Health Column: Health Myths Busted

By Stephanie Vilendrer

Some things that your grandma used to tell you, like “eat your vegetables,” really do have their benefits for your health. But other common health conceptions are just not true. Are you exercising correctly? Is a calorie just a calorie? Read on to find out. 1.”Beer before liquor; never sicker. Liquor before beer; in the clear.” Supposedly, the reason that this phrase came about was to describe that the body processes weaker alcoholic drinks (such as beer) more easily than hard liquors, especially in the evening. So while mixing alcoholic beverages generally isn’t a good idea, this phrase isn’t meant to be taken literally. Another useful fact to know is that drinking alcohol containing higher amounts of congeners, which are substances produced during fermentation, is thought to cause worse hangovers. Alcohols that are darker (i.e. whiskey and red wine) have more congeners that lighter alcohols, and therefore you are probably better off taking it easy with these drinks to avoid a hangover. 2. A calorie is a calorie, regardless of what food it’s in. Nope! Many people believe that eating 200 calories of cookies is the same, as eating, for example, 200 calories of broccoli. Calories from unhealthy foods, especially high-carb foods like cookies and processed bread, are less nutritious because they are “empty;” they lack the micronutrients that actually nourish your body. It makes sense that one would be driven to overeat if relying mainly on empty calories for nutrition. Another reason that calories differ has to do with the way that foods chemically interact with the body. A good example is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Because it has a lower ratio of fructose to glucose than normal sugar, HFCS doesn’t suppress the hunger hormone, grehlin, as much as real sugar does. This is partly why HFCS has gotten such a bad rap in the last few years. 3.”Diet” is healthier. This statement couldn’t be more misleading. Most diet foods contain artificial flavorings like monosodium glutamate (MSG) or sweeteners, such as Nutrasweet and Splenda. These chemicals are excitotoxins (i.e. molecules that overly stimulate neuronal cells in the brain), and are linked to a variety of neurological diseases and, ironically, obesity. Skip the diet and choose real food instead (it tastes better, anyway)! 4. Long cardio workouts make you lose weight. You don’t have to work yourself to death to burn off last night’s dessert. In fact, too much cardio can actually be quite harmful. This is because exercise generates free radicals that cause cellular damage and can hasten aging. Doing short, intensive workout sessions is a more efficient way to maintain a fit and healthy body, since anaerobic exercise releases human growth hormone, which speeds up your metabolism. While cardio isn’t bad, don’t overdo it. Replace some sessions with interval training or weight lifting instead. 5. You lose most of your body heat through your head. Actually, this statement only applies to babies because their heads make up such a large percentage of their body mass. For adults, only about 10% of body heat escapes through the head. You should still wear a hat to keep warm (especially in frigid Minnesota winters), but buy a parka or grow a beard to cover other exposed parts of your body, too!