Thursday, September 9, 2010

15 Things We Thought Were Healthy ....But We Thought Wrong

With the science of nutrition, medicine, and psychology rapidly unveiling new information our bodies almost daily, it’s hard to keep track on what is considered healthy.  Here are fifteen things that were once celebrated as healthy, but are now decidedly unhealthy.


It may sound bizarre, but this taboo hallucinogen was once heralded as the answer to several mental and emotional maladies.  During the 1950s and early 60s, several academic studies misleadingly stated that LSD had the potential to cure alcoholism, criminal behavior, and schizophrenia.  Despite the initial promising results, later empirical studies couldn’t confirm any mental health benefits from tripping.

Contrarily, several generations of teens and twenty-somethings have gone blind from staring at the sun, gone into paralysis from believing they had become glasses of orange juice, and most terrifying of all, found the band Phish to be listenable.


When tap water, bottled water, Smart Water, and Fiji Water are not enough, we turn to Vitamin Water.  With all the colors of the food-coloring rainbow, Vitamin Water offers consumers a refreshing escape from mundane hydration choices.  The malnourished masses finally have easy access to their essential daily vitamins in one awesome tasting cocktail.  Even 50 Cent, the preeminent hip hop artist of our generation, has credited his incredible physique to Vitamin Water (Steroid Water was the under-bidder for 50’s endorsement).

Alas, it appears it was all too good to be true. Like Gatorade before it, Vitamin Water derives its sweet flavor from 33 grams of sugar per bottle.  And sugar is, like, bad.  A fridge full of the stuff will sooner get you a killer case of type II diabetes then a rap star’s chiseled torso.


What was once considered a bizarre delicacy of the wealthy and pretentious, sushi has become wildly popular among the huddled masses in recent years.  It tastes great, and it’s healthy, because what could be healthier than a piece of raw fish cut up by an artiste with a culturally accurate hat standing behind a bar?

Think twice before you order that sushi dinner for two:  a lot of those fashionable rolls will give your gut a roll or two of its own.  Many of them are coated with mayonnaise, and all of them are served on heaping piles of white rice.  Your body metabolizes white rice in such a way that it causes blood sugar to spike, increasing insulin levels and therefore your appetite.


After all that’s been written about the evils of soda pop, thank God we can always turn back to our old favorite fruit juice to carry us through the day. A tall glass of Tropicana with your breakfast, a Mott’s Apple Juice with your lunch, and top it off with a Welch’s Grape Juice as your before dinner cocktail. Juice comes from fruit, and fruit is, like, healthy. When you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, go ahead and indulge in an Odwalla or Naked juice with your lunch: each bottle has 4 bananas, 7 apples, 12 pine apples, and an entire grove of oranges.

This may come as a complete shock to a generation weaned on juice boxes, but fruit juice is just another culprit similar to Vitamin Water. Most fruit juices are high in sugar (grape juice has 40 grams a serving) and contain no fiber. In an age where Americans get 25% of their calories from liquids, fruit juice is indeed the barbarian at the gates of obesity.


There was a time not too long ago when the ideal American’s breakfast would consist of a big, heaping bowl of cereal and several glasses of juice.  We’ve covered the juice, but the health benefits in popular breakfast cereals are vastly outweighed by the added sugar contained in most of them.  For example, the venerated Raisin Bran has more sugar per serving than the maligned Lucky Charms.  While breakfast remains the most important meal of the day, it can all be ruined by loading up on the simple carbohydrates and sugar found in most breakfast cereals.  Without a proper dose of protein, those carbs will make you crash quickly and you may find yourself asleep at the wheel, careening off of a bridge.  If you’re going to eat cereal, make sure it’s a Kashi type cereal, loaded with whole grains, twigs, dirt, and other gifts of nature. 


Jamba Juice, Starbuck’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and now even McDonald’s have gotten rich off the perception that anything related to fruit is great for your health.  A typical smoothie at Jamba juice has over 500 calories and, despite the impressive sounding “Free Shot” (promising things like, “Immunity,”) they are also loaded with added sugar.  Not only are these smoothies the caloric equivalent of an entire milkshake at Friendly’s, but they are by and large overpriced and may make the unsuspecting consumer poor — and nothing is worse for your health (or appearance) than being poor.


For most of the 20th century, doctors encouraged people to get out and enjoy the sun, which gave their skin a healthy glow.  By the end of the 1970s, tanned skin had been adopted as the standard of beauty in the US, and those of us who sunburn easily were left with the choice of looking like a well cooked lobster or a pale, anemic rat creature not unlike the cave-dwelling Smiegel from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

With the dramatic increase in sunbathing over the last generation, skin cancer rates have gone up accordingly. It turns out that the roasty, toasty tan that countless strive for is a sign of skin damage, and repeated intense exposure to the sun cumulatively increases your risk of developing skin cancer in its deadliest form: melanoma.


Get more sleep! The more, the better.  Sleep experts have been advising us for years to get the coveted eight to 10 hours a night of restful sleep.  Lay off the venti quad lattes after lunch and get thee to sleep before The Daily Show airs; don’t open your eyes again until it’s at least the fourth hour of The Today Show.  If you’re incapable of devoting at least 40% of your life to lying in a dark room snoring, fear not, for there is huge pharmaceutical industry devoted to keeping you knocked out as long as you need to be.  Just make sure you keep your car keys and Oreo supply are padlocked after you choke down a fistful of Ambien; it’s been known to cause frequent episodes of sleep driving/eating.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom above, there is such a thing as too much sleep, according to a UCSD study. Men and women who routinely sleep eight or more hours a night have a higher mortality rate than people who sleep between 6 and 7 hours nightly.  Be careful next time you hit the snooze button for the tenth time in one morning: not only will you be endangering your already precarious employment situation, but you could be snoozing yourself into an early grave. 


