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Many of the choices we make about our health are ill informed and just plain wrong. Some choices can actually make us sick. What’s more, we repeat them! So let’s look at a few of the more common mistaken health choices:

1 Eating “low-fat” treats

The increasing demand for “low-fat” items has filled our supermarket shelves with all sorts of so-called healthy indulgences. While it’s important to cut down on dietary fat, many low-fat, reduced-fat, and fat-free foods are also low in nutrients and high in calories. A number of fat-modified foods, such as desserts, yogurts, cakes, and cookies are labeled “low fat,” yet they still have significant amounts of sugar, and, in some cases even fat.

Desserts such as low-fat ice-cream do have a lower fat content, but this is replaced with sugar. While you may be eating less fat, there’s very little difference in calorie content. You may also be more inclined to eat larger quantities of fat-modified foods or to eat additional full-fat foods as a compensation.

What you can do: If you do eat these “low-fat” foods, choose smaller portions, and eat them less often. Choose nutrient-rich, low-fat vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains for your main diet.

2 Eating too much sugar

We consume most of our sugar as an ingredient of processed foods, such as cookies, desserts, sodas, and breakfast cereals. Sugar is a highly concentrated form of energy that contributes only minimally to your sense of satisfaction. A 12-ounce glass or can of fruit juice, soda, or sports drink provides between 100 and 150 calories. You’d have to walk 15 to 25 minutes to expend that much energy, yet it’s no more filling than a glass of water.

Foods high in sugar also tend to be low in vitamins and minerals. Sugar provides fuel for the body, which your body will use for energy before it burns off body fat. Thus, the more sugar you eat, the less likely you are to burn off fat, and the harder it will be to lose weight.

What you can do: Cut back on foods with a high sugar content. Give you taste buds a few weeks to adjust, and soon you won’t miss the sugar at all.

3 Not eating enough fiber

Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are high in fiber and low in trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. They are also high in the vitamins and minerals your body needs to keep you healthy. These foods will also give you a greater sense of fullness and fewer calories per serving.

Unfortunately, processing foods often removes much of the fiber. This is especially true of the “white” foods made from grains, such as pasta, bread, rice, and flour-based products.

Processing often involves removing the outer layer of the bran on wheat or rice, which diminishes both their fiber and their nutrient content. After processing, the remaining components of the grain are high in calories, making it more likely you’ll gain weight. Over the long term, eating a lot of refined foods will increase your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

What you can do: Prepare your foods as close to their original state as possible. This means eating whole-grain breads and pastas, fresh fruits and vegetables, including the skin on fruits, and drinking water for fluid rather than fruit juice.

4 Consuming large portions

It isn’t just the type of food that you eat; it’s also the amount that’s important. Jumbo-sized meals, especially those that are high in fat and sugar, will cause you to gain weight. But it isn’t just fatty junk foods that do this. The excess calories from even good foods will cause your body to store fat. When you eat more calories than you burn off, your body stores the excess as fat. It will struggle just to burn off the fat you eat, to say nothing of the fat around your middle!

What you can do: The serving size you need depends on your age, gender, and activity level. While you don’t need to go hungry, it makes sense to limit your total food intake and to practice those habits that will help your body to burn fat.

5 Not enough exercise

Regular exercise is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise will increase your bone density, keep down your weight, strengthen your heart, and give you more energy. Yet a large proportion of society fails to make exercise a regular part of their lifestyle. People who put television, work, and other activities ahead of exercise fail to realize that the time invested in exercise pays back many times over in both the quality and the quantity of life.

What you can do: If you’ve been inactive for quite a while, it will take time for you to begin enjoying the benefits of exercise. So ease into it with small steps. You’ll be much more likely to stick to it if you keep a positive attitude and find ways to make your exercise enjoyable.

6 Not getting enough sleep

Sleep is vital for your well-being. Adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep per night, and children and teens need more. Unfortunately, many get far less. Sleep is often sacrificed when people are busy. In addition to making you feel tired, lack of sleep is associated with obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance, mental health disorders, and an increased risk of being involved in an accident.

