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15 Things To Avoid For Optimal Health

These days there are so many health problems that we keep hearing about from friends, family, doctors and of course the media. We are constantly being told to stay away from this and consume extra that. It really becomes overwhelming. So much so, that it is very difficult to implement all these recommendations and make them a part of our lifestyle and routine. It seems like the younger generations have managed to reach a wonderful level of awareness when it comes to good health and are more motivated than ever to learn how to achieve it. The best way to keep from being overwhelmed is to make changes slowly and implement them one at a time until you get comfortable. Then move on to the next. Of course not everyone is motivated enough to change many aspects of their lives, but even working on a few things that benefit your well-being can positively impact your life. Here are 15 things that you can avoid to help you stay healthy. As always, it is best to consult with your medical doctor when making changes that could affect your health.

15. Sugar

Sugar is one of the worst things that we consume on a daily basis. These days, it isn’t enough to just stop adding sugar to what you eat and drink because there is already sugar in most pre-packaged food. Most labels that you look at have so many different names for sugar for example: ‘cane’, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, fructose and so on. So what exactly does sugar do to our bodies that is so bad? Obesity would be the most obvious repercussion since at least 32% of Americans are obese and a third is overweight. Our bodies simply aren’t made to consume sugar in such high quantities, especially as fructose. Fructose is metabolised by the body differently. It metabolises into fat, hence the weight epidemic. Consuming too much sugar can lead to liver disease; the same kind of disease that can result from excessive alcohol consumption. Chronic disease development is also often being driven by sugar consumption; and even scarier, it has been found that cancer cells feed from fructose which promotes their cell division and growth and allows cancer to spread faster. Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, lipid problems, heart disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome and dementia are some of the other diseases than may arise because of excessive sugar consumption.

14. Alcohol

If there were one thing you consumed on a daily or weekly basis that contributed to more than 60 medical conditions, would you cut it out of your life? The fact of the matter is that alcohol is a very popular substance and it was once thought to be beneficial in small quantities. However, new studies are changing this perspective. When the data is revisited and former drinkers are removed from the non-drinkers group in a study comparing alcohol consumption levels and their respective health outcomes, the purported benefits of moderate alcohol consumption almost completely disappear. Some of the medical conditions that alcohol contributes to are high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis and depression to name a few. It also contributes to many types of cancer, one of which is breast cancer. Even drinking one glass a day of alcohol increases the risk of developing breast cancer by four percent and those that consume three or more drinks a day increase their risk by 40-50 percent. Alcohol can also effect memory, concentration, sleep patterns and more. Of course drinking alcohol to excess can also lead to alcoholism and health problems, and family and friends can be effected too.

13. Processed Foods

Before delving into why you should avoid processed foods, it is probably a good idea to define which foods we are best to stay away from. Technically speaking, all foods are processed in some way; that is, they are harvested and sometimes sent to get packaged. Of course the ideal would be to eat food right out of the ground and straight onto our plates, however unrealistic this is. The next best thing is to eat minimally processed one ingredient foods. For simplicity sake, we will consider processed to refer to foods that have been chemically processed and made from refined or artificial ingredients, so they are no longer in a similar state that they were grown in. For example, corn gets made into high fructose corn syrup, it is refined and processed. On the other hand, frozen corn with no added ingredients should not be considered as processed. Processed foods are often high in sugar, and we already know the issues that excess sugar can cause. They also usually contain any number of chemicals which are used as preservatives, coloring, artificial flavouring and more. All of these chemicals don’t always have to be on the label; they may fall under a category of “artificial flavouring” or something else that doesn’t need to be disclosed in full. They can also be high in Trans Fats, processed vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates and low in fiber and nutritional value and are digested very quickly. All of these factors lead to us eating more without being satiated because our bodies often still crave nutrients that these foods are just not providing. In short, if we only eat processed foods we will likely gain weight and be over fed and malnourished which could lead to other health issues.