Cleopatra bathed in it.  Super celebrities/athletes ranging from Mark McGwire to Gisele have endorsed it in delightful print ads in magazines and billboards.  Old adages urge us not to cry over the spilling of it.  Why should we?  Milk is plentiful, widely available, and a huge industry in the United States.  If the generous advertisements are to believed, we need to drink milk frequently and daily in order to get our fill of calcium and vitamin D.  And if you’re not sucking down a tall frosty glass of milk at dinner, chances are that you or someone you know is enjoying a dairy product, such as butter or cheese.

Dairy cows are frequently shot up with Bovine Growth Hormone, which can be toxic when exposed to humans.  Pasteurization and homogenization removes essential components of cow’s milk, rendering the human incapable of processing the much vaunted vitamin D in it. So, next time you meet someone who is lactose intolerant, instead of ostracizing them, try to have a civil conversation.  Chances are their bodies are ahead of the curve when it comes to the milk conspiracy.


It’s the bubonic plague of the 21st century: obesity is killing Americans by the drive-thru bound carload, and everyone from Michelle Obama on down is trying to help figure out the secret to keep us from eating ourselves to death.  One notion has been held in high esteem for the past forty years:
- The more we exercise, the better our chances are of remaining/becoming thin. And, consequently:
- The thinner you are the more likely you are to stay alive long enough to die of Alzheimer’s.
Every January, legions of overweight Americans journey to the nearest Planet Fitness to put in their thirty daily minutes of cardio while staring blankly at a muted television. Despite the propagation of health clubs and jogging paths across the nation, people continue to blimp out at an alarming rate.  A recent TIME article suggests that people are more likely to gorge themselves on a 1000 calorie Chipotle burrito after putting in their daily exercise allotment, setting them back even worse.  The thirty minutes of strenuous exercise achieved on the elliptical machine three times a week is liable to make people fatter in the long run. 


If you are predisposed to suicidal thoughts, oversleeping, over/under eating, self-harm, crying jags, hysteria, bedwetting or night-terrors then you might want to skip this very depressing section.  Ever since Prozac was released in 1987, SSRI medications have been heralded as a potential panacea for the depressed, anxious and otherwise psychotic individuals.  As long as you take this 20 mg chemical solution daily for the rest of your life, you can sufficiently alter your brain chemistry enough to believe your life actually has meaning.
Except, they don’t they don’t work for most of the people who take them. A study released late last year showed that they were no more effective at treating depression than a sugar pill (sugar is bad; see above entries) for people suffering from mild to moderate depression.  People suffering from severe depression (you know, shit-your-pants-and-don’t-care depression) showed some moderate improvement.  


Snowballing in popularity over the last fifteen years, fermented tea that contains billions of tiny organisms is all the rage in the health nut circuit.  Despite that fact that there is no scientific basis for the claims that Kombucha fights disease thanks to the yeast like substance within, Kombucha has come under fire recently from regulatory agencies because of its alcohol content. Some bottles reportedly have an alcohol content great than .5 percent, which would put it in the same legal territory as beer and wine.  While this may appear innocuous to the casual observer, any recovering alcoholic/addict knows that the slightest pinch of alcohol can send them back off the wagon.  Be careful the next time you throw down your seven dollars for a bottle of this bottle of carbonated yeast droppings; the next thing you pick up may be a crack pipe.  


Foreskins have been reviled since the dawn of time in the Middle East, where the tribes of Abraham were quick to eliminate them from all their sons.  Despite this continuous assault for thousands of years, by all accounts men are still being born with one. In the United States, 85% of males had theirs removed as infants.

For years, it was thought necessary for promoting penal hygiene, but the medical establishment has determined there is no compelling reason for circumcision. A circumcised penis becomes calloused from its constant contact with clothing, dramatically reducing stimulation during sexual activity.  Next time you go to half-mast in the middle of intercourse, blame your parents and not your long-suffering girl/boyfriend.  


Various miracle weight-loss drugs have come and gone, including amphetamines (not to be confused with methamphetamine, which by all accounts will help you lose weight through the innovative “Meth Mouth Diet”).   Most recently, the all-natural substance Ephedrine was the weight loss pill-craze of the early 2000s, when manufacturers like Stacker 2 and Xenadrine valiantly helped people shed unwanted pounds with seemingly minimal side effects.  Unfortunately, a few people who couldn’t enjoy their ephedrine responsibly ended up ruining the fun for the rest of us: in 2003 a 23 year old MLB pitcher died of a heart attack in spring training after using ephedrine.  That incident came on the heels of several prom-bound teenage girls suddenly suffering from strokes.  By 2004, the whole sudden-death side effect of ephedrine was enough to get it banned by the FDA.  Killjoys. 


After fat was successfully identified as the one dietary problem facing civilization forty or so years ago, Big Food benevolently supplied us with ample choices of “reduced fat,” “low fat,” and “fat free” incarnations of our favorite (but fatty) snack foods.  So, be sure to make the “smart choice” next time you are at the supermarket be sure to grab Baked Lays, Reduced Fat Cheez-Its, and –what the hell — Twizzlers are a “fat-free food”; load up on some family sized bags.  Sleep easy knowing that the good folks at Lays and Nabisco have made things safe again.

Sadly, there is a new menace in our midst and it’s name is “high fructose corn syrup.”   Most of the reduced fat-free snack foods we thought we could safely enjoy have just gotten an extra dose of corn syrup to help make up for the lost flavor.  Surely a corporate chemist will discover a way to safely gorge on nutritionally deficient carbs, but until then, stay wary.