12 health delusions to ditch

You may think you are making healthy decisions, but which choices may be hurting you?
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

It’s one thing to delude yourself into believing you could really win the lottery. It’s another to assume you’re safe from health issues because you read labels, pop vitamins or have genetics on your side. Top experts address the truth behind the most common health delusions.

-- By Linda Melone for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 14 What health myths are you harboring? (Steve Cole/Getty Images)

I lift weights, so osteoporosis isn't a concern

Your twice-weekly weightlifting sessions contribute to bone health, but it’s not the whole bone-building picture. Weightlifting alone does not offer much protection if your diet lacks certain nutrients, says Dr. Patricia Riley, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. "You also need to address nutritional factors, such as calcium and vitamin D intake, smoking cessation, individual bone health and other factors." For strong bones, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends (in addition to weight training two to three times a week) that women under age 50 and men under age 71 take in 1,000 mg of calcium a day; women 50 and over and men 71 and over need 1,200 mg a day. Women and men under 50 require 400 IU of vitamin D a day, and those 50 and older need 800 to 1,000 mg.

2 of 14 Lifting weight does not mean you will not get osteoporosis (Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)

I eat only 1,000 calories a day and still gain weight, so I must have a slow metabolism

If you track your calories and still can’t lose those last 10 pounds, your problem may lie more with your math than your metabolism. “It’s easy to underestimate calories, especially if you eat a lot of restaurant meals,” says Miriam Pappo, a registered dietitian and the director of clinical nutrition at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Large amounts of hidden fats -- mainly fats used in cooking the food -- add hundreds of calories per dish. Added butter, milk or cream cannot be seen, which makes it harder to track calorie intake, says Pappo. “In addition, chronic dieting without exercising can slow metabolism, especially as we age.” The American Dietetic Association recommends that women eat between 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day, depending on activity level, and men should take in between 2,000 and 2,800 calories a day.

3 of 14 You may be underestimating calories (Romeo Reidl/Getty Images)

I eat only "natural" beef and chicken, so I'm safe from antibiotics and pesticides

Reading labels as a way to eat healthier only works if you know the lingo. Choosing foods with a “natural” label, for example, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear from added chemicals. “‘Natural’ has almost no legal meaning,” says Mark A. Kastel, the co-director and senior farm policy analyst for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, an independent watchdog organization that monitors and promotes ecologically-produced local and organic food. “The USDA's legal definition of ‘natural’ only means ‘minimally processed and without artificial preservatives.’ Virtually all conventional meat qualifies,” Kastel says. To stay clear of pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals, look for the green-and-white USDA organic label. “It’s the gold standard of labeling for meat, dairy and eggs,” says Kastel.

4 of 14 All meat has some antibiotic presence (Echo/Getty Images)

Longevity runs in my family, so I'm destined to be healthy to an old age

Just because grandma lived to age 95 doesn’t automatically mean you’ll also live to see your 90s. “Various studies (involving identical twins) suggest that only about a third of the variation in longevity is accounted for by genes,” says Dr. Howard S. Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and the lead investigator of “The Longevity Project”  (Hudson Street Press, 2011). “The rest is lifestyle and chance,” says Friedman. “But a fascinating finding of my Longevity Project is that many things that seem like chance are really not random; to a surprising extent you can make your own luck by getting on a healthy pathway.” Many people have the capacity to live well into old age, but most do not. Generally speaking, though, knowing how long your parents lived is not a very good indication of how long you will live, says Friedman.

5 of 14 Old age is no guarantee (Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)

I don't need a second opinion; I trust my doctor completely

No matter how well you trust your doctor, seeking a second opinion when you’re diagnosed with a serious ailment or are considering surgery is simply smart. “It helps you make an informed decision,” says Dr. Thomas P. Schmalzried, the medical director of the Joint Replacement Institute at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles. “The decision to have surgery is a serious one. I welcome the discussion with my patients who want a second opinion.” In orthopedic surgery, for example, many nuances and subtle differences exist in surgical approaches, including technology and surgical procedures. “It’s always a good idea to understand the differences, and a second opinion may prove to be a meaningful investment,” says Schmalzried.

6 of 14 It's always a good idea to get a second opinion (Andersen Ross/Getty Images)

I take vitamins, so I can eat what I want

It sounds like an easy fix, but popping vitamins does not give you dietary carte blanche to eat junk food and skip fresh fruits and vegetables. “Taking vitamins can provide a false sense of security,” says Lauren Graf, a clinical dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “Isolated nutrients found in a pill do not have the same effect on the body as when they are consumed as part of a whole food.” For example, taking a vitamin C supplement can’t compare with eating oranges or berries, which contain antioxidants, phytochemicals (natural chemicals which often act like antioxidants) and fiber, which all work together synergistically. “Vitamins can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but they certainly do not counteract the negative effects of unhealthy foods,” says Graf. Check with your physician before starting any new vitamins or supplements.

7 of 14 You need to eat healthy (Steven Puetzer/Getty Images)

I don’t need to work out — I chase around my kids all day long

Running around taking care of kids can certainly burn calories and be physically exhausting. “But all that activity is not specific enough to produce the results — weight loss, muscular definition and improved energy levels — you’d get from a structured exercise program,” says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). However, those calories burned during daily activity (called NEAT for non-exercise activity thermogenesis), are an effective add-on to an exercise program. To get the best results from an exercise program include cardiorespiratory exercise to improve function of the heart and lungs, resistance training to boost muscle strength and bone-mineral density and some flexibility exercises. “At least two days a week of dedicated exercise can have a significant impact on managing body weight and experiencing other beneficial results from exercise,” says McCall.

8 of 14 Working out (B. Blue/Getty Images)

I can still lose weight if I eat what I want on the weekends and diet all week

You eat healthy all week long, so you should be able to splurge on weekends and still lose weight, right? Not exactly. “It’s a slippery slope,” says dietitian Graf. “If you have been restricting calories during the week, you may find yourself extra hungry come Saturday morning. As a result, you may end up making up for the calories you limited during the week and then some.” By Sunday night you’re sluggish and bloated. A better bet is to eat healthfully throughout the week and allow yourself a little extra leeway on the weekends, says Graf. “It is still important to eat mindfully even on the weekends.” If you're going out to dinner on Saturday night, eat a healthy, high-fiber breakfast (such as oatmeal and fruit) and lunch (such as salad and sandwich on whole-grain bread), and then allow yourself to indulge in an entree, a drink and a dessert in the evening, Graf suggests.

9 of 14 Binge eating (Fotosearch/Getty Images)

I don’t need a primary care physician

Annual visits to your gynecologist or other specialist throughout the year are important, but they don’t make up for a primary care doctor. Specialists focus only on a particular body system, says Dr. Chan Chuang, the corporate medical director at HealthCare Partners, a multispecialty medical group. “A primary care doctor is trained to view the whole person, which differs from a specialist’s focus,” says Chuang. “A primary care doctor treats the majority of all health conditions — from skin care to chest pain and everything in between.” In addition, your primary care doctor acts as a health care advocate if you develop a serious illness, referring you to one or more specialists and acting as the coordinator of all the care you receive (e.g., making sure medications from one specialist doesn’t conflict with another). “The better your care coordination, the better your long-term outcome,” says Chuang.

10 of 14 Primary care doctors are important (Eunice Harris/Getty Images)