There is a tendency to pay attention to what the experts say is healthy. With the internet, though, these “experts” are plentiful and the result is that what you’ve always believed to be beneficial for your body isn’t necessarily so.

DITSHEGO MADOPI

Common assumption suggests that students are in their physical prime. And despite having a close-to-campus McDonald’s that is never empty and some students who consider alcohol a food group, there is a tendency to pay attention to what the experts say is healthy. With the internet, though, these “experts” are plentiful and the result is that what you’ve always believed to be beneficial for your body isn’t necessarily so. This week, Perdeby debunks some common health myths.

Myth: Eating organic food is better for you than conventionally grown produce

Modern consumers are more willing to spend on organic products, but Stanford University doctors have concluded from research that there is little evidence to support the common conception that consuming organic food is healthier. Research reports have confirmed that conventionally grown produce does carry slightly more pesticides than organic foods but it is still well within safety limits. Foods are “organic” if they are produced without synthetic pesticides, fertilisers and the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones. But there is not much difference in vitamin content between organic and inorganic food substances.

Myth: Sugar makes kids hyperactive

A medical report by paediatricians at the Riley Hospital for Children said that in a study of 12 randomised, controlled trials, scientists have examined how children react to diets containing different levels of sugar. None of the studies indicated any differences in behaviour between children who consumed sugar and those who did not. If only our parents had known this while we were still children – not that it matters much now since students have discovered coffee.

Myth: Frozen yogurt is better for you than ice cream

Frozen yogurt can still be a source of plenty of fat, sugar and calories. You’ll get some calcium from both ice cream and frozen yogurt, but there’s not a lot of valuable nutrition in either one, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In general, a half a cup of frozen yogurt has about 120 calories and 5g of fat, versus 180 calories and 10g of fat for half a cup of full-cream ice cream. Ice-cream, froyo – potato, potato: the best solution is probably just to consider both a treat and leave it at that.

Myth: If you exercise, you can eat as much as you want The ratio of food you eat to exercise you must engage in is more complex than you might think, as health magazine Shape says that the burnout rate is different from person to person based on their metabolism. Even mental activity burnout rate differs (perhaps this explains the difference between those who can stay awake throughout a class and those who cannot). Eating more or eating whatever you want using the excuse that you’re exercising can be counter-productive. It may increase appetite and lead you to believe you can reward yourself with some post-workout calories, but it is very difficult to lose weight through exercise alone. Exercise burns calories, but not as many as people think. This, combined with the fact that we tend to underestimate the calories we take in and overestimate how many we burn when we exercise, makes it clear that eating healthily is a necessary add-on to regular exercise for it to make any difference.

Myth: We should regularly take doses of vitamins and supplements

There are individuals who may require supplements, such as pregnant women and the elderly, but there is little evidence to support the idea that taking vitamins and supplements improve your health, sex life or IQ (that would have been the perfect trinity). A five-year study at Oxford University done on 20 000 people concluded that the vitamins were absorbed but did nothing for the body. If you are eating a healthy and balanced diet then multivitamins and supplements are a waste of money. As Sheldon says to Penny when she buys multivitamins in The Big Bang Theory: “What you’re essentially buying is expensive urine.”

Myth: Have 8 to 10 glasses of water daily

There is no need to measure your water intake – rather go by your thirst, say doctors from Dartmouth Medical School. Heinz Valtin, a professor at the institute and a specialist in kidney research, says the myth may have originated in a 1945 report from the Food and Nutrition Board. The report recommended that people consume one millilitre of water for each calorie of food they eat in a day (with the average calories consumed a day being 1 900). The same report mentioned that “most of this water is contained in foods”, but that section has been neglected over the years. Sometimes having too much water can even lead to water intoxication and hyponatremia (a condition where there isn’t a sufficient quantity of sodium or salt in your body).

Myth: Fast once a week to cleanse toxins from your body

Periodic fasting habits may lead to a deficiency in vital nutrients. Fasting is also not healthy for the liver. “If you have a healthy liver, you need not take extra measures to cleanse toxins from your body. Our [bodies are] able to detoxify automatically if the liver is healthy,” says nutritionist Neelanjana Singh. Perhaps this is a good reason to treat your liver with more care the next time you have a night out at Hatfield Square.

You may breathe a sigh of relief if you haven’t been doing what you thought was “healthy” before you read this article. But for those whose ideas about what it takes to be healthy have been shattered, don’t mind this article too much – at least the placebo effect hasn’t been proven to be myth … yet.

Photo: Eleanor Harding

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