12 Health Trends That Are Not Healthy
Americans spent over $125 billion on health and wellness foods and beverages, supplements and pers...
Americans spent over $125 billion on health and wellness foods and beverages, supplements and personal care items in 2009 alone, according to Natural Marketing Institute research. While some health trends, like eating more whole foods, are worth the effort, others are more hype than fact-based. If you're lucky, an ineffective wellness product or routine turns out to be a simple waste of money or time. In worse cases, these products and techniques pose potentially serious health risks. Learning more about health fads worth skipping may prompt you to make wiser lifestyle decisions, keeping your funds and vitality in check. To learn whether a trend is based on fact or fiction, seek guidance from your doctor or dietitian.
1. Fat-Free EVERYTHING
In the ’90s, many Americans avoided dietary fats, believing that a low-fat diet prevented weight gain, heart disease and various cancers -- notions that turned out to be false. For most people, a healthy diet is moderate in fat, which should account for 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories and come from nutritious sources, according to the USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Consuming too little fat can cause a variety of problems, including nutrient deficiencies, memory problems, skin problems and fatigue. While fat-free commercial foods, such as pastries and cookies, may sound healthier than their fat-containing counterparts, many are not. "In order to make many of these fat-free foods taste good and be shelf-stable food manufacturers add extra sugar and unhealthy food additives," says Los Angeles registered dietitian Julie Rose.
2. "Cleansing" Away Toxins With Juice Fasts
Detox diet proponents claim that avoiding solid foods, sipping particular juices and taking "detoxifying" supplements allows the digestive system to eliminate toxins, leading to overall enhanced wellness. These notions are not upheld by science, however. "Our bodies are complex, with a balance of microorganisms that work in conjunction with our GI tract, liver and kidneys to filter, digest and detox our bodies of any unnecessary impurities," says Julie Duffy Dillon, a registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist in Greensboro, North Carolina. Juices and pills aren't needed for detoxing Dillon says. Many cleanses can have side effects, such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, muscle loss and weak immune function, according to both Harvard Medical School and the Journal of Family Practice.
3. Hormone Injections
The HCG Diet involves injections of human chorionic gonadotropin -- hormones women produce during pregnancy -- and consuming a mere 500 daily calories. This combo, said to produce rapid weight loss, can cause serious complications. "In extreme calorie restriction like the HCG diet, our body will try to save us by craving any food in sight, and give us signals to eat as much as possible," Dillon says. This commonly triggers bingeing, she said, and can lead to cyclic bingeing and starving and full-fledged eating disorders. No evidence shows that HCG accelerates weight loss, and a CDC study showed low calorie diets could be dangerous. Potential side effects of HCG include bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, rashes, vision problems and wheezing.
4. Going Overboard on Calorie Cutting
Weight loss generally requires a caloric deficit, meaning you must burn more calories than you consume. While dietitian Dillon understands the desire to jumpstart weight loss with an extreme low calorie action plan, Dillon says it's unhealthy and ineffective. "All it does is throw the body into a starvation response and slow down the metabolism," she said. "The body will conserve energy, quickly shift to storing fat and instead use muscle for energy." This can lead to eventual weight gain, nutrient deficiencies, bingeing, depressive moods, increased stress and, in severe cases, organ problems.
5. Super-Sizing Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Over 50 percent of American adults take dietary supplements, according to a 2013 JAMA Internal Medicine report. While vitamins can provide health-promoting benefits in people with nutrient deficiencies, assuming that more is better and relying on pills instead of food poses problems. Supplements cannot replace foods nutritionally, Dillon says, nor can the body put exorbitant micronutrient doses to use. "Mega-dose supplements at the least provide us with expensive urine," she says, because the body excretes excesses of water-soluble nutrients. "At worst, it can provide toxic harmful levels." This can result from fat-soluble nutrient excesses. Nutrient toxicity can cause many symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, headaches, muscle weakness, blurred vision, hair loss and brittle nails.
6. Assuming “Natural” Equals Safe
Herbal remedies have been used for centuries to promote health and eradicate illness, but many Americans mistakenly assume that “natural” equals safe when it comes to supplements. Very few valid studies support herbal remedies' safety or effectiveness, according to non-profit medical center the Cleveland Clinic. What’s more, herbal remedies aren't subject to the rigorous testing for safety, quality or usefulness that drugs undergo in the United States. Goldenseal, for example, a supplement used to manage constipation and inflammation, may cause heart abnormalities. Stimulant herbs used for boosted energy and weight loss, such as ephedra and bitter orange, can have potentially fatal effects. Before using an herbal remedy, seek guidance from your doctor.
