The Five Biggest Health Mistakes That Americans Make

With so many medical conditions that are influenced by lifestyle, we are encouraged to make positive changes to what we eat, drink and to adopt healthy behaviours. However, some of the things that we do to try to improve our health in good faith are perhaps not as good for us as we might think. Here we look at five common mistakes that we make in relation to health related behaviours.

Crash dieting to lose weight
We’re well aware of the health implications of obesity. Although the prospect of losing weight quickly is very tempting when you’ve got an outfit that you want to fit into or a beach holiday is looming on the horizon, crash dieting is one of the worst things you can do in terms of weight loss. Yes, the weight comes off more quickly than sensible eating in the short term – where you can expect to lose no more than one to two pounds each week – but studies show that in the longer term no extra weight is lost; this might be explained by the adverse effect that crash dieting can have on the metabolism and that it is difficult to keep up the restrictive eating habits for long. Another concern with crash dieting is that you strictly limit your dietary intake, so you are at risk of nutritional deficiencies – for example calcium if dairy foods are limited or fibre when carbohydrates are restricted. The best course of action to aid weight loss is to follow a balanced diet and moderate your portions, combining this with daily activity.
Being overzealous with the sunscreen
With the message that we need to cover up in the sun to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, it’s no surprise that we always slap on the sunscreen when we’re out in the sun during the summer months. However, in doing so you might be putting yourself at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, as some studies have shown that wearing sunscreen can reduce Vitamin D production by the skin tenfold. Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise, with a third of American adults having inadequate Vitamin D levels when tested. As a deficiency of the sunshine vitamin is linked to a range of diseases – from bone disease, to diabetes, bowel cancer and multiple sclerosis, which are increasing in prevalence – you might want to reconsider your stance on always applying sunscreen; ten minutes exposure of your face, arms and lower legs a few times a week can be all that it needs to keep your Vitamin D levels topped up without exposing your skin to excessive UV rays.
You can be too clean
We’re encouraged to use antibacterial products around the homes to keep our family safe from germs that might cause infections, but did you know that being excessively clean can increase their risk of developing allergies? The significant rise in hay fever, eczema and asthma in developed countries is very much linked to our obsession with living in sterile homes – in 1980 around 10% of us were affected by these conditions, but it has now soared to 30%. Not being exposed to germs means that the immune system can react to harmless things in the environment, triggering an allergy; the alternative response is for the immune system to turn on tissues within the body, causing auto-immune disease such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
The use of e-cigarettes to help quit smoking
Since their entry to the market in 2003, e-cigarettes have become a popular alternative to conventional nicotine replacement therapy in helping smokers to kick the habit. Although studies have indicated that e-cigarettes can be very effective in helping people to quit smoking – one study found that e-cigarettes helped 31% of participants to stop smoking within 6 months, which compares to typically between 12 and 18% of those using nicotine patches or gum- e-cigarettes have come under a lot of criticism, as their safety has not been widely tested. It is assumed that because they do not contain the harmful chemicals found in traditional cigarettes that they must be safe, but when certain e-cigarettes have been tested traces of cancer-causing chemicals have been found. Concerns have also been raised about the nicotine in cigarettes, with a recent study showing that when e-cigarettes that contained a nicotine cartridge were smoked, the airways of participants were found to be constricted and inflammation was present. The best advice if you want to quit smoking with the help of an aid, choose a conventional nicotine replacement product, or quit smoking pills rather than venturing into the unknown with an e-cigarette.
Eating too much polyunsaturated fat
While you’re probably well aware of the need to limit butter due to its high saturated fat content, which can raise cholesterol levels – a risk factor for heart disease – all margarines are not equal. If you have been merrily spreading a margarine based on sunflower, corn or soya oil over the years you might want to think again. Although these are all rich in polyunsaturated fats, which can lower levels of bad cholesterol, it also reduces levels of the beneficial cholesterol too. Monounsaturated fat, found in olive and rapeseed oil, which is the predominant fat in the Mediterranean diet is linked with a more beneficial cholesterol profile – it lowers levels of bad cholesterol whilst maintaining the level of good cholesterol – and a lower risk of heart disease. The type of polyunsaturated fat found in sunflower, corn and soya oils is also linked with inflammation and thought to contribute to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, crohn’s disease and psoriasis. Your best bet is therefore to use a margarine based on olive or rapeseed oil.
Ruth writes health articles for a number of sites including a leading provider of health insurance quotes and an addiction advice portal.