12. Pesticides

Not only are pesticides horrible for the environment because they leak into our soil and water supply, but they also negatively impact our health. Synthetic pesticides are the problem, (you won’t find these on organic produce). When we consume produce that was treated with synthetic pesticides, we may be consuming several different types of pesticides. These chemicals can not be washed off easily; they linger and can even seep into food beyond its outer layers. Pesticides get stored in our colon, and from there they can poison the body. Pesticide consumption has been linked to incidences of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, and birth defects. They can also harm many of our body’s most important systems such as the nervous and reproductive systems. The issue with pesticides is that the effects on the body are cumulative; so the more you eat, the worse it is because they build up in the body. It is best to avoid them as much as possible.

11. Stress

Stress is a very basic biological response to either real or imagined danger of some kind. When in such a situation, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol so that you are prepared for fight or flight. These are the body’s two possible responses to protect itself; fight the danger or run away from it. During short and infrequent instances of stress, the heart rate increases, lungs take in more oxygen, blood flow increases and the immune system is able to become suppressed temporarily; this reduces the body’s inflammatory response to foreign invaders. Irregular stress doesn’t seem to negatively impact the long-term well-being of the body. Repeated or chronic stress, on the other hand, is another story. Too much stress can lead to inflammation in the body because over time the immune system becomes more and more desensitised to cortisol and this lets the inflammation get out of control. Unfortunately, chronic inflammation increases the risk of most diseases; diabetes, heart disease and cancer to name a few. To avoid negatively impacting your health, stress needs to be dealt with in a healthy calming manner.

10. Caffeine

Drinking coffee or tea is an incredibly popular way of getting a caffeine fix. People mostly consume caffeine to help themselves wake up in the morning or stay alert throughout the day. While the purported benefits are widely known, potential harmful effects are often left by the wayside. Here are some you may like to be aware of. It may raise blood pressure especially for those already dealing with high blood pressure and for people who don’t usually consume caffeine. Women may be at higher risk for developing breast tissue cysts. It can also cause insomnia, indigestion, headaches and may even impair hearing loss recovery among many other things. Caffeine consumption can also decrease the body’s absorption of magnesium. This is a problem because our bodies require magnesium to perform many critical functions such as regulating the function of our muscles and nerves.

9. Wheat

Believe it or not, humans have not always consumed wheat. It has only been part of our diet for approximately 12 thousand years, but now, most people couldn’t imagine living without it. Wheat and other grains are found in most processed foods, and wheat in the form of bread, is a breakfast and lunch staple for so many. By now, most of us have heard about gluten intolerance, as gluten-free products seem to be advertised everywhere. Gluten, which is found in wheat can cause abdominal pain, irregular bowel movements, headaches, joint pain and eczema; eating a gluten-free diet can benefit those who are sensitive. Wheat, on the other hand, can also cause a host of other problems to individuals who don’t have celiac disease. A group of proteins found in wheat called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) has been shown to trigger an immune response in our gut and that can spread to other bodily tissues. The immune response that these produce can greatly affect the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain in some people, causing inflammation which can worsen rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

8. Dairy

Most of us have been brought up consuming dairy and learning that it will help us grow and keep our bones strong, but is this really the case? Calcium is the nutrient purported to help our bones, but dairy isn’t the best source and certainly not the only one. Dairy also doesn’t do what we all once thought it did. Milk has never actually been shown to reduce bone fractures; in fact, it can actually increase fracture risk by 50%. Also, there is less incidence of osteoporosis in countries that have the lowest rates of dairy consumption. Actually, vitamin D has been found to play a more important role in bone health. Dairy has also been linked to prostate cancer, it aggravates irritable bowel syndrome, it is full of saturated fat and is linked to heart disease, not to mention it causes digestive problems for the 75% of people with lactose intolerance. Dairy can also contain added hormones and antibiotics.

7. Meat

Adopting a vegetarian or plant-based diet is trending right now, and for good reason. Industrialised meat farming is destroying the environment and the added hormones and antibiotics are being found to have less than ideal health impacts. There are more and more concerns about the rising costs of health care and people are realising that something needs to be done; prescription drugs are not the answer. Doctors are starting to recognise that a vegan diet may be an affordable and effective option to warding off the spread of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. A healthy vegan diet consists of eating whole, plant-based foods while avoiding meat, dairy and eggs as well as refined and processed foods. Doing so, has very little risk and is cost- effective. It can also lower body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as reduce the number of medications people have to take to treat chronic illness and inflammation. Another argument for avoiding meat is that high consumption of red and processed meats was found to be associated with a higher risk of many chronic diseases.

