From the latest magazine headline to the wise words of your fitness-enthusiastic new friend, we're constantly reminded to keep our health in check by adapting healthier habits.
I know, developing those healthy habits is already hard enough. Adding some extra difficulty by filtering out, which of all the "conventional wisdom" out there turns out to be false, can be really exhausting.
Of course, you have the best intentions and I'll help you with that! Let's be honest, nowadays people love to throw around the word "healthy", but actually don't really have a clue what actually is healthy. And I understand them, it just feels good to say the word. Sadly, this is the reason, why it becomes a bit overused and meaningless at this point. Especially on products, where "healthy" is used for anything, from sugary cereal nonsense to highly processed nut bars.
Let me expose some of the most common health myths for you.
1. Eating gluten-free
"Gluten free" and "healthy" are often used as synonyms. Maybe you don't want to hear it: it's marketing crap, to raise prices on foods!
The shocking truth is, being on a gluten-free diet will lead to no special health benefits, unless you're diagnosed with celiac disease (only 1% of the world's population has this disease). And it will definitely not lead to more weight loss, unless you're eating less calories than you actually burn.
In fact, many gluten-free foods are less nutritious, higher in carbs and fat and lower in fiber and protein.
I know many people, who cut out gluten in order lose weight. Please, don't get fooled by those claims!
Gluten-containing grain - such as wheat, barley and rye - are nutritious (as long as you choose unprocessed) and they can be a great source of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.
My personal tip: Save the money on gluten-free products and keep the gluten in your life, unless you really have a problem digesting it. Pretty much the same as with dairy. Some people can't tolerate lactose, but doesn't mean you have to stop consuming it.
2. Drinking fruit juice
Drinking fruit juice is one of the new hypes, because people assume it comes from fruit. Truth is, in most of the cases it's just flavoured sugar water.
Compared to soft drinks, fruit juices are only marginally better when it comes to sugar content.
In general, drinking calories is never a good idea, when you're trying to lose body fat (however, it is a good idea, if you want to gain muscle mass and have problems to get your calories in). Most people simply don't feel satiated by drinking calories, because they're digested very quickly.
Especially with fruit juices, since almost 100% of the calories in there come from simple carbohydrates. And with no fat or protein in your meal to slow down the process, those calories will be gone in no time. Leaving you with a nice blood sugar crash and thus, hunger!
Instead, you want to eat plenty of protein - which will keep you satiated - slow digesting carbs and food rich in fiber.
Furthermore, it makes a huge different if you drink your fruits in form of a juice or if you eat them. The sugar in whole fruits (fructose) is bound to the fiber. This will fill you up longer and slows down sugar absorption in the body.
In contrast to the sugar found in fruit juices. During the process of making fruit juices the fiber content is removed, so the fiber can't slow down the absorption of the sugar. Plus, fruit juices contain much larger quantities of sugar.
But, to be fair here, fruit juice (if you buy the 100% one) has no artificial sweeteners, no added colours, no preservatives and usually a fair amount of nutrients. Therefore, it's much better for your overall health than soft drinks.
You know what's even better? Make your own vegetable juice or try fruit infused water. But if you have to buy the ready ones, make sure to read the label and check for a high fruit content and no added sugar.
3. Cutting out Carbs, because they are the enemy
Repeat after me: Carbs are not the enemy! Every magazine and TV show tells us, that carbohydrates are bad for us and we should avoid them in order to live healthy and get lean.
While low-carb/high fat diets (ketogenic diet) have some interesting benefits for several health issues and lots of people feel much better on a keto diet, it's not for everybody. Some people just need carbs to thrive. Especially gym rats.
Don't cut out carbs and feel like sh*t, just because a stupid magazine or tv-trainer told you so. Don't cut any food category out of your diet, because somebody claims they're bad! Carbs aren't bad, fat doesn't make you fat and protein won't harm your kidneys. If you eat balanced. Too much of everything can do harm.
Do what is best for you and what feels good! If you want to try a low carb/high fat diet, do your research and change things if you don't feel well! Or play with your carb sources. If you feel sluggish after eating rice, try sweet potatoes or legumes. Get to learn your body!
4. Eating fat-free or reduced-fat labeled foods
There are so many new fake "fitness foods" out there, it's unbelievable. Believe it or not, dietary fat is essential for your health, meaning you need it to survive! And it won't make you fat (except if you eat more calories than you burn of course, as with everything).
So no, foods labelled "low fat" or "fat free" aren't the healthier option. Why? This stuff is packed with preservatives, sugars, artificial ingredients, thickeners and much more.
Let's take salad dressings for example. Many fat-free dressings contain additives and a huge amount of sugar to compensate for the taste (dietary fat is a taste enhancer). Rather squeeze some lemon juice in your salad, along with olive oil, fresh herbs and spices.
Actually, your body needs dietary fat to help absorb the vitamins and minerals from the vegetables in your salad. But always aim for healthy fats, mainly from fish, eggs, nuts and avocados.
Eating very low fat can lead to a whole host of health problems, for instance low testosterone in men (very likely actually!), so make sure to get enough fat in!
Another special tip: Learn to read nutrition labels! You will get so much information when you can read them properly.
