Having worked as a personal trainer and nutritionist for a couple of decades, it never ceases to amaze me just how much people rely on some of the pop-culture health information they’ve been fed. Myths abound in the wellness world which, let’s face it, is a multi-billion dollar industry focused on making sure you always believe there’s one “better thing” you could be doing to optimize your time on this planet.

Honestly, it’s enough to drive you crazy.

Here are five of the most common health myths I still hear to this day, and what they really mean for your wellness and your lifestyle.

1. You need 10,000 steps a day.

If you’ve been targeting 10,000 steps a day in your quest to live a strong and active lifestyle, I’m going to burst your bubble for a second:

That number has no basis in science, research, or anything resembling an actual study.

Instead, it was actually part of a Japanese marketing campaign for running shoes.

Somehow this little brain worm has worked its way into the public consciousness as some sort of doctor-recommended optimal number to achieve for amazing health; and, despite its commercial origins, many doctors do recommend it. But this is the walking equivalent of saying, “50 reps on bench press every day.” Reps at what speed? How much weight? All at once, or in multiple sets with rests? Or at multiple times during the day?

See, it doesn’t work as an arbitrary number. Does the average saunter pack the same wallop at 10,000 steps as an HIIT sprinter might get in 3,000? What if those 10,000 steps are all uphill?

Do this instead:

There’s nothing wrong with setting an arbitrary goal like 10,000 steps and aiming to make it a habit. And walking is definitely good for you. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit that number. As long as you’re walking every day, you’re doing great.

You can mix things up too. Try taking on a hill. Try going for distance a couple of days a week. Or try beating your time by stepping faster. Make half of your walk backwards (this is really good for your lower back and hamstrings by the way). Just know that 10,000 is a mythical number, and you’re already doing amazing with your walks, so keep it up!

2. You’re chronically dehydrated.

Ugh…we hear this all the time, and it’s one that just won’t die.

Myths around water and health are frustratingly tenacious. Yes, of course the human body needs water. Yes, of course we have to drink a certain amount each day. But NO, you’re not chronically dehydrated (unless you literally are, of course…like, running a marathon in the summer heat, for example). You might be slightly dry, but that’s not the same thing.

We also know that only water is water, but don’t discount the fact that we DO get water from other drinks, and we DO get water from our fruits and vegetables. You’re getting enough if you’re peeing, reliably, five or six times a day.

Do this instead:

Plan your water intake according to your schedule. Your best bet is to try to drink 500 ml as soon as you wake up (any amount you can handle will be a good start), then try to get that much just plain water at least a couple more times a day. Some people use all kinds of complicated tracking to make this a habit, but I just try to finish a bottle when I wake up, another by lunch, and another by dinner.

I also have a small glass of water with my meals. So, if you’re counting, that’s about a 2-litre bottle a day, which is a solid baseline if we don’t count pre-workouts, smoothies, coffee, our green drink, and all the vegetables I eat in a day.

Trust me…you’re getting plenty.

3. Fatty foods lead to heart disease.

No. No they don’t.

OK, yes. Transfats are potent chemical agents that DO clog arteries and cause inflammation. We know this for sure. But those other fats, like shrimp, bacon, eggs, and butter? Nope.

I like to explain macronutrients like this: all energy comes from sugar (carbohydrates). That’s what cells burn to survive. Protein is used for structures first before it can be broken down into sugar for energy. That’s why 4 calories of protein is usually about 1.5 calories of actual energy. Fats are used for chemistry. Every chemical process in your body relies on fat to work properly, including the production of hormones.

The thing is, we were fed a lot of misinformation in the 1980s over this. Some doctors noticed in the late 70s that people who ate a lot of fat tended to be the ones who had serious heart attacks, and they blamed dietary cholesterol for it. However, there was no actual study done until the late 90s, when it was discovered that fat is actually very useful and necessary in the body, and cholesterol is used to transport protein to muscles for hypertrophy.

