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15 “Healthy” Habits That Really Aren’t Good for You

Are bottled water or "all natural" foods really better for you? Here's what the science has to say.

a glass bottle with salad dressing consisting of balsamic vinegar, honey and olive oilZoeytoja/Shutterstock

You always choose low-fat or fat-free salad dressing

They may be healthier on their own, but a 2012 Purdue University study shows that the lack of fat might make it more difficult for you to absorb your salad’s nutrients, making you lose some of the disease-fighting properties that the vegetables offer. Carotenoids, which are linked to combating cancer, heart disease, and vision loss, are more readily absorbed from veggies when paired with fat-based dressings. So while you’ll save on calories, slashing the veggies’ benefits isn’t worth it. What should you eat instead? The study found that monounsaturated fat-based dressings—those with avocado, olive oil, and canola oil—were most effective in nutrient absorption and limiting fat intake.

Close up on woman's upper arm and hand spreading sun cream at the beach on a hot, sunny day. Tanning, sunblock spread, skin care, ultraviolet rays protection, cancer prevention conceptJosu Ozkaritz/Shutterstock

You slather on the sunscreen

You should apply sunscreen daily, and make sure you put on enough and as often as needed. But you need to read the ingredients. Certain consumer health groups suggest looking for octinoxate, a commonly used chemical compound in sunscreens and skincare products, which has been ranked by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as a moderately high health hazard. If you have concerns about chemicals and sunscreen, many dermatologists recommend choosing products that physically block harmful rays, such as those containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are not absorbed into your skin.

Man doing grocery shopping at the supermarket, he is pushing a full trolley, hand detail close upStokkete/Shutterstock

You buy “all natural” groceries

Many so-called “all natural” or “100 percent natural” foods are actually heavily processed with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, and genetically modified plants, according to the Wall Street Journal, because the USDA and the FDA do not share a definition of those terms (along with other marketing words like “free range” or “cage free”). Yet in a 2011 survey, 25 percent of over 1,000 consumers thought the best description to read on a food label was “100 percent natural” or “all natural.” Here are 13 more “healthy” food habits that really aren’t good for you.

food, new nordic cuisine and people concept - woman eating vegetable pumpkin-ginger cream soup with goat cheese and tomato salad with yogurt in bowl at cafe or restaurantSyda Productions/Shutterstock

Your diet includes several small meals a day

Though claims have been made that eating smaller, more frequent meals helps your metabolism, some interesting new research doesn’t support the theory. Scientists from Purdue University put a panel of men on a low-calorie, high-protein diet and found that those who ate six smaller meals felt hungrier than those who were given three larger ones—and the frequent-meals group didn’t lose any more weight. Check with your doctor if you have questions about what might work best for you.

Close-up plastic water bottle in woman hand After ExerciseEkkasit Rakrotchit/Shutterstock

You drink bottled water instead of tap

According to the Mayo Clinic, bottled water is not healthier than what comes out of your faucet. Though the FDA oversees bottled waters and the EPA reviews tap, both use similar safety standards. With packaged products, you may not always know what you’re getting: In 2011, 18 percent of bottled waters failed to list their sources and 32 percent did not disclose water treatment, contaminant, or purity information. As for the environment, up to 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the United States in 2006, which required the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil. Check out the best time to follow these 14 healthy habits.

Young woman drinking glass of orange juice at gymtmcphotos/Shutterstock

You down OJ to get rid of a cold

Vitamin C is touted as a panacea for the sniffles, but it isn’t the quick cure you’re hoping for. A large review found there was no consistent evidence that taking vitamin C after symptoms crop up helps people get over colds faster. Taking it regularly all year might help, but only for highly active people like marathon runners or military personnel. For everyone else, the amount you’d need to take to see results (8 grams) would likely cause stomach issues like nausea and diarrhea. The study’s bottom line: There’s no reason for “ordinary people” to take vitamin C as a cold prevention.

Woman is cleaning ear with a cotton swabBLACKDAY/Shutterstock

You clean your ears

First things first: Earwax isn’t a bad thing. It feels gooey and gross, but earwax cleans your ears by keeping dirt and dust out. When wiping it out with a cotton swab or even your finger, you not only get rid of that protection but also risk pushing the wax further in, causing earache, hearing loss, itchiness, and more, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. It’s fine to wipe the wax away from the outside of the ear, but never stick anything in the canal. Watch out for these other 15 health myths that make doctors cringe.

Cous Cous whit meat and vegetablesGoskova Tatiana/Shutterstock

You give up gluten

When people with celiac disease eat gluten, an immune response damages the small intestine and causes everything from bloating and diarrhea to heart disease and infertility. For them, going gluten-free is a must, but that only applies to about 1 percent of Americans. While some people’s digestive systems are sensitive to gluten without having full-fledged celiac, a 2015 study found that 86 percent of patients who considered themselves gluten-sensitive could actually tolerate it. For that majority, giving up gluten doesn’t provide any health benefits and won’t necessarily lead to weight loss.

