By: Hayley Cunningham, Columnist
Some of my favorite magazines center on health and wellness. Consecutively reading a variety of magazines spanning several months, I compared the publications’ contents. This summer I found myself particularly surprised by the many discrepancies I uncovered. For example, while one magazine proposed that readers should add avocados to their diets after a study found those who did had smaller waistlines, another made the provocative claim that avocados “make you fat.” I was shocked that this magazine, which I had previously trusted as a reliable source of health information, would state something so utterly false for the sake of simplicity and sensationalism.
Avocados do not “make you fat” nor does eating them guarantee weight loss. You lose weight by burning more calories than you consume and gain weight by consuming more calories than you burn. Changes in weight do not depend on the form those calories take; whether you eat nothing but apples or nothing but Big Macs, you can gain or lose weight depending on how much you eat and exercise (of course, your overall health and the way you feel is very dependent upon the form your calories take). No food is always “bad” or always “good.” It is how you consume your food that counts.
Avocados can help people lose weight because the healthy fats found within them may keep consumers feeling fuller, longer, so they end up consuming fewer calories over the course of the day. On the other hand, avocados can lead to weight gain if they are consumed, say, as a large bowl of guacamole, since avocados are calorically dense and portion control can become an issue with something so delicious.
Why am I going on a rant about avocados? The real lesson of this story is: never accept health information as infallible truth. While you can trust some tried-and-true knowledge (e.g. eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is good for your health), much of the information you come across in magazines, on the Internet, or on television should not be taken as truth without exception. These sources of health information often simplify things to make information more accessible and exciting to readers. Other times, there is simply not enough research to support a health claim, but publishers put out the information because it makes a good story. When subsequent research conflicts with previous findings, things can get sticky. That is what happens when you learn of the wonders of juice fasting one week only to read how harmful it is the next.
A final reason you should take all health information with a grain of salt is that most of it assumes your body is the same as everyone else’s. While training with Cross Fit may be a great form of exercise for some, for others it is a ticket to injury. While some find it is helpful to stop eating by 7:00 p.m. each night to stave off weight gain, others (like myself) consume a large amount of food in the evening and can maintain a healthy weight. There are few things that are always good or always bad for your health; it is how you do what you do that counts.
In short, be a critical consumer of health information. Never take any radical claims as fact without doing some research using reputable, academic sources. Finally, never assume that something that is healthy for someone else is automatically what is best for you. Use your common sense. Listen to your body. Keep a close eye on that tricky avocado.