7. Colonic Hydrotherapy
Colonic irrigation, also called colonic hydrotherapy, is a technique used in med-spas and alternative health centers to detoxify the body and treat conditions, such as chronic fatigue and constipation. A rubber tube is inserted into your rectum then into your colon, through which up to 20 gallons of water and possibly additives, such as soap, coffee or enzymes, are pumped in. It sits there while a technician massages your abdomen with the intent of loosening stool and releasing toxins. Then the waste is flushed out through the same tube. The practice hasn't been well studied, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the premise isn't upheld by science; most bodies detoxify themselves naturally and irrigation isn't known to enhance health. Colonic irrigation can cause problems, however, such as electrolyte imbalances, infections and allergic reactions to additives used.
8. Sweating Off Pounds in Plastic
While shedding excess pounds is grueling, products marketed as quick fixes typically don't work -- sauna suits included. Sauna suits are plastic apparel worn over workout gear during exercise to increase sweat, facilitating increased weight loss. The problem with sauna suits, according to Alice! Health Promotion at Columbia University, is that you lose fluid, not fat. You can also experience complications mid-workout if your skin can't breathe and sweat, such as weakness, confusion, dizziness, coma and death. Eating a balanced diet that emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and exercising regularly are proven, safe means of weight control. Staying well-hydrated is also important for keeping healthy and fit.
9. Cutting Carbs Like Crazy
While replacing low-nutrient carbohydrates, such as cookies and pretzels, with more nutrient dense foods is a wise choice, reducing all carbohydrates may be unnecessary. "There is a huge myth that carbs are bad," says Jenny Giblin, a certified nutrition coach and psychotherapist in New York and Hawaii. "It’s not about restricting them altogether, but choosing the right ones." You should choose complex sources, she said, which are fiber-rich, satiating and help ensure optimal brain and body function. Some examples of nutritious complex carbs include sweet potatoes, squash, beans, oatmeal, flaxseed and berries. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy long-term sustainable diet consists of 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates from nutritious sources.
10. Going 100% Raw Vegan
Raw foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and seeds, are certainly nutritious. Eating only raw foods, however, can pose some risks. "A raw food diet can be very healthy," Giblin says, "however, you want to be sure that you are still meeting your nutritional needs." This includes nutrients raw food diets often lack, such as calcium and vitamins B-12 and D, Giblin points out. Consuming too little vitamin B-12, which derives mainly from animal products that are restricted from raw-food diets, can cause fatigue, constipation, appetite loss and numbness. Without enough vitamin D and calcium, which promote bone health, you can develop weak, breakable bones. You could also lack the antioxidant lycopene, because cooking tomatoes, the most concentrated and common lycopene source, enhances its absorption, according to the American Cancer Society. If you choose to follow a vegan or raw vegan diet, you should consider taking a vitamin B-12 supplement and a vitamin D supplement.
11. Over-Doing It With Protein
Protein provides amino acids, the building blocks of lean tissue. Like carbohydrates and fat, your body needs sufficient amounts to function properly -- but too much is, well, too much. With the popularity of low-carb diets, many Americans have begun to see protein-rich foods as foods you can eat freely without adverse consequences. While increased protein intake may enhance weight loss short term, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, most people are unaware of the risks. A high-protein diet has been linked with kidney disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis and forms of cancer, says the PCRM. Consumed in excess, protein can also cause weight gain and leave little room in your diet for other healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
12. Going Gluten-Free, Without a Good Reason
Gluten-free diets are a saving grace if you are sensitive to gluten and essential treatment if you have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which gluten damages your small intestine lining and hinders nutrient absorption. Eating gluten-free products will not necessarily help you lose weight, however. Gluten-free commercial products contain as many calories as their gluten-containing counterparts, or more. Risks of needlessly going gluten-free include nutrient deficiencies, constipation and a weakened immune system caused by a lack of helpful bacteria in your gut. If you believe you have gluten intolerance, seek guidance from your doctor.