be a vegetarian and exist solely on processed junk food. It’s also possible to become a vegetarian and actually gain weight which is exactly what happened to me when I went vegetarian back in college. (Like many, I overloaded on refined carbohydrates and assumed “vegetarian” automatically meant low-calorie or low-fat.)
A balanced vegetarian or vegan diet is possible, but it does require some education.
One of the best resources is to see if there is a local vegetarian society in your community. (Most college towns—like the one where I live—have them.) If there’s not when where you live, then check the local library for books on vegetarianism. Also, the internet is full of resources.
Fasting is incredibly popular this time of the year. Many of them-like the one that actress Gwyneth Paltrow unveiled on her website GOOP, do not actually call themselves fasts but “detoxes”.
While some fans of fasting say it’s essential to do so in order to “cleanse” the body, the majority of nutritionists say they are unnecessary and downright dangerous.
The fact is, we all need nutrients in order to survive. While fasting for a day may be okay for some, check with your doctor first before you go any length of time without food, especially if you have any sort of pre-existing medical condition like diabetes, low blood sugar, depression, etc.
4. Drinking lots of water.
Just like food, water is essential to life. However, just like we can over-do it on food, we can also over-do the water.
While it’s rare, death by water intoxication is real. Simply put, too much water can result in sodium imbalance which can in turn result in massive cell damage.
Forcing yourself to drink water when you aren’t thirsty but because you feel like you “must” do so for “health” reasons or feel that more is better can be a recipe for disaster. Listen to your body rather than mindlessly swilling water every few minutes or so because you’ve been conditioned to do so.
5. Taking mega-doses of vitamins and supplements.
Much like number four, many feel that more is better when it comes to vitamins and supplements. However, some of them can be too much of a good thing. (Indeed, new research suggests that even taking a daily multivitamin may do more harm than good.)
Despite the fact that many view them as “harmless” because they are “natural,” vitamins and supplements are not without risks. It’s a good idea to talk to a health care provider before taking any vitamin or supplement including supplements made from herbs.
“Natural” doesn’t always mean “harmless” or without possible side effects. (After all, arsenic, tobacco and lead are 100 percent natural and 100 percent harmful.)
If you are on any prescription drugs including the pill, hold off on taking any new vitamins or supplements until you consult a health care provider.
In conclusion, many of us so-called health nuts or wannabe health nuts often engage in some things that may potentially do more harm to our health than good.
There are a lot of myths and outright untruths when it comes to nutrition and health. A good rule of thumb is not to take any advice as the gospel. Always do some research. If you have doubts about the validity about a health claim—like someone telling you fasting is good for you—see what the experts have to say.
Granted, experts can be wrong, but they are usually a good place to start when it comes to deciding if adopting a certain health trend is right for you and your body.
Remember: your body is a temple.
Always be careful what sort of things are allowed to enter it or in some cases, what you decide to eliminate from it.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman