(Image Courtesy of Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon, CC BY 2.0)
We want to be healthy. But in the spur of the moment, when we’re at the store browsing labels, it’s easy to fall for health fads.
Let’s think about it. If you were to spend $30,000 on your new car, I assume you’d spend considerable hours researching it. It’s a significant amount of money, significant enough that it’d warrant your attention. What make? What year? Sedan or SUV? What are the reviews?
But for spending $15 at the store and buying supplements, it’s easy to make an impulse purchase. Esp. when the packaging seems like it’s really healthy!
So what’s the harm? $15 here and there probably won’t bankrupt you. That’s true.
But health fads also distract you. You do all those things you think are “healthy” and neglect to do the things that are actually healthy (hello exercise).
You wouldn’t neglect doing the actually healthy things if you didn’t think you were already living “healthy enough.” To illustrate this, let’s review 5 examples of common health fads.
Health Fads Example #1: Not exercising, yet thinking it’s ok because of your “superior” diet.
I have a relative who’s a true example of that. He puts like 15 different ingredients in his salad. All those different seeds, the greens, the lemon, the olive oil, what an “antioxidant bomb!”
He’s so proud of his healthy eating, he often brags that “noone eats as healthy as him.”
And yet he doesn’t exercise. He’s overweight, and when I asked him to perform a squat, he actually couldn’t. He has mobility issues. And he’s weak. Of course, he can’t do a push-up. Did I say he doesn’t exercise?
Yet he considers himself to even be a teacher of healthy living. One day he said, he wished his father was still alive, so he could teach him all the things he’s learned about health!
Again, did I say he doesn’t exercise?
Do you know that exercise, can, e.g., drop your heart disease risk by almost half? And it also helps with cancer, diabetes, depression, and weight management, just to name a few?
I’m not saying that to underestimate diet. Diet is important. But there are limits to what diet can do. Diet has reached a level where we see it as a health “god.” And if you think “god” is on your side, then why do the other things you know are healthy – like exercise? You feel you’re covered!
If only we ate the right foods, we’d live forever!
That’s what my relative says. Ok, this is the last time I’m gonna ask this: Did I say he doesn’t exercise? I honestly don’t see how he’ll live a prolonged, energetic life without exercise (unless he has amazing genes.) But let’s move on…
Health Fads Example #2: Taking unprescribed supplements because you *think* they’ll help.
They’re advertised. They’re marketed. They’re hyped. But do they work? Do they offer any health benefits?
Now let me clarify. If the doctor told you to, e.g., take Vitamin D because your blood test just showed a deficiency, then by all means, take your Vitamin D. If you’re pregnant, take your vitamins.
But if you buy supplements because you *think* or assume they’ll help, I want to encourage you to question your assumptions.
I’ll offer two examples. The first one is fish oil. The Washington Post recently ran a story about the 1.2 billion fish oil industry:
People in the United States spend about $1.2 billion annually for fish oil pills and related supplements even though the vast majority of research published recently in major journals provides no evidence of a health benefit.
The second example is Vitamin C. We all know Vitamin C protects from colds, right? But does it really help? Dr. Anna from the Imaginarium did the research. Apparently, Vitamin C does provide some help in recovering faster from colds. However, that help is not significant and may come with drawbacks:
The common-cold-vitamin C-meta study included 11 306 participants, which is a very large number. 598 of these were athletes. The meta-analysis people found that the cold duration was shortened by 8 % for adults and around 14 % for children. This is hardly relevant since the common cold rarely exceeds a week (when this treatment would be effective). If a cold lasts a week, 8 % represents about 14 hours for an adult. […]
To achieve this effect a persistent intake of high-dose vitamin C is required. This might not go so well with the rest of your body. Yes vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin so most of it is peed out but you will get an overdose effect such as nausea and diarrhea.
On top of it, Vitamin C does not lower your chances from getting a cold. Bummer! Not what you think it’d do, right?
Health Fads Example #3: Buying asparagus water from Wholefoods, or any other “dubious water” and thinking you’re being healthy.
No, I’m not talking about getting coconut water as a “sports drink.” This might actually have some potential.
I’m talking about randomly buying cute bottles of water, thinking they’ll make a difference. Wholefoods would have never released the Asparagus Water if it didn’t expect its customers to open their wallets. The Guardian reports:
The store, which specialises in organic food and poultry “free of growth hormones and antibiotics” at prices that have led it to be dubbed “Whole Paycheck” later claimed the asparagus water was a mistake and removed it from shelves. But not before Whole Foods was publicly ridiculed over the product.
