11 Health Myths Everyone Believes – Busted with the Real Facts

Let’s first share the non-scientific definition of a health myth, as described by Dr. Shmerling from Harvard Health Publishing, which requires most of the following:

  • Many people believe it.
  • There is no compelling scientific evidence to support it.
  • There is at least some scientific evidence against it.
  • It may have a pseudo-scientific explanation to it that may also have an intuitive appeal.
  • The idea defies standard understanding of biology.

Two other features of many popular health myths include:

  • The possibility that it can actually harm you
  • A profit motive (by those promoting the myth)

Myth 1: The human body needs detoxing every once and a while

Detox diets, juices and treatments are hugely popular, but the very idea that we can take steps to detox our own bodies and simply wash away our calorific sins is a huge myth. First of all, if toxins did actually build up in a way that your body couldn’t excrete, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention. Moreover, from a biological perspective, the human body is naturally capable of removing impurities from the blood, primarily through the liver, where toxins are processed for elimination. The body also eliminates toxins through its kidneys, intestines, lungs, lymph, skin, and immune system. So give your body a break and stop detoxing. 

Myth 2: You should be walking 10,000 steps every day

You might think that the number 10,000 is a golden number that was revealed after years of research. It is said that this magic number only became popular after the success of a marketing campaign in the 60s for a company that sold a pedometer called the Manpo-kei: “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps, and “kei” meaning meter. With that being said, if aiming to complete those 10,000 steps makes you walk more, then it is a great strategy. However, to some of us, 10,000 steps can seem like a high goal to achieve every single day, which might make some people not want to even try. Failing to achieve your goal day after day might make you want to give up. To get people with sedentary lifestyles walking, a lower goal might be better psychologically.

Myth 3: Weight loss is all about willpower

Everyone blames dieters after regaining the weight they lost for not being dedicated enough and lacking the willpower to stick to the diet plan, and that’s just wrong – looking at everyone that has attempted to diet, it seems that nobody has willpower. In fact, willpower is a quick-fix solution that can occasionally get you past a hankering for brownies at 4 p.m., but diets that include restriction depend on a mythical idea that we have full control over our eating habits, ignoring basic human biology: The more we restrict, the more likely we are to fail. So many factors play a role in what we’re eating and why we’re eating. Moreover, years of research on the physiological mechanisms behind weight regulation revealed so many biological changes that happen in the body when we try to lose weight, such as rise in hunger and appetite hormones and a metabolic tendency to slow down fat burning, that it becomes practically impossible to keep the weight off.

Making more nutritious food choices does not mean having hard and fast rules about the types of foods you eat. Indulging sometimes is 100% a part of eating in a healthful way.

Myth 4: All fat is bad

Very often we hear that fat is bad and that eliminating it from our diet is healthy.

Dietary fats are deemed unhealthy due to the high energy quotient of calories they supply and their reputation for blocking arteries and obviously “making us fat”. But make no mistake – our bodies absolutely require fat to provide essential fatty acids and absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K). Moreover, unlike what decades of preaching have told us about the harmful effects of cholesterol on the heart, recent research is showing that high-quality fats such as unsaturated fats found in coconut oil, avocados, olive oil, and nuts are protective for the heart.

Myth 5: Fruit juices are healthy

Most fruit juices available in the market are as high in calories as a sugary soft drink. A glass of orange juice contains the extracts of around six oranges. When you have a fruit you usually limit yourself to one or two and have it with all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Juicing it destroys some minerals, takes out the fiber and just gives you a sugar overdose. The recommended daily dose of fiber for women is 25 gm and men need 38 gm. By eliminating that fiber from a fruit, you could be depriving yourself of a dense source of nutrition.

