Have you made a health-conscious choice lately? Decided to walk rather than catch the bus to work, put more legumes in your diet, considered cutting out all milk or meat? The interesting thing about health is that it's rarely black and white. Healthy choices can, in excess or done without the right information, have consequences as bad as living entirely on donuts and chocolate milk. (OK, probably very different consequences, but still.) Very few choices are completely healthy without a dose of moderation or context. And some, like eating sushi every day for lunch or munching a raw kale smoothie, may have their own potentially unique problems.
Sure, you probably know not to eat only beetroot for a month, or survive on lettuce water, or sweat yourself silly in a sauna for six hours. But that's not the only possible health infringement you might be committing. Even healthy choices with science to back them up can be problematic. Whether it's potentially depriving your body of essential nutrients, causing injury by accident, or prompting your thyroid to slow down, healthy foods and actions can have domino effects you don't anticipate a mile off.
So let's be wise about kick-starting our health; here are seven potentially healthy things with a dark side.
1. Raw Eggs For Bodybuilding
The age of raw eggs as a normal muscle-building tactic for athletes (Rocky swallows loads of them) is largely over; it's not recommended as the massive bodybuilding aid it once was. Part of that, aside from their terrible taste, is the belief that raw eggs may pose a health risk, in the form of salmonella. Fortunately for all of this, that's actually pretty exaggerated.
A scare nearly 30 years ago in the United Kingdom raised the alarm that salmonella was a serious risk in raw eggs, but a study from January this year found that the risk, nowadays, is seriously minimal. In the UK last year, there were only 229 reported cases of salmonella. Salmonella risks have reduced significantly because the bacteria only grow in eggs that aren't handled or refrigerated properly, and that's been significantly developed in the past decades. But it's still not considered strictly wise to eat raw eggs by the gulletful if you don't know where they came from or how they were treated.
2. Excessive Exercise
We've all been told to exercise more, to help our brains, our longevity, our heart health, whatever. The problem? Too much exercise, doing it too intensely or without giving sufficient time for the body to repair itself, can cause far more serious health problems than it does benefits.
Excessive exercise is now recognized as a variant on an eating disorder. But what could be so bad about pushing yourself to your limit? If you go too far, plenty. Excessive exercise causes all kinds of nasties, from cartilage degradation and serious joint issues to massive muscle damage, build-up of scar tissue, and shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome). Driving your body hard should not mean driving it into the ground; if you aren't actually Wolverine, you need days off.
The Japanese diet, with its reliance on fish, vegetables and fish, is associated with health benefits from longevity to heart health, but another specter has crept into the health food (and, frankly, delicious treat) that is sushi: the problem of mercury poisoning. A report from the University of Michigan in 2015 found that the amount of mercury in ahi tuna, one of the most common sushi fish, is growing by up to 3.8 percent a year, thanks to environmental exposure in the oceans; human activity is causing higher mercury levels in the environment, including in water, where it transforms into methylmercury. Mercury is not something you want to consume in excess; its presence can harm the heart, lungs, brain and other parts of the body.
The National Resources Defence Council's list of fish that may provide a possible mercury problem includes "ahi or bigeye tuna, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy and fish caught in any waters that are subject to a mercury advisory". So make sure you're aware of the fish on your sushi and sashimi platter, and where it's come from.
4. Cruciferous Vegetables (Consumed In Excess)
This is a real surprise to anybody who's been trying to eat more "healthily" in the new year: some of the veggies with the best reputations also have a bad reputation in excess. It turns out that cruciferous vegetables, a family that includes broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower, can cause havoc on your thyroid if consumed too much, causing a condition caused hypothyroidism.
The thyroid is an important regulating mechanism in the body, and hypothyroidism indicates that it's behaving sluggishly and not producing sufficient amounts of hormones to stimulate the body's normal processes. Hypothyroid symptoms include slowness or sluggishness, weight gain, difficulty swallowing, and bad joint pain, so it's not exactly a fun thing to be suffering. So how do the cruciferous vegetables interfere with the thyroid?
It turns out that in seriously large quantities, the cruciferous family are goitrogenic, meaning that they disrupt the thyroid's production of hormones. However, Medical Daily points out that cooking them often moderates the risk, and that avoiding overdose will likely mean you avoid problems if you're not predisposed to thyroid problems. Broccoli: definitely not an entire meal, otherwise good.
5. Juicing Diets
I don't care what that self-satisfied person in the next cubicle is telling you about their all-veggie juice diet; juicing is bad news. The body doesn't need to recover or cleanse itself of toxins by depriving itself of solid food; it's perfectly capable of digesting things properly most of the time, unless you have a medically diagnosed issue that requires you to be on an entirely liquid diet (and those are very rare). Juicing also deprives you of essential proteins and fibers via the intensity of the juicing process, and the low levels of nutrients may cause your metabolism to slow down and enter "starvation mode". Plus, they deteriorate muscle mass and brain function. Just: no.
6. An (Unbalanced) Vegan Diet
Veganism, the dietary choice to eat nothing that has been produced by animal labor or suffering (including all dairy, eggs, or honey), is often touted as an ethical and health decision, but it needs to be done within certain guidelines to make sure that the body still gets all the things it requires. Like any restrictive diet, veganism can potentially deprive the body of vital ingredients if you're doing it without paying attention to your health needs.
Vegans run the risk of having low levels of sulfur, which are provided naturally in the diet through eggs, fish and meat, and vitamin B12, which is most commonly found in meat products. Luckily, they can easily get enough sulfur and B12 through eating enough nuts, vegetables, and fruit.
Protein is another concern, though an often overstated one; while we don't need very much protein every day (see the infographic above), according to the Food And Nutrition Board), vegans need to make sure they get it via vegetables, tofu, nuts and other sources. (Luckily, it's pretty easy.) A lack of sufficient protein will severely impede your normal bodily functioning, because protein is essential to processes like the immune system and muscle maintenance. So if you're becoming a vegan, know that you are indeed making a healthy choice — just make sure you keep an eye on your levels of vitamins, sulfur, and B12.
This is the weirdest health trend I've ever heard, and it's based on a complete myth. Waste does not build up in the body and need to be "flushed out;" unless you have genuinely severe constipation, the body is perfectly capable of flushing out its own fecal matter, and none actually sticks around to cause any problems (the lining of the colon is replaced naturally every 72 hours). Plus, colonics raise the risk of bacteria entering your colon, washing out good natural bacteria from your insides, and possibly perforating your bowel by accident. This is just a monumentally bad idea, and you should stay away from it.
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Images: PETA, Giphy