Anna Blundy investigates twenty of the most popular health and fitness myths and finds that most of them just aren’t true…
1. Chocolate makes me fat and unhealthy
Oh, rejoice! Chocolate is GOOD FOR US.
Though dark chocolate is the one with the health benefits, recent research suggests that milk chocolate may also be good for us.
Here’s all the good news.
A recent study found that dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries and prevents white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels – both common causes of artery clogging. Cocoa has been shown to reduce cholesterol, potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Chocolate is good for your heart.
Researchers in Finland have found that eating chocolate lowers the risk of suffering a stroke by 17 per cent.
It seems chocolate might delay or prevent the onset of diabetes as it improves insulin sensitivity. Flavanols reduce memory loss in older people, and the anti-inflammatory qualities of dark chocolate have been found beneficial in treating brain injuries such as concussion. The flavonols in chocolate can protect the skin against sun damage.
Chocolate is packed with beneficial minerals such as potassium, zinc and selenium, and iron.
Chocolate can help you lose weight. LOSE weight. A small square of good chocolate melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the brain’s ‘I’m full’ response thereby stopping you stuffing your face at dinner.
Another Finnish study (who doesn’t love Finland?) found that chocolate reduced stress in expectant mothers, and that the babies of those mothers smiled more often than those of non-chocolate-eating parents.
As if we didn’t know it – chocolate makes you happy. It contains phenylethylamine, the chemical that your brain creates when you’re falling in love.
2. Eating fat makes me fat and causes heart disease
Doesn’t it? No! This is misguided 1950s claptrap. The truth is, as Jennifer Aniston well knows, that the primary cause of excess
weight and its accompanying disorders is sugar. Fat is good for you.
An eight-year trial involving almost 50,000 women, roughly half of whom went on a low-fat diet, found that those on the low-fat plan didn’t lower their risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or heart disease and they didn’t lose weight either. Where’s my frying pan?
3. Makeup with SPF is as good as sunscreen
Well, it could be but most people don’t like the drag queen look and would never slather as much foundation on as you’d need to
get real protection. Make up with SPF can be 14 times less effective than sunscreen. Given that a third of skin cancers occur above the neck, wear sunscreen with UVA/UVB protection under your makeup every day.
4. The salad is always the healthiest option
How can that not be true? Surely eating more vegetables is a good thing. It is, but what about the toppings and dressing. Pecan nuts, bacon bits, croutons and cheese can take an innocent-looking chicken salad into the double cheeseburger with fries category. A cheesy, nutty, heavily dressed salad can come up to around 600 calories.
A McDonalds double cheeseburger is 440 calories. Beware the creamily dressed, extravagantly topped, ingredient packed über-salad.
5. If I go out with wet hair, I’ll catch a cold
Nope. You might feel cold but you won’t get ill, whatever your granny told you. At the Common Cold Research Unit, in Salisbury, England, a group of volunteers (who are these people?) was infected with the cold virus. Half the group stayed in a warm room while the other half had a bath and stood dripping wet in a hallway for half an hour, then got dressed but wore wet socks for a few more hours. The wet group didn’t contract any more colds than the dry. So there.
6. Gluten is bad for me
Unless you’re one of the 1 per cent of people who suffer from celiac disease, gluten isn’t bad for you, whatever the gluten-free celebrities say. Most people suffer from slight bloating and gas when they eat, whatever they eat.
7. I need to detox
Have you been poisoned? No? You don’t need to detox then. You already have a fantastic system for filtering out the harmful stuff in what you eat – your liver and the kidneys. Kidneys filter our blood and remove waste while the liver detoxifies any chemicals we ingest.
8. Eating at night will make me fat
False. Calories are calories and it doesn’t matter when you eat them. Although it is true that you sleep better if you eat earlier so that you’re not digesting food while you rest.
9. Spot training helps me burn fat in specific areas
You’d think that targeting a particular area of your body for weights and exercise would be a good idea. Unfortunately, fat doesn’t work like that. Sit-ups might strengthen your abs, but it won’t burn fat in that area. Basically, fat is evenly burned or lost throughout the body and you burn it with cardio and aerobics. The pattern of fat gain or loss has more to do with each person’s natural body shape than it does with the type of exercise you actually do.
