We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom: “Eggs Hurt Your Heart,” “Red Wine is Good for You”, “Coffee Drinking is Harmful,” and so forth.
Many of these truisms are simply not true, and some may be just half-true. In some cases, the evidence that supported them was always questionable and in others it’s based on science that changed.
With the passing years, we end up absorbing more and more nuggets of health “wisdom” – and we don’t always hear about new research that challenges old rules.
Which of our persistent beliefs about health are (still) true and which aren’t? Here are seven myths, and what health experts are saying about them now.
1. Eggs Hurt Your Heart
For years, we’ve been told to limit egg consumption because of cholesterol in the yolks. A medium sized egg yolk does have 185 mg of cholesterol; a large egg yolk has 225 mg. But only 10 to 20 percent of the general population actually is sensitive to dietary cholesterol (ask your doctor if you are). And a recent review of studies in the British Medical Journal found no association between eggs and coronary heart disease, except in people with diabetes. Saturated fat and the trans-fats in fast or processed foods are what raise “bad” LDL cholesterol and do the most harm. Just listen to the American Heart Association, which notes that eggs are an inexpensive source of protein.
2. It’s Too Late To Get In Shape
Another myth. After age 65, muscle mass declines; sarcopenia (loss of muscle) in older age can lead to falls and frailty. But you are never too old to late to gain the strength and muscle power to help you stay mobile, says the National Institute on Aging. Numerous studies have found that strength training helps maintain and even rebuild muscle mass as well as helps your balance. Your best bet is to try free weights and a workout under supervision or in a program designed just for seniors, such as “Silver Sneakers.”
3. We Need Less Sleep in Older Age
Wrong! The amount of sleep we need to maintain good health and mental functioning doesn’t change much after we reach adulthood. So why does it feel like we’re sleeping less? It may be because our sleep patterns shift as we age. Older people tend to get sleepy and wake up earlier, take longer to fall asleep, experience less dream (or REM) sleep and have more fragmented sleep. The result: You may need to take naps to make up for lost nighttime sleep. (Just be aware that naps can interfere with sleep at night.)
4. Chocolate is Bad for You
A myth – it depends on what type of chocolate you eat and how much of it. As we pointed out recently [link here], studies link eating one ounce of chocolate per day containing 70 percent or more cacao to lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. Cacao is rich in flavonols, an inflammation-fighting plant compound (also found in tea, grapes, red wine and apples). One 2012 randomized study from Italy of 90 older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that those who drank greater amounts daily of flavonol-rich cocoa drinks had significantly higher cognitive scores than those who consumed lower amounts. Insulin resistance and blood pressure also decreased. But that’s no reason to go chocaholic. Chocolate is a calorie-dense food. Eat too much and your heart will suffer.
5. Coffee Drinking is Harmful
Research links coffee drinking with many things, good and bad. Researching studying whether there’s a direct link between coffee and heart disease have come up with conflicting results, according to the heart association (maybe because some studies didn’t look at how many people who drink a lot of coffee also smoke). Chemicals in unfiltered coffee do seem to raise cholesterol, and caffeine is associated with high blood pressure. But coffee can also be good for you due to high levels of beneficial antioxidants. Recent studies suggest that coffee may help ward off Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes and even liver disease. The verdict? The American Heart Association says that for most of us, drinking one or two cups per day doesn’t appear to be harmful.
6. All Carbs are Bad
As you probably know, we need carbohydrates for energy. But some carbs are healthier than others. The “good” ones are “complex” carbohydrates, such as whole grains and high-fiber fruits and vegetables, that take the body longer to digest, help get rid of bad LDL cholesterol, and keep blood glucose even, according to the American Diabetes Association. “Simple” carbs, including white bread, cookies, donuts and candy, are considered “bad” because they’re more rapidly digested, raise insulin levels and contribute to obesity. While some diet gurus dub white sugar and white flour “poison,” the best advice is to enjoy treats in moderation while you eat a balanced diet.
7. Red Wine is Good for You
We’ve all heard that moderate consumption of red wine helps the heart and even reduces dementia risk. But it’s not the wine — it’s resveratrol, a plant compound in red wine and red grapes. According to the National Institutes of Health, resveratrol affects the activity of enzymes called sirtuins known to be involved in aging and age-related diseases. Studies in mice show resveratrol lowers cholesterol, trims fat stores, improves muscle endurance and delays Alzheimer’s – and population studies in humans appear to confirm this. But you may need mega doses of resveratrol supplements to benefit. So if you’re drinking a glass of wine every night to protect yourself from Alzheimers, good for you – but don’t expect miracles!