The Truth Behind The Biggest Health Beliefs
Long-held beliefs are hard to change, and that goes for what we have been told about our overall health. In recent years, scientific studies have been debunking—as well as confirming—some beliefs about diet, health, and exercise. The evidence emerging from new research has led health experts to change their opinions on some topics.
Here are the ten most commonly held beliefs and what is said about them now:
1. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”
Research has shown that eating breakfast has several benefits. For one, eating a meal to break an overnight fast boosts energy levels and alertness. Breakfast also helps with weight loss. One study found that women who ate a large, high-calorie breakfast saw greater weight loss and waist circumference reduction than another group with a low-calorie breakfast and a larger dinner. The study’s authors concluded that “a high-calorie breakfast with reduced intake at dinner is beneficial and might be a useful alternative for the management of obesity and metabolic syndrome.”
2. “Gluten is Bad”
Going gluten-free may be a popular trend, but nutritionists say there is no evidence that the protein naturally found in wheat, rye, and other grains, is harmful to your health. For example, a 2017 study in the British Medical Journal found no association between long-term dietary gluten consumption and heart disease risk. Gluten, however, can cause trouble for people whose immune system reacts to the protein.
“The gluten-free diet is only healthier for people with gluten-related disorders, such as celiac or gluten intolerance,” said Kimberly Hershenson, a New York City-based therapist specializing in eating disorders.
According to Hershenson, what is most important is the overall food choices an individual makes within the diet, whether or not it’s gluten-free.
3. “Egg Yolks Are Bad”
It’s a long-held belief that egg white is good and the yellowish-orange yolk, although rich in nutrients, is bad. The yolk got a raw deal when earlier studies found that it is high in cholesterol and can lead to heart problems.
“Maybe because people only got to know the health benefits of egg yolk only recently, but egg yolk is recommended for everyone unless allergic, even people with heart disease, as it is loaded with HDL, which is a good cholesterol and actually counteracts the effects of bad cholesterol,” said Dr. Mashfika Alam, a physician at iCliniq, an online doctor consultation platform. “Hence, one egg a day for everyone, unless allergic, at least five days a week is a good thing.”
4. “The Flu Shot Gives You the Flu”
Some older adults say they pass on getting vaccinated for the flu because the flu shot gives you the flu. The fact is flu shots do not give you the flu because the virus in a flu vaccine is an inactivated virus, which means the virus is no longer infectious.
5. “Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever” (or is it “Starve a Fever, Feed a Cold?”)
The idea behind this well-known adage is to raise the body’s temperature and give the body enough energy to fight a cold or the flu. Whichever way the adage goes, Chad Masters, regional medical director at MedExpress Urgent Care, calls it “nonsense.”
“With rare exception, one of the best things to do when you have a fever is to maintain a regular diet as best as you can,” Dr. Masters said. “Even though you may not feel like eating, your body actually requires more calories when you’re sick so that it can heal properly and quickly.”
6. “You Need Eight Hours of Sleep”
When it comes to sleep duration, studies say several factors determine the amount of sleep you need, and a primary factor is your age. For instance, National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends adults 65 and older get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. On the other hand, the NSF says that babies, young children, and teens need even more sleep to enable their growth and development.
7. “Eating Before Bed Causes Weight Gain”
It’s a common belief that silencing your growling stomach right before bed can cause weight gain. Julie Lohre, a certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist, recommends eating a small protein-packed snack (like a protein shake) in the evenings, potentially increasing your metabolism overall.
“There is no magic hour after which you should fast before bed,” Lohre said. “What you want to avoid is overeating for the day and eating junk food, period—we just happen to eat more junk food in the evenings.”
8. “You Should Drink A Half Gallon of Water a Day”
Health experts continue to recommend drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, which is half a gallon a day (or 2 liters). It was once believed that water was the only liquid that would sufficiently hydrate the body since caffeinated beverages, like tea and coffee, were dehydrating. Now, some health experts say coffee, tea, milk, and soft drinks are alternatives to water. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water.
9. “You Need to Take 10,000 Steps a Day”
Anyone with a fitness tracker knows that 10,000 steps are usually the default number set as the daily goal. However, this number was not the result of scientific studies, according to Janis Isaman, owner of My Body Couture, a private, one-on-one studio in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
“10,000 steps, like eight glasses of water, was an arbitrary guideline written by one person, who calculated how many calories walking 10,000 steps burned and determined that was a good number,” Isaman said.
Recent studies suggest that 10,000 should not be a hard-and-fast number to adhere to since fewer steps can also produce benefits. In fact, one study found that hitting at least 3,800 steps a day lowered the risk of dementia. Another study reported hitting up to 10,000 steps a day helped to lower the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
10. “Abdominal Exercises Will Give You Six-Pack Abs”
Spending hours on the floor doing crunches and sit-ups won’t automatically result in those enviable six-pack abs.
“But the truth is that whether you have visible abs or not has far more to do with your body fat levels and where you are predisposed to store fat than the number of sit-ups you do,” said Emma Storey-Gordon, a personal trainer and sports scientist.
If you really want a “tight and defined core,” Julie Lohre recommends combining “strengthening exercises with a super clean nutrition plan that balances veggies, protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats.”