What you can do: Keep your room cool, quiet, and dark. Establish a regular time to go to bed and wake up. Eliminate caffeinated beverages and alcohol. Regular exercise and stress management will also make it easier for you to fall asleep.

7 Smoking

The dangers of smoking to your health are well established. Smokers are between two and six times more likely than nonsmokers to suffer heart attacks and are up to ten times more likely to develop lung cancer. Smokers are also at an increased risk of getting cancers of the bladder, breast, cervix, kidney, mouth, pancreas, esophagus, and throat. They are also more likely to suffer from strokes, respiratory illness, emphysema, premature menopause, osteoporosis, problem pregnancies, and infertility.

Smoking not only damages your health; through second-hand smoke it endangers the health of those around you, especially children.

What you can do: Quite simply, don’t smoke, or if you are a smoker, quit. Also, avoid breathing second-hand smoke when you are in the presence of smokers.

8 Skipping breakfast

Breakfast is the meal that people most often skip, yet it’s the most important. If you miss eating breakfast, you will likely experience a drop in your energy, endurance, and memory. You are also less likely to get the fiber, B-group vitamins, and iron you need for the day.

Skipping breakfast can also be unkind to your waistline, as it will slow your metabolism, thus increasing hunger, reducing your willpower to make healthy choices, and increasing the likelihood that you will overeat later in the day.

What you can do: Get up in time to eat a good breakfast. Many traditional breakfast foods are healthy and easy to prepare. These include cereal with skim or low-fat milk, lowfat yogurt, fruit, and whole-grain toast with a minimum amount of butter or margarine. Or try making a fruit smoothie with skim milk.

9 Skipping the weights

Women over 40—the people who would benefit most from weight training—are also the least likely to do it. A major misconception about strength training is that it will bulk you up, whereas it’s most likely to have the opposite effect. Women receive great benefit from strength training, as they naturally have less muscle tissue than men. Whether you are male or female, as you age, you naturally lose muscle tissue. This reduces your strength and energy levels and often results in middle-age spread. Lifting weights can reverse this process to a much greater extent than aerobic exercise. It is also an effective way to strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis.

What you can do: Don’t do weights instead of aerobic exercise but in addition to it. Aim for two or three days a week by using dumbbells, body weight, and/or gymnasium equipment.

10 High expectations

People often make dramatic lifestyle changes in the hope of immediate, dramatic results. This false expectation makes it harder to maintain those lifestyle changes because they are focused on results that don’t happen. This causes frustration, often leading people to give up their health regime.

What you can do: Changes to improve your health take patience and commitment. Make changes gradually, and expect gradual results. If you approach weight loss and health improvement realistically, you will be much more likely to succeed. The effort will be challenging, and it will take time, but the results will be worth it!

Top 10 Health Mistakes

by Andrew Cate
From the June 2008 Signs  

    Ideas for Healthy Takeout

  • Grilled or toasted Turkish or focaccia bread sandwiches with marinated vegetables and reduced fat cheese;
  • Burritos with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and a little cheese (skip the sour cream!);
  • Whole wheat or whole-grain rolls with fillings such as lettuce, egg, char-grilled vegetables, and avocado or hummus instead of margarine or butter;
  • Order freshly squeezed juices or fruit smoothies as an alternative to soft drinks and thick shakes;
  • Stir-fried vegetables with a serving of steamed rice;
  • Tubs of freshly prepared rice and beans or a fruit salad;
  • Try a frozen yogurt or low-fat yogurt mixed with fresh fruits.

Making Healthy Choices at a Café or Restaurant

  • Look for dishes that are steamed, grilled, stir-fried, or baked;
  • Select dishes based on rice or pasta and plenty of vegetables;
  • Choose dishes that are not fried or battered and avoid dishes that are served with creamy sauces;
  • Order salads with low-fat dressings or request that the dressing be served on the side;
  • Fresh fruit is great for dessert or alternatively you could select fruit sorbet instead of ice cream;
  • Ask for ice water or mineral water in preference to soft drinks.