8 Common Health “Facts” That Just Aren’t True

Sure, everyone you know probably believes these, but that doesn't make them even remotely true. Which lies have you been fed?

March 9, 2017
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Getty Images News / Christopher Furlong

There are a lot of things we learn throughout the course of life that we hold to be true. As it turns out, despite being widely believed, a lot of these so-called facts are anything but. Here are some “facts” you were probably told over and over, and the reality behind them.

Myth: You Should Choose Fresh Over Frozen

Despite what intuition might tell you, eating what you consider to be “fresh” produce over frozen doesn’t necessarily make a difference. In fact, they’re not mutually exclusive.

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According to Dariush Mozaffarian from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, “You can have something that’s fresh and processed and something that’s fresh and not processed.”

The FDA backs this up with their qualification of “fresh,” which can be found here. Sometimes, it’s the lesser of two evils, so to speak.

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One instance is if the fruit you want to eat is no longer in season and you can choose between a frozen version or a version that was grown far enough away that it was “then put in a refrigerated system and then put on a ship … [and] grown four months ago,” explains chef Hugh Acheson. It seems like a pretty obvious choice at that point then, doesn’t it?

Myth: Carbs = Weight Gain

First of all, it should be noted that not all carbohydrates are the same—complex vs. simple, for instance, makes a huge difference.

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According to Sian Porter, a dietitian, the word itself covers so many things that you can’t distinguish one from the other by just using the word carbohydrates. “It is the type, quality and quantity of carbohydrate in our diet that is important,” Porter explains.

In fact, Porter says that meals should ideally be centered on the starchier variety of carbohydrates; the less processed, the better it is for you. This is where the whole grain vs. white flour issue comes into play.

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In case you don’t know what exactly carbohydrates are, they’re a macronutrient, which just means they make up a significant portion of our diets. Carbohydrates come in three versions: starch, fiber, and sugar. Energy, an increased risk of disease, and the amount of calories you should be consuming are all reasons that you should not think before cutting out carbohydrates, and, in fact, not cut them out at all.

Myth: Digesting Gum Is Hard on Your Body

Fooled again! Chances are that you and everyone you know have probably heard—more than once—that you should never swallow chewing gum for the sole reason that it takes a whopping seven years to fully digest.

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Well, it just so happens that gum lovers have been misled all this time. In fact, it actually takes the majority of people a mere half-hour to two hours to digest their food, whichincludes the ever-mysterious gum.

According to Nancy McGreal, M.D., a gastroenterologist from Duke University, “The gum base is insoluble, just like the fiber base of raw vegetables, corn, popcorn kernels, and seeds.” Despite its qualification as an indigestible substance, you needn’t worry that inadvertently swallowing some gum will cause any significant harm, at least not to the digestive system.

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You definitely don’t want to swallow it on purpose or in excess though, because it can cause some less than pleasant side effects, such as headaches.

Myth: Bathroom Doors Lead to Germs

Sure, just about every commercial promoting anything to do with cleansing or sanitizing will note how both your bathroom doorknob and kitchen counter are hotbeds for germs. This is a bit of an overreaction, to put it mildly.

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According to Englewood Hospital’s chief of infectious diseases, Steven Weisholtz, M.D. , finding any and every way to dodge touching your doorknobs is somewhat effective when it comes to keeping yourself healthy, but not nearly as much as you might think.

He says that “viruses can stay alive on objects for a period of hours, or even longer in moist environments,” but that’s not the only place you can find them. Just take into consideration how liable you are to catch a cold following a long trip on a crowded bus or train.

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The viruses present in people’s sneezes and coughs and on their hands “become aerosolized, and you breathe them in,” says Weisholtz. This doesn’t discount the fact that you should keep your hands as clean as possible and take other precautions, such as keeping your flu shots up to date and avoiding sharing germs unnecessarily.

Myth: Wet Hair Outside Will Lead to a Cold

According to Jack Gwaltney Jr., M.D., whether or not you spend time outside with a head full of wet hair is irrelevant as to whether you’ll come away with a cold. Viruses are to blame instead.

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What might come as a shock is that rhinovirus, Gwaltney says, happens to stick around during times of high humidity. “But in the mild weather, we aren’t crowded together indoors, making exposure less likely.”

Rather than washing your hands with soap and water though, it turns out that hand sanitizers are actually a better option when it comes to trying to beat rhinovirus. Sadly though, research from the University of Virginia notes that this won’t necessarily prevent you from catching it to begin with.

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Ronald Turner, M.D. says, “Conversely, airborne transfer may be more important than previously recognized.” Whether that means we should start investing in masks to keep viruses at bay or just be sitting ducks is another story.

Myth: Humans Have Five Senses

Despite most of us having been led to believe that we only possess a mere five senses—sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste—that isn’t necessarily the case, according to neurologists, as well as some Harvard Medical School researchers.

In fact, plenty acknowledge that we might have more senses than we’ve even considered.

Have you ever heard of something called equilibrioception or maybe proprioception? No, they aren’t sequels to Inception, but the “sense” of balance and “the awareness of where your body parts are,” respectively.

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In fact, these other “senses” all seem to be things we take for granted, but abilities of our bodies that we do become aware of once we really break them down, one by one. Another one which actually seems pretty obvious when you think about it, is that of our ability to distinguish between cold and hot temperatures, which is known as Thermoception.

Myth: We Only Use 10 Percent of Our Brains

Though it’s a common belief that we humans use a mere 10 percent of our brain at any given time, back in 2007, doctors Aaron E. Carroll and Rachel C. Vreeman of the Indiana University School of Medicine decided they don’t agree.

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Though this is just one of numerous myths that doctors in general have taken to heart, Dr. Carroll and Dr. Vreeman studied myths “which either aren’t true or lack scientific evidence to support them.”

It turns out that people have believed this particular one since at least 1907, if not earlier, though references, the doctors found, were “often repeated by people advocating the power of self-improvement.” (Think along the lines of The Secret.)

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On the contrary though, evidence showed Carroll and Vreeman that humans use significantly more than the measly 10 percent we’re told about. They wrote, “‘Numerous types of brain imaging studies show that no area of the brain is completely silent or inactive.”

Myth: Everyone Should Drink Eight Glasses a Day

Another shocking myth Carroll and Vreeman researched was the theory that you should be sure to drink a minimum of 64 ounces—or eight glasses—of water each and every day.

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They weren’t able to locate any scientific evidence, despite the fact that the media, health professionals, and workout fiends continually promote it.

The culprit, it seems, could very well be an article from 1945, in which it was said “that a ‘suitable allowance’ of water for adults is 2.5 liters a day, although the last sentence noted that much of it is already contained in the food we eat.”

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Well that sounds like a bit more than an oversight, doesn’t it? In fact, the doctors made it clear that there are studies which have focused more on how much fluid we should be having, as opposed to how much water exclusively.

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