We are constantly being bombarded with news that praises some health habits one day, and disregards them the next. However, there are some health habits that industries desperately want you to believe are healthy, but have a negative overall effect on your wellbeing.
Drinking diet soda
Multinational corporations like Coca Cola and Pepsi launch ad campaigns that promote diet sodas as zero calorie sugar free alternatives to traditional soda. However, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda like aspartame and sucralose have been shown to trigger the same insulin response that sugar triggers in the body. Recently, diet soda has also been shown in increase the risk of dementia and stroke. Instead of using sugary soda to satisfy your fizzy and sweet cravings, choose drinks like Kombucha, a fermented, sweet-sour fizzy drink filled with probiotics that are great for gut health.
Taking a daily multivitamin “just in case”
Over 50% of Americans take a multivitamin supplement daily. Yet, many studies have shown that a daily multivitamin is useless, and even harmful, for healthy individuals. If you eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, a multivitamin has not been shown to prevent disease risk or extend your life. In fact, high doses of some supplements, like beta carotene, can increase cancer risk. However, taking specific supplements to plug nutritional gaps in your diet has proven beneficial. For example, people living in cold climates should take a vitamin D supplement since their skin cannot produce it without adequate sun exposure.
Humans are the only animal on earth that regularly consume the milk of another mammal, and the only mammals that consume milk after infancy. Humans in central Europe began drinking milk only around 7,500 years ago. Because it is such a recent adaptation, over two thirds of the world is lactose intolerant. Europeans may be more adapted to drink milk than people from certain parts of Africa and Asia, where nearly 100% of people are lactose intolerant, but they still suffer health consequences. Milk comes from a pregnant or recently pregnant cow, so it is filled with mammalian estrogen, in addition to antibiotics, steroids, and pus (yes, really!). Instead, choose dairy free alternatives like almond, soy, oat, or rice milk.
Did you know that calorie for calorie, broccoli has more protein than beef? Many people are surprised to hear that, since the meat industry spends millions of dollars on ad campaigns that try to change people’s health habits to believe that meat is a normal, natural, and healthy part of our diet. However, with the World Health Organization classifying processed meats as type 1 carcinogens (cancer causing substances), and blockbuster documentaries like “What the Health” making even the most dedicated meat eaters go plant based, the meat industry’s claims look more and more dubious by the day. The truth is that meat contains antibiotics, steroids, saturated fat, cholesterol, and hormones that wreak havoc on our gut bacteria, inflammation, and overall health. Organic meat sidesteps some of these health risks, but is not much better. Additionally, animal protein has been shown to raise IGF-1 levels in our body leading to accelerated tumor and cancer growth. Plant based sources of protein like beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and seitan pack as much or more protein than meat without the harmful side effects of animal protein on our bodies, the environment, and the animals.
Bread, pasta, and rice get a bad rep for being high in carbohydrates which people fear will make them gain weight. It’s true that refined carbohydrates have been shown to spike insulin levels, but brown rice, and whole wheat bread and pasta are a great source of fiber and have been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels. Whole grains can even boost the levels of good bacteria in our gut.
Eating gluten free processed foods
The recent ‘gluten free’ craze is just that, a craze. It’s one of those health habits that got out of control. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and a few other grains that gives bread its stretchy, chewy qualities. A small percentage of the population has celiac disease where avoiding gluten is essential to their health. Some double blind studies have demonstrated the existence of ‘non celiac gluten sensitivity’, but the majority of people do not suffer from it. That means that hopping on this bandwagon, if you do not have a diagnosed disease or sensitivity, is pointless and could even be harmful. Avoiding gluten in and of itself is not unhealthy if instead of wheat, you center your meals around gluten free grains like; amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, sorghum, legumes, and vegetables. Instead, many people start buying gluten free versions of their favorite processed foods which often compensate for their lack of gluten by increasing their sugar and fat content.
Juicing your fruits and veggies
A refreshing juice of fruits and vegetables every morning seems like the pinnacle of a healthy diet. However, most juice machines separate the fiber from the juice of the produce. By removing the bulk of the fiber, the sugars from fruits hit your bloodstream more directly and cause a high and a crash that does not happen when you consume whole plant foods. The cell walls of fruits and vegetables slow down the release of sugars into your bloodstream keeping insulin more steady. Juicing does provide your body with vitamins and minerals, so there is no reason to cut it out entirely. Aim for moderation and instead of juicing your produce, try consuming it whole. If you must drink your veggies, try using a blender instead to preserve the fiber in the produce.
Many people believe that ‘healthy oils’ like coconut and olive oil are an essential part of a healthy diet. However, they are calorie dense and lack a robust nutritional profile. While it’s true that olive oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for heart health, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats is more indicative of the health of fat sources, and this is where olive oil, and most oils, fail. A diet that is high in Omega-6 fatty acids but low in Omega-3 fatty acids promotes inflammation. Oils should be used sparingly, and you should adjust your health habits to consume more nuts, and seeds for your omega 3. Flaxseed are an especially high source of omega 3 fatty acids, and do not have the same health risks that animal based sources do like fish.