The Top Inaccurate Health Tips to Ignore
Go ahead—be rebellious and ignore the time-honored advice for good health. It might not be as iron-clad as you thought.
We all know “the rules” for good health. Eat a low-carb diet to lose weight. Never borrow someone else’s glasses. And so on. But what’s the truth? We’ve scoured the research and asked the experts, and we’re here to let you know that ignoring some so-called medical advice can be like taking a bite of chocolate: Sometimes indulging can be good for you! Here, our favorite “Don’ts” you can add to your to-do list.
Don’t Eat at Night
Fact: It’s what you eat, not when you eat it that counts. The origin of the myth: “Many people who snack at night may consume extra daily calories and therefore may gain weight,” says Registered Dietitian Jon Zangwill of White Plains Hospital. There’s nothing wrong with a midnight snack if you make sure you stay within your daily caloric budget.
Lesson: A little self-control before bed may pay dividends!
Don’t Eat Carbs
Fact: Carbs play a very important role in a healthy diet as readily accessible energy for your body—especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Severely limiting them can be self-defeating. “Dietary restriction, including excessive restriction of carbohydrates, can lead the body to conserve calories, lower its metabolic rate, and diminish the likelihood of additional weight loss,” says Evelyn Attia, MD, director of the Center for Eating Disorders at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Lesson: Aim for about 50 percent of your daily calories from carbs.
Don’t Snack on Chocolate
Fact: Chocolate has loads of antioxidants, called flavonoids and oleic acid, which are heart-friendly. But not all chocolate is created equal. Skip the delicious-but-messy nuts and caramel, as well as over-processed milk- and Dutch-processed chocolates.
Lesson: You can enjoy a few ounces a week without a problem; just don’t go overboard.
Don’t Ignore Your BMI
Fact: You might think that BMI (Body Mass Index) is the litmus test for fitness but, like a dress size, BMI can be deceiving. The truth is, the metric just doesn’t work for all body types. “An individual may have a small frame and be carrying too much excess fat, but their BMI says that they are ‘healthy,’” says Registered Dietitian Katina Tsahalis. It’s also inaccurate if you’re, for instance, very fit or athletic.
Lesson: Stop worrying about your BMI. You didn’t let the number on that dress stop you, right?
Don’t Drink Water, Bottle or Tap
Fact: Bottled water isn’t safer—or less safe—than tap water. It’s really just a matter of personal preference; neither type of water will have a huge impact on your overall health. Although spring water can contain minerals and trace elements, all bottled and public tap water must be monitored. “The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act ensures that quality standards for bottled water is compatible with standards for tap water,” says Geralyn Plomitallo, clinical nutrition manager of White Plains Hospital.
Lesson: Now, about those plastic bottles…
Don’t Exercise Outside in Winter Without Fear of Catching a Cold
Fact: Sorry, but this one just doesn’t hold water—or ice. “Colds are more frequent in winter—not because it’s cold out, but because flu and cold viruses circulate better,” says Howard Luks, MD, chief of sports medicine at Westchester Medical Center and New York Medical College. It has nothing to do with whether you’re exercising in the chilly air.
Lesson: Get outside even when the temperature drops. You won’t get a cold, but you will feel better.
Don’t Shave Your Body Hair
Fact: Women have always been advised that if they shave body their hair, it will grow back coarser and thicker. Not true, says Rhoda S. Narins, MD, medical director of the Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center. “It will come in all at once, like a little crew cut, and you’ll notice it more,” she says. But you won’t make any permanent change to the hair itself.
Lesson: Keep on shaving. At least you can enjoy some nice, smooth skin before you get the stubble.
Don’t Choose Glasses Over Contact Lenses (If You Prefer)
Fact: The rumor that wearing contact lenses will help stop the progression of near-sightedness has been floating around for a while, but no, says James R. Gordon, MD, of Westchester Eye Associates. It simply won’t help.
Lesson: Style is an entirely different matter. At least with contacts, you won’t look like you’re peering through a Coke bottle.
Don’t Forget to Take Your Vitamin C
Fact: Starting to sneeze? Don’t think that vitamin C supplements will get you over it. “This myth started in the 1970s when scientist Linus Pauling theorized that taking one thousand milligrams of vitamin C daily would prevent the common cold,” says Whitney Ahneman, a registered dietitian at White Plains Hospital. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. Ahneman says numerous studies have disproved that additional supplementation affect a cold.
Lesson: Invest in chocolate instead of vitamin C supplements—you’ll still be sniffly, but at least you’ll be happy.
Don’t Eat Turkey If You Need to Stay Awake
Fact: We’ve heard that turkey, with all its tryptophan, is a one-way ticket to snoozeville, but tryptophan needs to be taken on an empty stomach in order to make you drowsy, says Rochelle Waldman, MD, of The Sleep Center at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. The fact that turkey gets singled out for this reputation is unfair, too; there are many foods that contain similar amounts of tryptophan, including chicken, pork, and cheese. The thing about the turkey is that it’s usually offered with a dinner rich in carbs, and that combo stimulates a chemical process that will make you sleepy.
Lesson: A cup of joe with that carb-laden ham sandwich before the meeting might still be in order.
Don’t Go to the Doc If It Ain’t Broken
Fact: You may think that if you hurt your finger, hand, or wrist, but can still move it, you can skip the ER visit, since it’s not broken. Wrong—you still need to make sure you don’t have “ligament, cartilage, or tendon injury,” says Paul Franger, MD, chief of orthopedics at White Plains Hospital. “Better or worse, early evaluation and treatment is essential.”
Lesson: Your hand is worth more than that insurance deductable.
Don’t Crack Your Knuckles without Fearing Arthritis
Fact: Mom has often admonished that cracking knuckles causes arthritis. Paul Fragner, MD, chief of Orthopedics at White Plains Hospital, says it’s not true. “It won’t cause arthritis, but it will cause increased swelling and diminished strength of the hands, causing functional hand impairment.”
Lesson: So your mother was still good on this one, but for the wrong reason.
Don’t Ignore Old Formulas for Optimal Pulse Rate
Fact: You may have heard that you can figure out your target pulse rate during exercise by subtracting your age from the number 220 for males, 226 for females, but…“Everyone has a certain optimal pulse while exercising,” says Howard Luks, MD, chief of Sports Medicine at Westchester Medical Center. If you have any cardiac disease in your family, are older than 45, or have a history of cardiac disease, forget this formula, says Dr. Luks. “In these cases, check with your doctor to start an exercise program and he or she will offer guidance,” he says.
Lesson: You might want to let your doctor do those pesky math problems.
Don’t Eat Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Fact: Fresh foods aren’t necessarily better than frozen foods, says Registered Dietitian Michael C. Williams, CDN, director of food and nutrition at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the height of their freshness and ripeness,” he says. “Many times, especially out of season, you can get better items frozen when compared to fresh.”
Lesson: Any fruit or vegetable, whether frozen or ripe, is better than none.
Don’t Borrow Someone Else’s Glasses
Fact: You might think that wearing the wrong glasses while reading or driving will hurt your eyes. Nope, according to James R. Gordon, MD, of Westchester Eye Associates. “It might not make you comfortable, but it won’t cause eye damage.”
Lesson: In a pinch, wear whatever glasses you can find. If you read in the car, just make sure you’re not the driver. You don’t want to have to read that citation.
So go ahead, relax and ignore all the rules. You may just be healthier for it!
Mary McIver Puthawala RN, BSN, spent years collecting advice books on how to raise her six children. Since she had no time to read, however, every book got lost in the shuffle. The kids, though, are still thriving.