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Confusing Health Advice in a Confusing World

Posted Oct 19 2008 10:33am

Confused?

Do you find yourself scratching your head when you read the latest news? One headline suggests that coffee is good for you and the next reads that it is not good for you; another headline says alcohol is great for your health and then another tells you that it is not. What about a high protein diet, or a high carbohydrate diet, or an all-grapefruit diet? Do you choose bottled water or filtered water? What about using a microwave?

If you are confused, you are not alone.

One of the problems we have is that there is so much health information out there that it is often hard to decide what is good for you. The other problem, and one that I think is the root of all this confusion, is in understanding what is truly important versus what is not. What health advice is worth investing your time and effort in and what it just simply good advice.

Since we are all busy, let me try and give you some guidelines when dealing with health information, let’s start with alcohol and coffee.

Sitting on a Fence

There is something I call the Health Fence that a lot of health advice falls under. If one day you read that alcohol is the fountain of youth and the next day you read that it has the potential to do harm, then it belongs on the Health Fence. What you have to understand about the items that end up on the Health Fence is that they are both good and bad for you, often depending on the dose.

On the Health Fence are things like coffee, wine, and sunshine. Coffee is good for you, but not if you are drinking 3 or more cups a day. Wine, likewise, has health benefits, but not if you are drinking more than a glass or two a day. Sunshine is essential for your health, but if you are out in the sun long enough to have a severe burn, then it is not so good for you.

Don’t be confused by conflicting studies with items on the Health Fence; just understand that all of these items can be either good or bad for you depending on how much you use or are exposed to them.

Other Health Confusions

Besides items that end up on the Health Fence, let me give you an idea of how important the rest of the confusing health questions.

  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese has received a lot of attention in the last few years, with a few popular books suggesting that weight has little to do with health. The truth, though, is that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that associates increases in weight with many diseases including diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease and some cancers.

     

  • Smoking: There is no confusion about smoking; it is bad for your health and you should stop yesterday if you are a smoker.

     

  • Sugar: Sugar is every bit as harmful as cigarettes and I describe the extent of the damage in my book Sugarettes. While the medical community says little about the harm done by sugar, very soon they will realize what a health tragedy sugar is and reverse their stance.

     

  • Fast food: Eating fast food means, for the most part, that you are eating processed foods that are often overcooked and that are full of additives, preservatives and colorings. There are, however, healthier choices when picking up something quick. Some fast food restaurants serve made-to-order burritos, or Asian-style foods, or even sushi, which are all relatively healthy. Choosing from these healthier fast food restaurants is much better for your health.

     

  • Chocolate: Chocolate itself is healthy; the sugar that usually surrounds it is not. If you must eat chocolate (and, yes, I know for some of you it is a MUST), find a low-sugar alternative to your typical high-sugar chocolate treat.

     

  • Artificial Sweeteners: There is no question that these are bad for you and you should avoid them. There are many good books about this subject; educate yourself before you ever put these chemicals in your body again.

     

  • Bottled water: There is no doubt that bottled water is not your best choice when you are thirsty. From the plastic chemicals that leach into the water to the environmental problems with dealing with the plastic, using filtered or even tap water is often your best choice.

     

  • Margarine: Thank goodness that the truth about margarine is finally out! Avoid this plastic-non-food as it is very bad for you and your health.

     

  • Exercise: There is no question that exercise is good for you, so stop reading this right now and get out and move your buns around. Exercise has so many health benefits that it should be called the fountain of youth. Exercise has been shown in research studies to improve insulin resistance, heart disease, depression, longevity, insomnia and a long list of other conditions.

     

  • Microwave cooking: Microwave cooking falls in that sort of in-between space. Yes, microwaves destroy vitamins and other nutrients, but so does almost every way of cooking. Microwaves have the potential to alter the structure of proteins and fats, but it is unclear how harmful this may be; once again, it is probably a matter of dose. I generally recommend eating foods as close to their original state as possible, but cooking foods occasionally in a microwave shouldn’t be a problem.

     

  • Dietary Fat: Is fat good for you or bad for you? The answer to that question depends on the type of fat you are talking about. The good fats are essential fats found in fish oil and flax oil and in many foods. The bad fats are artificially hydrogenated and trans fats (such as margarine). The lack of good fats in most people’s diet is a major cause of illness and you should consider supplementing with fish oil if you don’t already.

     

What Else?

Do you have any other health concerns that you are confused about? I’ll keep updating this post as your questions come in. Use the comments at the end of the post, or submit a question using the question link.

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