The weird thing: dietary cholesterol isn’t an issue at all. In fact, it’s simply digested and metabolized as various fatty acids. It’s the cholesterol your body produces in the liver that’s the real issue. You need this stuff, of course, but in excess it becomes a problem.

Do this instead:

Eat healthy fats. A good rule is the actual rule of thumb: one thumb-sized serving of fats per meal. This makes it adjustable to your own body, but in general this equates to half an avocado, an egg yolk, or one to two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix it up so you’re balancing your Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and you won’t have any issues with weight gain. And, just like protein, fats take longer to break down into sugars, so they do their job in the chemistry lab FIRST before the last couple of calories are converted into sugars.

4. Natural sugars are better for you.

And speaking of sugars, I hear far too often that “it’s OK…it’s ‘natural’ sugar.” This is usually in reference to something like maple syrup, honey, or agave nectar.
But, remember that cholesterol thing that your body does? Yeah…your liver converts fructose into LDL cholesterol (the “bad” one), which is the one that ultimately clogs up those arteries.
Guess what syrup, honey, and agave are almost entire made of?

Yup. Fructose.

In fact, agave nectar is one of the highest glycemic foods you can find. It’s basically a straight fructose injection.

Table sugar (sucrose) is only half fructose (the other half is glucose), which means it produces less cholesterol than honey does.

Are there other refinements in sugar that you don’t get with honey? Of course. But those are mostly in the cooking process, not real chemical alteration. Still, if you’re going to reduce anything, generally reducing sugar is a great place to start, because it’s the sugar that’s probably at the root of any health issues you have around nutrition.

And that includes “natural” sugars.

Do this instead:

Limit your intake of sweets. There’s no need to pour syrup onto sugar pancakes, or add honey to fruit. You’re just doubling down on the fructose for no good reason. Instead, take a beat and make note of where you’re sweetening things unnecessarily. Are you snacking on stuff that’s maybe not the best for you? Is there sneaky sugar in your granola bars? It’s the sugar you have to watch out for — even the “natural” kind — more than the fats.

5. Gluten-free is a healthier option.

Would it surprise you to know that almost nobody you know is “sensitive” to gluten?

Gluten is the protein in wheat flour that makes it stretchy when mixed with water. This has been a staple food of humans for tens of thousands of years. But, in the last two decades, it’s been villified by the wellness industry so much that there’s now an entire section of the grocery store dedicated to gluten-free options.

Why?

We as humans have the enzymes necessary to digest gluten, except for some rare instances of people with celiac disease (which is much more serious than a mere sensitivity). This is why you can travel anywhere in the Mediterrannean and never once see a “gluten-free” option on a menu.

Bread is life.

Odds are, if you’ve experienced symptoms of gluten sensitivity, you’re probably experiencing other related digestive issues, and not necessarily the gluten itself. This often comes from the other things that are being served with the bread. Bread products are often high in sugar and starch (starch is just non-protein part of flour, and it’s basically another kind of sugar), and are often served with transfats and other sugary things.

By contrast, gluten-free products are often made with things like rice flour, which are even higher on the glycemic index and can seriously spike your blood sugar. You get a rush of energy that makes you FEEL better, but in reality that’s more likely a sugar rush.

Do this instead:

Try cutting out all starchy carb products for a couple of weeks. Then, introduce a few here and there. Try some potatoes. Take those out and try some pasta. If you don’t react to the pasta, make a note. Then try some bread. If you DO react to the bread, but not the pasta, it’s not a gluten problem. It’s something else in the bread. Now you can try other breads.

Or just back off on the carbs altogether. You don’t need to load up on breads to fill your belly like we did back in the 1930s. So going “gluten-free” might be more about cutting carbs than gluten. Either way, don’t assume the gluten-free option is healthier. It’s just something that people with true sensitivity can safely eat.

 

aDo you follow any of these health myths? What are some others you keep hearing that sound true, but really aren’t? Let us know in the comments!


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