An expert shares insight on some of the beliefs that might be sabotaging your wellness goals (or bank account).
Since 2003, it's been Shaun Francis' job to discover the best treatments and services to offer his high-paying clients at Medcan, one of the world's largest providers of preventive healthcare. (They're known for their elaborate six-hour medical and fitness assessment that screens for potential health and wellness hazards.) As chair and CEO, he spends much of his time reading studies and consulting top experts, and now he's condensed years of learning into his new book, Eat, Move, Think. His goal? To help the rest of us better understand the conflicting opinions we've heard about diet, exercise and mental health.
Here are just a few of the myths debunked in Eat, Move, Think:
Myth #1: Coffee is bad for you.
Spoiler alert: It's not! "It used to be that health authorities made people feel guilty about their coffee consumption," says Francis. But it turns out that drinking three to five cups of coffee per day, whether regular or decaffeinated, provides enough antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits to decrease "the risk of death from maladies such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and suicide, liver disease, and even neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease." Of course, you still need to limit your caffeine intake to 400 milligrams per day (or less for adults with hypertension) and watch how much sugar you're adding to each cuppa joe.
Myth #2: You should be taking probiotics daily.
Gut health has become a primary focus for a lot of nutritionists, naturopaths and health bloggers because a healthy gut (read: one with plenty of diverse bacteria) helps with proper digestion, regulates mood and anxiety and even supports the immune system. But that doesn't mean we should all be ingesting probiotics ("bacteria that are thought to be beneficial to the gut") in the form of pills or powders. "Researchers have not yet established that taking probiotics is beneficial for general health, longevity or cancer prevention," says Francis, so popping a bunch of supplements is likely a waste of money. Instead, establish diverse gut flora by eating a diet that's high in fibre—think oats, lentils, split peas and lima beans.
Myth #3: A healthy diet will help you shed major weight quickly.
Practically every year, a new fad diet surfaces with big promises to "melt fat or shed pounds," says Francis. But whether it's Atkins, keto, gluten-free or a 30-day cleanse, any food plan that advertises extreme weight loss—especially in a short period of time—is unlikely to promote health and wellness over the long term. Instead, Francis prefers the Mediterranean diet, which is more of a lifestyle anyway. "Those who follow it consume lots of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil and whole grains," he says. "They also eat fish, enjoy red wine with dinner and tend to dine with friends and family."
Myth #4: You will become weak as you age.
"We're accustomed to thinking that we grow weaker as we get older," says Francis. But it turns out that's not strictly true. There's something called "the mitochondrial theory of aging," and it argues that issues such as weaker muscles, brittle bones, receding hairlines, wrinkles and grey hair might occur because the mitochondria (which convert glucose and fat into energy) become damaged. And the best way to keep the mitochondria healthy is to exercise. So if you want to stay capable into your twilight years, the best thing you can do is start or continue exercising, no matter your age.
Myth #5: Living a healthy life requires massive sacrifices.
Drink coffee, eat less sugar, exercise on the regular and eat more fibre… the list for healthful living goes on and on. But that doesn't mean you need to overhaul your whole life right this second; in fact, you probably won't be able to stick with too many changes at once. Instead, Francis promotes taking baby steps. For example, he no longer drinks sweetened beverages—but getting there took time. "I used to drink only real Coke," he claims. "For one of my first diet changes, I quit Coke and lost 10 pounds. I didn't also drop sugar from my coffee at the same time. I've been making incremental changes over the years." If you're hoping to live a healthy lifestyle, but are scared of deprivation and failure, micro changes could be the key to your success.
For many more myths and useful tips (like how to beat stage fright or fit exercise into your busy schedule), check out Eat, Move, Think, which goes on sale on May 1, 2018.