Myth 6: Gluten is evil

Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat and is common in foods such as bread, pasta, pizza and cereal. People with celiac disease (who form only 1% of the world’s population) have an immune reaction that is triggered by eating gluten and develop inflammation and damage in their intestinal tracts and other parts of the body when they eat foods containing gluten, and should therefore follow a gluten-free diet to avoid sickness. Then there are people described as “gluten-sensitive.” Their tests for celiac disease are negative (normal) and yet they get symptoms such as bloating or abdominal cramps whenever they eat foods with gluten. Avoiding gluten makes sense if it makes you sick or feels unwell but for the rest of us, avoiding gluten won’t be doing you any good and is most likely just costing you more. In fact, while you think that gluten-free diets are more nutritious, many reports indicate that these foods are actually commonly less fortified with folic acid, iron, fiber, and other nutrients and tend to have more sugar and fat.

Myth 7: Eggs increase cholesterol levels

Eggs are often demonized for their cholesterol-heavy yolks. In reality, there is insufficient data to show that consumption of dietary cholesterol (such as that in eggs) affects our blood cholesterol levels. Our harmful cholesterol levels are more influenced by the consumption of saturated and trans fat. It is more important to keep your cholesterol in check by monitoring these fats in your diet. Moreover, the incredible egg (yolk included) is a high-quality protein source chock full of important nutrients including omega-3s, vitamins A, D, K, B6, iron, zinc and copper, so please don’t miss out on all of its nutritional value by following.

Myth 8: “Take this supplement. It helped me and so it must help you too”

Has anyone ever told you that you MUST try that one supplement. You have to, because…wait for it…It will change your life! Well, newsflash: it might not. Your body is unique and your supplementation plan should be too.

Following someone else’s advice on supplements can be tempting because it comes with a living proof that it works. However, anecdotal evidence from unqualified people can often lead to exaggerated and misinterpreted results and random supplementation. This can increase the risk of toxicity, medication interaction, and side effects, or can simply be ineffective. Instead, supplementation should be personalized and tailored to one’s bloodwork and medical history. Blood testing is one of the most powerful ways to understand what is going on inside of your body and identify your need for supplements.

Myth 9: You should drink at least 8 cups of water a day

Despite it being a belief widely held onto for its supposed multiple health benefits (including better skin and the prevention of gallstones), the age-old mantra of drinking 8 glasses of water a day is medically unfounded. While water is essential to keep you hydrated, there is actually no evidence that we need to be drinking at least 8 cups of water a day. This is because water is not the only source of hydration – we also get water from fruits, vegetables, and even juice and coffee that we consume.

Furthermore, there is also no scientific evidence that increasing water intake has any health benefits for an average healthy person. That being said, water is still the healthiest drink to consume – you may not need to tick the 8-cups-of-water box every day, but you do need to keep yourself hydrated. The best gauge of how much water to drink is simply to drink as and when you feel thirsty.

Myth 10: A calorie is a calorie

A calorie is a calorie in terms of energy, but the nutrients that come with those calories vary. So while it’s true that a 3-ounce skinless chicken breast has the same amount of calories as two slices of white bread (both have about 140 calories), those calories are not equal as the source of the calorie changes how you digest it and how you retrieve energy from it. And so, instead of counting calories which ignores the metabolic effects of each calorie, focus more on eating whole foods and healthy fats, and avoiding unhealthy processed foods like crackers and cookies.

Myth 11: You need to have 5 meals a day.

Have you heard that you’ll lose more weight if you eat small frequent meals? The 5-6 meals a day theory claims it increases your metabolism given that you burn more calories if you digest food more often. Remember, weight loss isn’t primarily about calories in and calories out. And so, if the basis of this theory is calorie counting then it is ineffective.

Another long-standing theory is that having big fewer meals causes spikes in blood sugar whereas having small frequent ones help regulate it. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating more often does keep your blood sugar consistent throughout the day – consistently high, that is! Your blood sugar might surge after a big meal, but only for an hour or less, and on average, people who eat fewer meals have lower blood glucose levels throughout the day. The best way to prevent an upturn in your blood glucose after your meal is to eat fewer refined carbohydrates, and more protein and complex carbohydrates at each sitting. To add to that, the benefits of eating less often are well-highlighted in the literature and include increased metabolism, blood glucose control, and weight loss!