Most common health myths debunked including weight concerns and calorie control

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A woman despairs at her health concerns (file image) (Image: Getty Images)
A woman despairs at her health concerns (file image) (Image: Getty Images)

It’s the time of year when thoughts of getting healthier loom large and we focus on ways to improve our wellbeing.

But sometimes our ideas of what we need to be doing can be a little misguided. Juliette Kellow looks at some of our most common health concerns – and reveals what our real priorities should be.

While we all know it’s better, for instance, for our health to drink less alcohol, often we find it hard to kick the habit because it’s become ingrained in our behaviour.

But over time, habitual drinking can lead to poor mood and sleep, as well as an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Most common health myths debunked including weight concerns and calorie control eideeidediqxzinvA woman runs through a park (file image) (Getty Images/EyeEm)

The worry: I weigh too much

The priority: Measuring your waist

Why? Our weight doesn’t indicate how much fat we have or where it’s stored.

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Bigger waistlines indicate there’s more fat around our middle, and this is the type that builds up inside and around our organs, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The NHS recommends men aim for a waist measurement below 94cm (37in) and women below 80cm (31.5in). So stop focusing on the scales and take out a tape measure instead.

Most common health myths debunked including weight concerns and calorie controlIt's important not to lose heart when chasing your weight-loss goals (Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF)

The worry: I should take supplements

The priority: Eating a healthy, balanced diet

Why? Popping pills isn’t the best way to ensure you get all your vitamins and minerals. Studies show supplements are less likely to bring health benefits when compared to those supplied in food.

The combination of nutrients in a food, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, fibre and antioxidants, together with the chemical structure – known as the food matrix – ensures our body absorbs what it needs more effectively from them.

There are times when supplements may be recommended though. For example, women planning a baby and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy should take a daily 400mcg folic acid supplement, while the NHS recommends we all take a vitamin D supplement in autumn and winter.

Most common health myths debunked including weight concerns and calorie controlA young man helps his girlfriend during her sports training (stock image) (Getty Images)

The worry: I hate the gym

The priority: Build more activity into your day

Why? Spending less time sitting down and more time moving improves mood, aids sleep, reduces stress, helps with weight management and keeps your heart, bones and muscles healthy. But this doesn’t mean taking out a gym membership. Health experts recommend twice weekly muscle strengthening exercises but things like gardening and carrying shopping home count.

You also need 150 minutes of moderately intense activity each week such as brisk walking – that’s just 22 minutes a day. And you don’t even have to do it all at once.

Most common health myths debunked including weight concerns and calorie controlNuts are typically high in calories (Getty Images)

The worry: I need to count calories

The priority: Look at quality, not quantity

Why? Calories alone don’t tell you about the nutrients in a food or whether it will fill you up. For example, a handful of unsalted almonds and a small bag of crisps contain similar calories, but the nuts have three times more protein and double the fibre – key components that help us feel fuller for longer.

Plus, the nuts are lower in salt and higher in most vitamins and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and vitamin E.

The key is to choose foods that give you plenty of nutrients for your calories – think wholegrains, fish, eggs, reduced-fat dairy and veg over biscuits, chocolate and fast food. You’ll be fuller for longer so less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks.

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Most common health myths debunked including weight concerns and calorie controlMost smokers admit to turning to cigarettes in times of stress (Getty Images)

The worry: I need to detox

The priority: Cut back on alcohol or quit smoking

Why? Our bodies have a built-in detox mechanism in the form of our liver, lungs, kidneys and skin, and if we’re healthy there’s no evidence they need help to get rid of waste products or benefit from a detox diet.

However, smoking and excessive alcohol will damage or indirectly affect these organs so that, over time, they begin to work less efficiently. To keep them healthy, it’s important to quit smoking and avoid drinking more than the recommended maximum of 14 units of alcohol a week.

Try to have at least three consecutive days each week when you don’t drink alcohol at all. One of the most amazing things about our livers is that they are self-healing, so giving yours a few days off processing alcohol every week will allow its automatic repair processes to kick in.

Most common health myths debunked including weight concerns and calorie controlSalt in our diets can lead to high blood pressure (SCU)

The worry: I should avoid additives

The priority: Eat less salt

Why? In the UK, the E number given to additives such as colours, thickeners, emulsifiers, preservatives and sweeteners, means they’ve been thoroughly tested and experts have concluded they’re safe and won’t harm health. On the other hand, too much salt in our diets can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and vascular dementia.

We need about 1g of salt per day – a small pinch – for our bodies to function, while the maximum recommended daily intake is 6g.

A glance at the traffic light colours on food packaging will quickly flag products that are high in salt and help you choose lower-salt products. Avoid adding salt to cooking or at the table.

The worry: I never feel like I’ve had enough sleep

The priority: Look at quality as well as quantity

Why? Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, so if you’re hitting this but still waking up tired it’s worth thinking about the quality of your slumber.

If you regularly wake up more than once a night, then struggle to get back to sleep, the quality of your sleep could impact how you feel the next day, even if you then make up the “lost” time with a lie in.

Too much caffeine, alcohol and large meals before bed, can affect the quality of your rest, so start by limiting these.

Stress, sleep apnoea (when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep), night sweats linked to the menopause and chronic pain can also affect sleep quality. So if you find you are being woken by any of these, see your GP.

Most common health myths debunked including weight concerns and calorie controlA woman splashes soap and water on her hands (Getty Images/Tetra images RF)

The worry: I need lots of vitamin C to prevent colds

The priority: Wash your hands more

Why? The best way to reduce your chances of catching a cold is to prevent the spread of germs. Diet wise, vitamin C is just one nutrient that supports our immune system and most of us get plenty from our diet.

There’s no evidence showing taking vitamin C supplements will stop you from getting a cold although some studies have suggested it may reduce the severity and length of time of symptoms.

Instead, keep your hands clean and don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth when you’re out and about to reduce the risk of catching a virus.

Amy Packer

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