5. Slashing all treats from your diet
In my opinion, the only reason why you should avoid a food - besides a medical one - is because you don't like it. Food rules, restricted diets and "black and white"-thinking won't help anybody longterm.
Life is about enjoying what you do, loving the people around you and finding happiness. That’s the ultimate goal! You can only do that with balance.
Here's why: If you cut out foods or complete food groups you love, out of your diet, you either miss the food and may end up having more frequent food thoughts and anxiety. Or you may end up overeating or binging on those foods. Either way it will discourage you.
If you want the snickers bar, work it in your plan. Make it a lifestyle and not a restrictive, short term diet.
Mind, balance is the key. Of course, you can lose weight by eating just snickers bars, but it isn't healthy by any means.
Before you're going to make an extreme dietary change, ask yourself if this is something you want to do for the rest of your life. If the answer is 'no', please reconsider your decision. You don't have to change your "bad diet" into the best diet from one day to another by the way. Simply swapping processed with less processed food and eating more greens will get you a long way. Don't overthink it!
6. Devouring protein bars and granola bars like there is no tomorrow
Don't get me wrong: I'm a huge fan of protein bars. They are perfect when you're on the go and don't have time for a meal. But always keep in mind, that there is no bar, that has the same healthy nutrients you need and would get from a good meal.
Both, protein and granola bars are very calorie-dense and contain lots of artificial sweeteners and fat (not necessarily the healthy fats).
Every now and then a bar is fine, but watch your intake.
7. Purchase a huge stash of supplements
If you're on a well-balanced diet, you should get all your vitamins and minerals through the food you eat.
However, there are a few supps you could consider. Most people will benefit from a good vitamin D3 supplement (5.000 IU/day), if sun exposure is very little and Omega-3, unless you consume fatty fish or Omega-3-enhanced eggs several times per week. Protein powder is not even remotely necessary.
Don't even think about buying some weight loss pills, fat burner, testosterone booster and what not.
Rule of thumb here: If it's legal, it doesn't work. Stay away from this crap!
If you think you're not losing enough fat or don't have the desired results in the gym, don't go to a supplement store, because you think that's the problem! 90% of how you look is your diet, 10% is exercise.
If you don't lose weight, your diet is bad - as in too many calories and/or not enough protein. If you don't build muscle mass, it's either not enough calories, the wrong workouts (very likely!) or both. Period.
8. Only do cardio
Speaking of the wrong workouts. Please, don't think you have to run 1 hour on the treadmill 3 times a week to lose weight. It's true that running, biking, swimming etc. strengthens your heart and lungs and improves blood cholesterol.
But you should definitely consider other forms of exercise first. Adding weightlifting to your exercise routine will increase your muscle mass, decrease body fat and increase the amount of calories you burn throughout the day (even at rest!). Plus, you will look much more athletic.
Don't think that lifting heavy weights will make you bulky. That's nonsense! Lifting heavy weights aids gaining lean muscle mass and increases bone density, so you'll look much leaner.
Furthermore, running is not a good idea for fat loss, since it not only burns fat but also muscle mass and increases cortisol - the stress hormone - which will give your body a hard time losing fat.
9. Avoiding coffee
I'm a huge coffee lover. And there are a lot coffee-haters out there. But actually, coffee is quite good for you - consumed in moderation. As always, too much of everything isn't good for you.
Caffeine works as a stimulant to the nervous system. Hence, it may increase alertness, focus and concentration.
Drinking a black coffee as pre workout can also lead to an improved performance in the gym. Even scientists from Harvard promote the consumption of up to 6 cups of coffee per day, for it's health benefits.
Now, of course, if you have heart issues or react very strongly to caffeine, don't drink too much. Listen to your body!
11. Always choosing egg whites over whole eggs
You're absolutely right: Egg whites are lower in calories than the whole egg, but they are also lower in nutrients. In fact, the yolk contains most of the nutritional value, with lots of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Healthy dietary fat is crucial for the absorption of vital vitamins and minerals, which we get from other food.
Next time you're making an egg white omelette, add 1 whole egg. It tastes much better, provides you with lots of nutritional benefits and it won't burst you caloric intake.
12. Switching to artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners may be tempting - and I use them too - but what they lack in calories, they make up in chemicals. Therefore, use them wisely!
Most popular examples in the fitness and nutrition industry are diet sodas. I know, it's an easy yet delicious way to reduce your caloric intake and somehow treat yourself.
Here's the problem with it: Studies have shown that artificial sweetener may stimulate sugar cravings and appetite. Meaning, you'll more likely overeat in general and therefore, sabotage your weight loss. Plus, they might make you hold more water weight.
Simply stick to water or, if you need something with taste, choose tea.
To sweeten your meal, such as porridge, rather choose mashed banana, honey or a natural sweetener like Stevia.
See, sometimes even when we're seemingly doing all the right things to reach our goal to live "healthier", you can be unknowingly committing missteps, which may sabotage your efforts.
Keep it simple. Unprocessed food and veggies should be your priority. That's your base. Everything else is just a small addition to your healthy base lifestyle.
Oh and by the way - another rule of thumb: if somebody makes enough money with a product to pay for ads, that say it's healthy, or for fancy packaging, claiming the same: it's probably not.
At least I haven't seen an ad for broccoli, kale, tomatoes or blueberries lately... You?