Cup of tea with sweetener sorbitol in a spoonPhotosiber/Shutterstock

You swap sugar for sugar-free sweeteners

With zero calories denting your diet, Splenda and diet sodas seem like a no-brainer, but the science shows a different reality. In a 2017 review of 37 studies, researchers found that artificial sweeteners actually were actually linked with weight gain. Experts have a couple of theories about the connection. For one, people might assume that cutting calories on their coffee or soda gives them permission to overeat other things. Or maybe there’s a mechanism that encourages the body to gain weight when digesting artificial sweeteners. Your best bet is probably to avoid all sweeteners (sugar and non-sugar). Dress your coffee up with milk, and sip sparkling lemon water when you’re craving something fizzy. Don’t fall for these other 15 food myths that are making you gain weight.

Male hands cutting wheaten bread on the wooden board, selective focusLithiumphoto/Shutterstock

You avoid all carbs

Carbs are an important source of energy for the body, but they get a bad rap because the ones you don’t burn are stored as fat. The thing is, not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbohydrates like white bread and sugar are nutritionally empty because they’ve been stripped of the healthiest parts of the grain. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and starchy vegetables contain fiber and nutrients that keep your heart and weight healthy. Instead of avoiding all carbs, cut down on processed snacks and sub whole grains in for white breads and pastas.

Hot apple cider vinegar and honey drink with apples on a tableMona Makela/Shutterstock

You gulp down apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has some researched health benefits, especially when it comes to your gut health and pH balance. So it’s not necessarily the ingredient that’s bad, but rather how you’re consuming it. The most common method is by drinking ACV “shots,” and that can actually do more harm than good. Over time, the high acid content in ACV can damage your tooth enamel and esophagus. It’s also tough on your stomach to digest. Instead, mix up your ACV serving with a full glass of water (and a bit of honey, if the acidity is unbearable). Your body will thank you!

Kale Casserole with Eggs and Cheese. Healthy keto diet mealElena Shashkina/Shutterstock

You follow the ketogenic diet even if your doctor didn’t tell you to

The ketogenic diet is an extreme carbohydrate-restrictive diet that forces the body into ketosis, which is when the body burns fat as energy. In theory, it sounds like a great idea, and it is—for some people. The ketogenic diet has been proven to control seizures in people with epilepsy, but for the rest of us, there aren’t long-lasting benefits. “Once your body enters ketosis, you also begin to lose muscle, become extremely fatigued, and eventually enter starvation mode. Then it actually becomes even harder to lose weight,” said Lisa Cimperman, RDN, a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, told Healthline. Instead of following a restrictive diet, balance your plate with protein, fiber, greens, and fats. Don’t miss these other 19 “healthy” eating rules nutrition experts ignore.

Mix the summer flavors. Colorful smoothie bowl for breakfast.Smacznie Ujete/Shutterstock

You fill up on “healthy” smoothies and smoothie bowls

If you’re trying to lose weight but not seeing any results, your smoothies might be the culprit. If you’re filling up your blender with flavored yogurt, honey or other natural sweeteners, heaps of nut butter, high-sugar fruits like bananas, mango, or pineapple, and other “healthy” additions, you’re giving your body a huge sugar and calorie bomb. You’ll feel good for about an hour, but then you’ll feel a major crash. To keep your blood sugar stable for hours, your smoothie or smoothie bowl should be a combo of natural protein powder (if you want protein), a handful of greens/veggies, one tablespoon of fat (nut butter, olive oil, or avocado), and only one quarter cup of fruit. We promise, you’ll still be able to taste the sweetness. This balanced smoothie is so much more nutritious, and you won’t feel guilty afterwards. Check out these other myths about fat that keep you from losing weight.

Pillows on bed in hotel roomNew Africa/Shutterstock

You sleep in on weekends

Sleep is imperative to our health. And while it’s important to get enough Z’s, playing “catch up” on the weekend isn’t the way to go about it. Unfortunately, our circadian rhythms don’t work like that. By sleeping in for hours on weekends, you’re setting yourself up to feel groggy for the rest of the day and throw off your sleep schedule for the next few days. Instead, try going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day and night. If that doesn’t feel feasible, try only sleeping in 1-2 hours on the weekends. An added bonus: All the extra time in the morning will make your weekends more productive (and relaxing, surprisingly).

young asian woman tying running shoesJamesboy Nuchaikong/Shutterstock

You exercise for hours every day

There’s a high chance you’ve been told that if you’re trying to slim down, you need to do high-intensity exercise every day. Never has anything been so false! Your body needs time to recover from intense workouts, and if you continue to over-exert yourself, you could wind up burning out or getting injured. If you’re still bent on not taking rest days 2-3 times per week, try low-intensity, low-impact activities on your non-intense workout days. For example, you could go for a long walk, do yoga, try Pilates, or go on a bike ride. These are all active options that will still give your body the rest it needs. Learn the truth behind 55 other rampant health myths that need to die.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Perri Blumberg
A former food editor at Reader's Digest, Perri Blumberg is a writer and editor based in New York City. After attending Columbia University, where she received a BA in psychology, she went on to study food at a health-supportive culinary school. Her work has appeared in O Magazine, Men's Journal, Country Living, and on Mind, Body, Green, among others.
Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.