6 Well-Known Health Tips (That Don't Work At All)
Trying to keep up with the latest health advice is like trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends: One minute you're eating tons of fish to get smarter, and the next you're attending a business meeting wearing nothing but Zubaz and a soul patch.
Part of the problem is that it seems like science is constantly changing its mind -- it seems like eggs have gone from health food to poison back to health food just in the last 20 years (and do you need to refrigerate them or not, damn it?). Well, all we can do is try to keep you apprised of the latest findings, even if they conflict with the ones we ourselves reported a few years ago. So here are some common myths that it appears, for now, have been debunked:
Myth: Dark Chocolate Is A Health Food!
Sadly, while we desperately wish our indulgences were somehow good for us, that seldom turns out to be the case. Fortunately for your sweet tooth, one notable exception to that is chocolate -- especially dark chocolate. Recent headlines have boasted that it's good for your heart, it gives your skin a healthy glow, and best of all, a regular Hershey intake is like mounting a supercharger on your cerebrum, effectively transforming you into a real-life MODOK (or at the very least helping you stave off senility).
But Actually ...
Shockingly, stuffing your face full of chocolate -- even of the darkest variety -- won't lead to Rain Man memory or post-Photoshop quality skin ... unless you're willing to accept the tradeoff of causing your ass to swell at a rate directly proportional to any perceived benefits.
"Eh, fuck Becky."
You see, the flavanols present in chocolate are indeed, to put it in scientific terms, "the shit." In one study, older volunteers who drank a concentrated flavanol beverage for three months before taking a memory test performed as well as those half their age. Subsequent scans revealed increased blood flow to certain areas of the brain, including a region implicated in the development of CRS disease in the elderly. But here's the catch: Most commercial chocolates are shitty sources of flavanol, because the processes that make chocolate delicious also spell genocide for the beneficial compounds therein. So to get a good flavanol buzz going, you'd need to snarf down at least seven chocolate bars every single day -- which, admittedly, is not that big of a stretch from the average American diet.
We call that "brunch" around here.
But why can't science simply make a bar packed with flavanols, much as a Snickers is packed with peanuts? Well, they could -- and it would taste downright awful, because flavanols are bitter as hell. Previous testing has revealed that any attempt to make chocolate healthy also makes it butt nasty. And if we wanted to choke down something that tastes bad just because it's good for us, we'd skip the candy isle and go pick up some ... what are those things called again? Oh yeah: vegetables.
"This whole aisle is like something out of Avatar."
Myth: Food Is Always Safer If Kept In The Fridge!
Step one in avoiding a life-ruining case of food poisoning is making sure bacteria can't grow on anything remotely perishable in the first place, and that means keeping it cold. Considering the billions of people throughout history who literally shat themselves to death, the invention of the refrigerator would come in right behind the discovery of fire in the top 10 ways we achieved actual edibility in our food (No. 1, of course, being stuffing it into burritos).
It's no wonder, then, that modern American refrigerators have grown to the size of European family sedans to allow us to store anything and everything in the name of keeping it from "going bad."
"Honey? When did we get another dog?"
But Actually ...
Most commonly refrigerated foodstuffs wouldn't be any worse off at room temperature, and some you're actively damaging by storing them in the cold. For example, you might think your bread stays fresh longer in the fridge, but in reality refrigerating it sets off a thermally initiated cascade of molecular events called retrogradation, the culinary equivalent of choosing the wrong Holy Grail. At ordinary fridge temperatures (between 35 and 40 degrees), bread ages six times faster than it would on the counter, because the cold causes its starches to crystallize. That's also why you never chill potatoes (they're full of tasty starches, too).
As a matter of fact, unless you picked up an item from the refrigerated section to begin with, there's a good chance you shouldn't refrigerate it when you get home. Besides bread and potatoes, add most fruits (including tomatoes), onions, garlic, sauces, and most condiments to the "keep out" sign that you're about to tape onto your refrigerator as if it's your childhood tree house.