And with that said, let me ask you: Do you think drinking asparagus water will make a big difference in your health and wellbeing? I mean, will it decrease any heart disease or cancer risks? Are there measurable benefits that have been scientifically studied, like the ones for coffee?
Of course, WholeFoods didn’t make any claims on the packaging.
But still it does seem healthy right? And that’s the problem. We often fall for what seems healthy. And who can blame us? It’s not as if we have a qualified scientist on our shoulder telling us what to do!
Now I get it, you may like the flavor. If you want to put asparagus in your water, why not do it at home? You’ll save $6 and you’ll drink it fresh.
Oh, and please don’t tell me you wanted this or any other alternative water for “detox.” There’s no such thing, detox is a scam, often marketed by true believers. But the fact that some of these people are well-intentioned doesn’t make them right. They can be both well-intentioned and flat-out wrong.
Health Fads Example #4: Juicing your veggies and fruits because it’s the “IN” thing to do.
I get it. Some people never actually eat vegetables. But if they’re offered them in a juice then they’re more likely to drink them. If that’s the case for you, then drink UP!
But for everyone else, I’d advise to eat rather than drink your veggies and fruits. Why? Because juicing removes the skin of the fruit, which drops the fiber content that you consume. The consequences are two-fold:
First, according to this 2013 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, you’ll feel hungrier faster when you drink rather than eat your veggies. So you’ll be more likely to overeat with juicing rather than if you ate your veggies raw.
Second, juicing is worse for your teeth. Let’s take it from dentist Charles Payet:
“What most people don’t realize, however, is that juicing also concentrates all the sugars and acids, while also destroying all of the fibrous texture. This concentrated sugar is then instantly available to the bacteria in your mouth, and regardless what people try to tell you, those bacteria don’t care if it is fructose, sucrose, processed, organic, “all-natural,” etc. It’s sugar! “
And now that you feel you’re part of the “in, healthy living” crowd, it’s easy to neglect the things that could actually be making a difference.
Health Fads Example #5: You buy organic and you feel “healthy.”
I’m sorry to break the news. I once also were a religious organic buyer — for years! It all started when I compared organic milk to regular milk. Apparently no differences in antibiotics, and growth hormone is not an issue. Nutritional value is the same.
This research actually rocked my universe. It took me a few weeks to emotionally get comfortable with the idea that conventional milk was equally good for me as organic!
Then came organic produce vs. conventional produce. Nutritional value is the same. Pesticides are used on both crops and organic is not proven to be safer than conventional food.
Buying organic is not healthier than buying conventional. That’s just how it is.
Don’t let health fads distract you from what really matters!
If you follow a balanced diet and exercise, then you’re doing great. You don’t need to spend any more time worrying about health. You can use your brain on other issues. I see too many healthy living people continuously worrying about how they can live even healthier.
But what’s gonna be the benefit of all this extra attention? What could you achieve if you put your mind on different goals? You can help end world poverty. You could read a story to your children instead of reading about the latest health fad on your smartphone. You could start the next Google. You could call that old friend you haven’t reached out to for 6 months for no good reason. You could have sex. Just sayin’.
Instead of randomly spending money on supplements, asparagus water, or whatever the latest fad commands, save the money for something that will be really worth it.
A safety nest would be awesome in case of emergency. You could give to charity. Investing in a $200 pair of jeans that make you look amazing is actually a better use of your money than buying 33 bottles of asparagus water (unless you really, really, really like asparagus.)
Now if you follow the fads but don’t exercise, I’d like to bring your attention to it. I get it that some people can’t exercise. If that’s the case for you, you’re off the hook – you’re already doing the best you can.
But for those of you who can actually exercise, go for a walk. Do daily push-ups. Work out at home. Sign up at a gym. As long as you go, you bet you’ll be helping your confidence, health, and quality fo life! If you always start and stop exercise, try Exercise Bliss and make it a habit.
But regardless of what you do, don’t let the fads, the minutiae, distract you from what really matters.
Now here’s my question to you: Have you ever fallen for any of the health fads? I did mention before about how I’d totally fallen for organic! Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment below.
J A Houchins et al., Effects of fruit and vegetable, consumed in solid vs beverage forms, on acute and chronic appetitive responses in lean and obese adults, International Journal of Obesity 37, 1109-1115 (August 2013)