Debunking 12 health myths -- Silly, serious and surprising

by Janine Mojica

Microwave mythWe all hear tales, big and small when it comes to health issues. What's the truth, what isn't? What's really a myth?

Some of the myths are just downright silly, some are serious, and all are wildly overstated at best.

Here's the real deal about a "faker's dozen" health myths.

See which ones surprise you! Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Silly and serious health myths

Serious Myth: Cancer is America's No. 1 killer.

Reality: More Americans die of heart disease than from cancer. The good news is that heart trouble, even more than cancer, can often can be avoided with lifestyle changes. Cut back on red meat, quit smoking, exercise regularly, and maintain an appropriate weight for your height, and you'll significantly reduce your risks.

Silly Myth: Don't swallow chewing gum; it sticks to your stomach.

Reality: Gum is not digestible, but it does not linger in the stomach. For adults, the effects of swallowing gum have not been studied; it's not high on any list of scientific concern. However, one report raised concern that some small children who suffered blockages in the intestines and esophagus frequently swallowed gum. Consult your pediatrician to decide if and when it's appropriate to let your child chew it.

Serious Myth: I'll lose weight if I eat a low-fat diet.

Reality: Low-fat food isn't necessarily low-calorie – it may have lots of sugar, for example – and all excess calories eventually show up around your waist. "Low-fat" isn't a license to eat triple-sized portions, either. For instance, one cup of low-fat frozen yogurt has about as many calories as half a cup of full-fat ice cream.

Silly Myth: If you look at a solar eclipse, you'll go blind.

Reality: This one isn't a complete myth. Staring at the sun at any time can cause eye damage, including temporary or even permanent blindness. Eclipses are no exception. But it's not automatic blindness; severity of the damage depends on the length of the gaze, the clouds in the sky, even the level of humidity and smog, which help filter out light.

Serious Myth: To get enough antioxidants, you need to take supplements.

Reality: Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables of various colors and you'll get plenty of antioxidants. Bright red strawberries, green asparagus and yellow peppers all deliver loads of them, and they're tastier than supplements of Vitamins C and E.

Silly Myth: Opening the microwave while in use will give you cancer.

Reality: There is no strong data suggesting a possible link.

Serious Myth: The more you weigh, the fewer the calories you burn.

Reality: A heavier person actually has to work harder to move his or her weight around, and thus burns more calories than a thinner person. For instance, a 250-lb. person who walks a mile may burn twice as many calories as a 125-lb. person, regardless of the pace.

Silly Myth: It's better to drink alcohol than do drugs.

Reality: Alcohol is the most frequently abused drug in the world, and is responsible for more deaths annually than all illicit drugs combined. Alcohol-related problems account for 20 - 40 perccent of all hospital admissions. However, in moderation, alcohol may lower risk of death from heart disease. Moderate intake is one drink per day for women, two drinks a day for men; a drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 to 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

Serious Myth: We'd all be thinner if we ate more protein.

Reality: Eat too many calories and you'll gain weight, whether you eat carbohydrates, protein or fat. Americans already eat more protein than just about any group in the world, and we're among the most obese. In Asia, diets are much lower in protein, yet obesity is rare. And which region do you think has less cancer and heart disease? If you said the U.S., guess again.

Silly Myth: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Reality: Apples aren't miracle cures, but there really are lots of good reasons to eat one or more a day. Apples contain boron, a trace mineral that increases calcium absorption, which may help prevent osteoporosis. They also have fiber, which can help lower cholesterol.

Serious Myth: I can greatly improve my diet just by cutting out red meat.

Reality: Not so fast. A "junk-food" diet without red meat is still junk. If you switch from burgers every night to pizza every night, you're just changing the source of your saturated fat from meat to dairy. The best way to improve your diet is to eat more fruits and vegetables and favor lean proteins such as fish and chicken breast. If you eat red meat, choose leaner cuts.

Silly Myth: Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.

Reality: Knuckle cracking sounds awful, but it's harmless – nothing more than an air bubble popping in the synovial fluid of your joints. About 25 percent of people in the United States are chronic crackers.

Janine Mojica has written about health and lifestyle issues for several Web sites, including, and
© 2012 Alere. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy iStockphoto.