Something tells us this isn't going to be a big issue for some of you.
Hell, even some things that come from your grocer's refrigerator are just dandy at room temperature -- not only is storing butter in a butter dish not going to kill you, it's also much less likely to tear your bread to pieces when you try to spread it.
And while we're at it ...
Myth: Chicken Needs To Be Washed Thoroughly Before You Cook It!
Washing our food is perhaps the most basic form of human sanitation -- even before we had running water, illiterate serfs were keen enough to flick the fly carcasses off of their rat shanks before taking a gnaw. It's a habit that's survived throughout the millennia: A recent survey by the UK Food Standards Agency showed that 44 percent of respondents always toss their chicken in the backyard and go at it with an industrial pressure washer before cooking it (or, you know, give it a good spray in the sink, for those who insist on doing everything the non-badass way). Even cooking shows make sure you see the hosts give their chicken a bath before getting down to business:
"You can save even more time by washing your hands and the chicken at the same time."
But Actually ...
While your mind (specifically, your grandma's voice in the back of it) is telling you that you're sanitizing your chicken by giving it a pre-cooking rinse, what you're really doing is spreading bacterial paratroopers all over your kitchen in the form of thousands of microscopic beads of raw-chicken water splashing around all willy-nilly -- landing on your sink, your cutting board, your knives, and your forearms like a tiny, invisible army of diarrhea warriors.
Of course, the very concept of "washing" bacteria off of chicken is ludicrous to begin with. Bacterial adhesion is largely based on interacting electrical charges, and no amount of your (quite frankly, disturbing) tendency to massage your dead birds before devouring them is going to break that bond. Basically, you're just spreading the easier-to-dislodge bacteria (like salmonella) while fruitlessly struggling against the smaller strains, both of which can only be reliably destroyed by blasting them with sufficient heat. In other words, just cook your damn chicken.
If you're really that paranoid, you could always try making it "industrial style."
And, switching back to the "bullshit health food" category ...
Myth: Antioxidant Supplements Will Keep You Healthy!
"Antioxidant" is a word we're betting you'd never heard before it started turning up in your grocery store's health food aisle:
"Original Antioxidants:" Not like those newfangled ones the kids are doing.
So these foods must get rid of ... toxins or something? That word is sort of in there. Apparently they have something to do with fighting cancer, right?
Who's willing to bet CancerDecisions.com doesn't have any other employees?
So, there we go. When it comes to cancer, antioxidants (whatever they are) are good, and "oxidants" are bad.
But Actually ...
As a matter of fact, our cells require a balance of both oxidants and antioxidants. The former, while demonized, are essential to cell health and only toxic in large quantities. Ironically, it's oxidants (not their glamorized bizarro counterparts) that are used to kill cancer -- radiation therapy and chemotherapy work by oxidizing the absolute shit out of cancerous cells.
Not only have oxidants gotten a bad rap, but recent research reveals that antioxidants -- widely touted as the be-all and end-all of cancer prevention -- might be some kind of sleeper agent for the Big C. For example, men taking vitamin E and selenium supplements (often sold as antioxidants) didn't fare any better than the rest of us, and in several groups, the supplements effectively increased the men's risk of developing prostate cancer. And in mice with lung cancer, vitamin E caused a 300 percent increase in tumor growth and a supersonic trip to the rodent afterlife. When researchers tested human cancer cells in the same manner, the vitamin E only served to piss them off as well.
Trust us, you won't like them when they're angry.
To be clear, we're not saying you should swear off antioxidants altogether -- vitamins are pretty much the healthiest thing in this world now that Jack LaLanne has moved on to that great big juice bar in the sky. But, as with most anything, you need to put in some effort -- in this case, chewing. It seems it's best to get your antioxidants in appropriate quantities via a diet that includes actual fruits and vegetables, rather than expecting everything to come in pill form like we're living in goddamn Star Trek or some shit.