Sorry – you’re going to have to train your entire body.
10. Women bulk up if they lift heavy weights
Ladies, waving those 1kg things around isn’t going to help you. If you want to shape up you have to lift weights that push you to the point of real fatigue after eight reps. You haven’t got the hormones to bulk up like a man, so stop worrying about it and make a bit of effort for goodness’ sake!
11. I need to drink eight glasses of water a day
You do need to drink enough to prevent dehydration and allow your body to run smoothly, but fruit and vegetables count towards your water intake and tea and coffee don’t dehydrate you but count too! Hooray!
12. No pain, no gain
If it hurts while you’re doing it then you’re doing it wrong and might be injuring yourself. Stop it.
13. Running is bad for my knees
A Stanford University study found that older runners’ knees were no less healthy than those of people who don’t run. Though safer than contact sports, women are more likely to be at risk of knee injuries from running than men, because they tend to have an imbalance in the strength ratio between their quadriceps and hamstrings, so do a total-body strength workout twice a week to build up the muscles that support the knees.
14. Yoga burns calories
Not really. While doing yoga does improve flexibility and strength, it’s not much of an aerobic activity. A 50-minute power yoga session burns 237 calories, versus the 500 to 600 calories you’d fry doing cardio for that amount of time. Ha!
15. I should eat small meals throughout the day to stay slim
Stop grazing right now.
It is true that eating raises your metabolism slightly while you’re digesting the meal, but it’s the total amount of food that determines the energy used, NOT the number of meals.
Controlled studies where one group eats many small meals and the other the same amount of food in fewer meals show that there is literally no difference between the two. Not only is eating often useless, it may even be harmful.
It is not natural for the human body to be constantly in the fed state. When we don’t eat for a while a cellular process called autophagy cleans waste products out of our cells. Fasting or not eating from time to time is good for you. Increased meal frequency is associated with colon cancer.
16. Eggs are bad for me
Most people think egg yolks are a source of unhealthy cholesterol. In reality, eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can eat – dietary cholesterol doesn’t affect your blood cholesterol. One egg contains six grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids.
They’re good for your eyes because they contain antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, they contain choline (especially beneficial for pregnant mothers as it helps your baby’s brain develop). They contain vitamin D (no sunlight required), their high sulphur content promotes healthy hair and nails AND they also contain biotin, calcium, copper, folate, iodine, iron, manganese, magnesium, niacin, potassium, selenium, sodium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin E and zinc. Quick! Eat an egg!
17. Sugar gives me a sugar rush
No, it doesn’t. Hundreds of experiments over the years have shown that no evidence exists to support the claim that sugar causes hyperactivity – people just think it does and so produce the feeling accordingly. Experiments show that parents who believe in a link between sugar and hyperactivity see one, even though others do not and, of course, children tend to be excited at parties where sugary foods are usually served. However, sugar may influence behaviour. A lot of sugar for breakfast does lead to severe deterioration of attention span. Although sugar may not be linked to hyperactivity, it certainly is linked to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
But don’t replace it with sugar substitutes like aspartame – those are even worse.
18. If I swim after eating I will get cramp and drown
You will be fine. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that swimming after eating is in any way dangerous. One study that looked at drowning incidents in the United States found that fewer than one per cent occurred after the victim ate a meal.
Drinking alcohol and swimming, however, IS dangerous. A 1989 study looked at 100 adolescents who drowned in the US and found that 25 percent had been intoxicated.
One year later, a study of hundreds of drowning deaths among adults in California found that 41 per cent were alcohol related.
19. I need to be slim because being fat is unhealthy
Or is it? It is true that being overweight can be damaging to our health in various ways, but being underweight is just as bad for us if not worse.
A study by researchers at Tohoku University found that those who are overweight at 40 are likely to live longer than those who are thin, with underweight people being at greater risk of heart disease and pneumonia.
Eat up all that chocolate and all those eggs, people!
20. Stretching after exercise helps my body recover quicker
This isn’t the case. It can feel good, so stretch away, but a University of Milan study on the effects of post-workout recovery methods found no significant changes in blood lactate levels (a measure of how tired your muscles are) in people who stretch after working out. So, if you need to get home from the gym, skip the stretching – no harm done.