While the internet is great for communicating information to millions of people, it's also extremely easy for misinformation to spread. It can be tricky to determine what sources are reliable. This can lead to bad health decisions.
And taking care of your body is one of the most important things you can do to live a long and healthy life.
With that in mind, here are 5 health myths you've certainly heard.
The truth may surprise you.
Myth 1: Gluten is bad for you.
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye, which plays a big role in making bread products elastic and chewy.
About 1% of the population has an autoimmune response to gluten — a condition known as celiac disease. This causes intense irritation in the small intestines, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients. People with celiac disease can be so sensitive to gluten that even cross-contamination with dishes or utensils that have come into contact with gluten can pose a risk.
For the average person, however, gluten does not pose a health risk. While gluten-free diets are in vogue, there's no hard science supporting it. While certain people do report feeling better after giving up gluten, this is probably due to the placebo effect — or to the fact that these dieters are eating better in general.
Myth 2: Diets supply all necessary nutrients.
Ideally, humans would get all of their vitamins from diet and the environment. But that's not always possible. Food allergies and busy modern lifestyles make it hard to get all our nutrients from food — even foods fortified with vitamins.
Vitamin deficiencies can be serious. While conditions like scurvy or rickets seem old-fashioned and most people don't worry about them anymore, they can still be a problem. Improper nutrition can also increase the risk of a number of other conditions, such as night blindness, weak bones, anemia, and even severe birth defects like spina bifida, cleft palate, and hernias.
People should talk to their doctor about possible deficiencies and swing on down to Walgreens to talk to a pharmacist about which supplements are best and how different nutrients work together for maximum effectiveness.
Myth 3: Microwaving food is dangerous.
There have been many myths surrounding the safety of microwaves, in part due to ill-designed science fair experiments that have gone viral. Unlike x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet rays (which can all cause cancer), microwave radiation is non-ionizing, meaning it doesn't free up electrons within the molecules of the food. All it does is vibrate water and other polar molecules inside of food, causing heat through friction. Structurally, it changes nothing.
In fact, because a microwave cooks food so quickly, it actually preserves nutrients better than other cooking methods, according to research done at Harvard.
The biggest danger of microwaves? Eating that molten filling inside a pizza roll before it has cooled. Ouch!
Myth 4: Detoxing is an important way to keep the liver and kidneys healthy.
"Detox cleanses" claim that drinking certain juices will rid the body of harmful toxins in only a few days. The bottles of juice are expensive, running up to $150 for a 3-day supply.
While it's certainly great to be mindful of the body's needs, the liver and kidneys already do a fantastic job of filtering out waste products. While they might be low in calories, juice cleanses are high in sugar, which for some people can cause serious problems and doesn't help the kidneys or liver.
Once the cleanse is over, the body is so grateful for the re-introduction of solid food and increased caloric intake, it will hold on to fat and sugar to build energy stores for the next time days go by without a decent meal.
Instead of doing a cleanse, it's better to be mindful of what you're introducing into your body and make sure you're getting the nutrients your body's natural detoxifiers need to do their jobs.
Myth 5: Everyone can benefit from being on a paleo/vegan/raw/whatever diet
It seems impossible to go a month without hearing about the next big miracle diet. Whether it's vegan, paleo, raw, or alkaline, they all require some pretty drastic lifestyle changes.
While some people respond to these diets, others see no effect whatsoever — and some even have adverse reactions.
A number of factors go into a person's health, including genetics, lifestyle, environment, and even the population of gut microbes that assist with digestion. Each person needs to address their own individualized needs.
Of course, there are some general rules that benefit just about everyone, like not over-eating, avoiding processed foods, and taking in enough nutrients.
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