6 ‘health’ habits that may do more harm than good

By Charlie Williams
Published May 27, 2020

Key Takeaways

You’ve probably been told more than a few times to drink 8 glasses of water a day, take your multivitamins, and limit your food intake when sick. However, just because advice makes the rounds online doesn’t mean it’s reliable. Between questionable fads, out-of-context medical tips, and strange claims about whacky diets, it’s easy to fall victim to recommendations that have little or no scientific support. Here are six widely touted “health” habits to stop following immediately.

Eating a low-fat diet for weight loss

Before purchasing low-fat or non-fat alternatives to your favorite foods, carefully examine their nutritional contents—odds are that they’re loaded with sugar. In a 2016 study published in Nutrition & Diabetes, researchers used the US Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database to compare the sugar contents of different versions of the same foods: fat free, low fat, and regular. They found that low-fat and non-fat options typically contain higher amounts of sugar. Over time, eating these foods can lead to serious health problems, including excessive weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Although certain saturated and trans fats can pose certain health risks, the human body requires fats to properly function, and foods that are high in these natural fats are good for you. For instance, some studies have linked a higher consumption of avocados, which contain healthy fats, to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Similarly, eating fish has been linked to a lower risk of heart complications, and cheese intake has been associated with a reduced risk of diabetes. Of course, even healthy fats should be consumed in moderation.

Avoiding eggs to protect your heart

This breakfast staple may be impacting your heart health, but probably not in the way that you think. Despite decades of controversy and debate, eggs have been shown to benefit heart health in recent years. But, like all foods, they should be eaten in moderation. In a recent study of over 100,000 adults, for example, researchers found that both low (≤ 1) and high levels of egg consumption (≥ 10) were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, participants who consumed 3-6 eggs per week reaped major health benefits, including lower risks of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease. While some investigators have asserted that eggs weaken heart health, the American Heart Association maintains that this stance lacks support from compelling evidence, and says that eating one whole egg per day aligns with a heart-healthy diet.  

Drinking 8 glasses of water a day

Reliable health advice is rarely universal, and the idea that you must drink a set amount of water per day to stay hydrated is no exception. While 8 glasses may be the magic number for some, hydration requirements will vary based on your physical activity level, physical environment, and any underlying health conditions. It’s also important to remember that drinking water doesn’t have to be your only source of hydration. Consider that about 20% of the water your body needs can come from the foods you eat. And if you’re still unsure of your hydration level, here’s a reliable rule of thumb that works no matter who you are: If you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is colorless or light yellow, you are probably hydrating enough.

Feed a fever, starve a cold (or vice versa)

While eating regularly when you have a fever is a healthy practice, starving yourself—whether you’re sick or healthy—is not a sound strategy. Some studies have shown that food intake results in increased levels of gamma interferon production, which promotes anti-bacterial immunity, and has a “bona fide effect” on the recovery process. Instead of trying to reduce a fever or fight a cold on an empty stomach, remember that the human body needs nutrients to recover—no matter what.

Taking extra vitamin C to cure a cold

You may think that loading up on citrus fruits and other sources of vitamin C will help you avoid or cure a cold, but research shows that the practice does not actually reduce the frequency of colds. Although some regular supplementation trials have suggested that vitamin C can help prevent cold infection, therapeutic trials have yet to replicate these findings and reveal a significant correlation. What’s more, consuming too much vitamin C can actually lead to adverse side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and heartburn.

Relying on a multivitamin

Studies have consistently shown that the majority of American adults consume multivitamins. But while manufacturers may advertise attractive health benefits (especially when it comes to the heart), clinical evidence has not adequately supported the effectiveness of these products. For instance, in a meta-analysis published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, researchers found that multivitamins did not contribute to cardiovascular disease prevention. Instead of relying on a multivitamin, focus on maintaining a nutrient-rich diet, which has been shown to be more effective in promoting good health and greater longevity than supplements.

It’s an exciting time for those looking to make the best decisions about their health. After all, there’s never been more information available at the click of a mouse or tap on the screen. While some of that information can help us make meaningful improvements to our health, it’s important to keep in mind that just about anyone can publish information online—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Practice due diligence with trends, and never forget to consider the sources of the information you digest. Just because health advice has made the rounds doesn’t mean it’s worth your time.


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