Health myths abound, partially because it’s so difficult to keep up with all the constantly changing recommendations. The pendulum of expert opinion swings wildly, making it hard for the average person to make good decisions.
Fortunately, science is coming to a point where some of the most perplexing health issues of our time—aspartame or sugar? Full-fat or low-fat? Is salt really bad for you?—are being answered with clear, definitive research.
Here is our guide to some of the most pervasive health myths and the reasons why they’re not true.
1. Is low-fat dairy really good for you?
Public health officials have for decades urged the public to choose low-fat milk and cheese. They believed that low-fat options contained fewer calories while still offering all the health benefits of the full-fat—and full-flavored—versions.
Now, research is casting doubt on that belief. Time magazine reports that a recent review of studies published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who opted for full-fat versions of milk, cheese, and other diary products didn’t face increased risks of obesity, cardiovascular disease, or type 2 diabetes as predicted.
What’s more, researchers found the full-fat versions may even offer protective health benefits. Eighteen of the 25 studies reviewed found people who ate full-fat dairy products weighed less than those who diligently ate low fat. Not one study found superior health benefits for low-fat dairy products.
Another study in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care found those who ate full-fat butter, cream, and milk had a lower risk of obesity than those shied away, reports Time. Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council, tells NPR:
“We continue to see more and more data coming out [finding that] consumption of whole-milk dairy products is associated with reduced body fat.”
Researchers have based their recommendation to avoid full-fat dairy on the presumption that the type of fat it contains—saturated—contributes to poor heart health. However, more recent research has punctured that hypothesis, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola. Although many people still steer away from low fat, the tides are slowly turning. Cooks around the world are even turning against margarine and again cooking with butter, Mercola reports.
2. Vaccines are not linked to autism
It was a medical breakthrough when vaccines for devastating illnesses like polio and the measles were discovered. Thousands of lives have been saved because of the vaccines that changed the course of history by nearly eradicating these serious illnesses.
Then autism levels began rising, and people searched for answers behind this mysterious disorder. In the search for answers, immunizations and vaccines arose as a possible reason why more children received diagnoses.
Now, research confirms that no link exists between autism and vaccines, debunking these health myths. An analysis of ten studies that collectively reviewed more than 1.2 million children found that immunizations do not cause autism, and in fact, the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine may even offer protective benefits, according to advocacy group Autism Speaks.
3. Real sugar is better than fake
The public has been inundated with information about the horrors of sugar. And to avoid the most significant problems, many people have switched to alternatives like aspartame and saccharine.
Only it turns out the sugar alternatives are often worse than sugar. Keep in mind that sugar itself is generally not good for you and should only be eaten in moderation. But when indulging, scientists say it’s better to eat the real thing and not the alternatives.
Consider diet soda, which attracts soda lovers seeking to cut calories while still getting their fix. However, research shows that diet soda is not better. It may actually be worse.
Multiple studies have shown that aspartame is dangerous for diabetics or those at risk because it exacerbates insulin sensitivity, according to Mercola. Additional research has linked aspartame to weight gain, according to Harvard Health Blog.
Researchers say sugar alternatives may be used as an excuse to rationalize unhealthy eating habits—eating a slice of cake with no cause for celebration, for example. People may be more likely to eat the cake if they think drinking calorie-free, aspartame-sweetened soda gave them extra wiggle room on the day’s food intake.
However, healthy eating isn’t just about counting calories. It’s also about nutrients and vitamins. People who fill up on cake and sweets—low-calorie or not—may not be getting all the nutrients they need to be healthy, Harvard Health Blog reports.
And while jumping for joy isn’t the most common reaction to broccoli, eating artificially sweetened food products may actually change a person’s taste buds, making plants even less tasty, according to Harvard Health. Fake sweeteners are so sweet that they could change the way people experience more complex tastes, including natural fruit and vegetables.
Experts at Harvard recommend eating natural sugars like those found in fruit, which is also rich in nutrients. But if you do indulge, it may be best to go for real sugar, and not a substitute. In moderation.
4. Salt is not evil
The same war that assaulted full-fat dairy also set its unfounded sites on salt, which many health experts have demonized. Now, a spate of research is questioning whether salt should really be considered so evil.
Some medical experts even say the government-recommended levels of salt are dangerously low, reports The Washington Post.
Although the topic is controversial among health experts and not everybody agrees, experts say the type of salt you eat is the most important thing.
Salt is a vital nutrient. It helps your cells collect and discharge necessary nutrients, and it helps to regulate blood pressure.
However, most of the salt people eat today comes from processed foods—not natural salt, according to Mercola. Even today’s table salt is heavily refined, Mercola says. He recommends a pure, unprocessed salt like Himalayan crystal salt, which provides the vital nutrients.
Adding a dash of unrefined salt onto healthy, freshly cooked, whole foods promotes good health, while eating processed food laden with sodium does not.
Which of these busted health myths most surprised you?
Image by liz west via Flickr