Myth: Wash Your Hands In Hot Water To Kill Those Germs!
This is one of those basic laws of the universe: Hot = clean.
That's why everyone from your mom to your first fast food supervisor told you that, in order to murder the bacteria living on your hands in the most agonizing manner possible (because those little bastards deserve nothing less), you should wash your hands using the hottest water you can conceivably tolerate. After all, isn't that the same reason your dishwasher scalds your dishes, and why laundry doesn't get really clean unless it's in hot (or at least warm) water?
"That grass stain is coming out, so help me God."
It just makes sense -- any microbial stragglers the soap leaves behind, the heat will sweep through and take out like Rambo blowing up that Vietnamese village with his helicopter (after the hostages had already been rescued -- you know, just to make sure).
But Actually ...
It's absolutely true that heat will destroy bacteria. However, the required temperature to burn those critters away is intolerable to human skin. The average temperature of "hot" water used to wash hands is about 110 degrees, while that same water is only considered "clean" after being boiled (that is, 212 degrees) for at least a minute. The upper limit of human tolerance is about 130 degrees, and while that might kill a fraction of the pathogens on your hands if you scrub long enough, it'll also have you squealing like a trapped animal.
No way to get cleaner hands then by needing complete skin grafts.
And to top it all off, not only is washing with hot water not helpful, it's fairly harmful. If anything, hot water is more likely to irritate your hands and leave them exposed to future infection, and experts have estimated that Americans washing their hands in hot water results in yearly CO2 emissions, "higher than the greenhouse gas emissions of small countries like El Salvador or Armenia." Yeah, it takes a lot of freaking electricity to heat water.
So how should you be washing your hands? Ignore temperature and pay more attention to time: Sudsing for the recommended 40-60 seconds is the most surefire way to lift and remove the bacteria from your skin.
A standard we're sure everyone in food service obeys at all times.
Myth: Alcohol Is Good For Your Heart!
When places such as the Mayo Clinic started announcing that drinking in moderation was good for your heart, it was cause for all of us light-to-moderate drinkers to raise a toast to science. No longer were we confined to sneaking a swig in the alley behind the building like some kind of filthy hobos or slinking under our desks to imbibe at work like we should be ashamed of it or something, because we were (literally) drinking to our health!
"Wow Greg, lookin' good! Have you been working out?"
But Actually ...
We've got some good news and some bad news. First, the bad news: It turns out alcohol can possibly protect you against coronary disease ... if you happen to have the correct genotype. And odds are you don't, because a Swedish study found that only 15 percent of the general population does. To put that in poker terms, you're more likely to win a hand with a two of hearts and a four from an Uno deck. Oddly enough, the genotype itself doesn't offer any protection against cardiac disease -- only by the combined powers of genetics and alcohol can you Captain Planet your heart to health.
The only time Heart has ever been useful.
As for the good news? Well, we were straight-up lying about having good news. Because new research suggests that alcohol is just plain terrible for your heart, regardless of quantity -- we've simply been misinterpreting past studies.
A meta-analysis of over 50 studies and more than a quarter-million people found that alcohol's supposed heart-boosting properties were only apparent when people cut down on the hooch. Even individuals who imbibed only occasionally improved their cardiovascular health by quitting entirely, calling to question the widespread notion that light-to-moderate drinkers are somehow doing their hearts a favor by buying them the occasional round.
Researchers from the British Medical Journal pored over data from the Health Survey for England and found similar results on their side of the pond: The supposed link between alcohol intake and longevity appeared to be utter bollocks. What's worse, they also found that former drinkers were more likely to give up the ghost early, suggesting that either previous claims regarding alcohol's cumulative health benefits were conceived during a big ol' scientific bender, or that quitters never fucking win.
So unfortunately, for drunks, either way you're going to have to deal with getting cut off early.
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