6. Sedentary Lifestyle

By now it is a widely known fact that we need to be active to stay healthy and a sedentary lifestyle is less than ideal. Many of us have memories of gym class, either positive or negative, but as we grow into adulthood it is important to remember to keep moving several times a week. You get to choose how. Getting in those cardio, strength and flexibility sessions is critical for so many reasons. A sedentary lifestyle is much more common now than ever since there are often long commutes to get to and from a job that also forces people to sit more. Some of the repercussions of people living sedentary lives has led to:  20% of all deaths being attributed to a lack of physical activity, $24 billion being spent in the medical system and only 6.5% of Americans meeting the minimum guideline of physical activity. The increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers like breast and colon can be decreased if you lead an more active life.

5. Synthetic Vitamins

Nothing can replace a well-balanced diet filled with fresh colourful produce as well as nuts, seeds, some grains and legumes. However, consuming high quality natural vitamins can be beneficial and ensure a well-rounded supply to the body which it needs to function properly. Synthetic vitamins are manufactured synthetically and therefore the vitamins don’t come from their natural sources, that is, plants. They often lack transporters and co-factors that occur naturally with vitamins and therefore our bodies just can’t absorb them. As a result, they either get stored until the body has the nutrients it needs to use the vitamins effectively or they just get excreted which is just a waste of money altogether. Another problem with synthetic vitamins is that they are devoid of necessary trace minerals and therefore use the body’s mineral reserve, which can result in mineral deficiencies. Since evolution has made it so our bodies recognise and absorb nutrients that are occur in nature, our bodies don’t easily recognise or absorb the synthetic lab versions.

4. Lack of Sleep

Almost every adult has had at least one, if not many, sleepless nights or early wake-ups which resulted in fatigue, irritability or lack of focus throughout the day. If this happens once in a while it isn’t normally harmful but if it happens regularly, that is a different story. Reoccurring sleepless nights can fog your brain which makes concentration and decision making difficult. You may also find it difficult to stay awake which can cause accidents at work, home and on the road. Continued lack of sleep can also make you prone to serious medical conditions like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Prolonged lack of sleep is also bad for your immune system and can make you less able to fend of illnesses. The only remedy for lack of sleep is to get more sleep, no amount of caffeine will fix the problem; it will only make it worse. Not sleeping enough is just plain bad for your health. It is important to address this.

3. Chemical Cleaning Products

Having a clean home can be visually appealing and make everyone feel more comfortable; not everyone loves doing it but it is a necessary task. Washing floors, scrubbing toilets and cleaning showers are chores that you normally do with products in order to clean  thoroughly. The problem is that the products you are using could have more harmful effects than benefits; they may get your home sparkling clean but they may also be impacting your well-being. Air pollution is one of the problems: we are breathing in chemicals that are toxic to our lungs and we don’t even think twice about it. Many products are also toxic if ingested which can put young children and even pets at risk as they explore their surroundings. Corrosive chemicals can cause serious burns on the skin or in the eyes and if ingested can cause damage too. Furthermore, the combination of products that contain ammonia or ammonia and lye and chlorine can produce a toxic gas that is extremely dangerous. Other ingredients can also cause long-term health effects like cancer and hormone disruption which interferes with bodily functions. In addition to the impact on our health, chemical products also destroy the environment.

2. Artificial Food Ingredients

Artificial ingredients are commonly found in processed foods which is another reason to avoid them altogether. They are often used to make food more appealing to the eyes and tongue as well as making the items last long on grocery store shelves. Unfortunately, these additives are not so good for our bodies. Artificial sweeteners for one, are usually found in diet or sugar-free foods and even used as sugar alternatives for diabetics. The problem is that they are likely carcinogenic and neurotoxic. It can effect short-term memory and lead to brain tumors, lymphoma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia and more. Monosodium Glutamate, commonly known as MSG, is a tricky one because the Glutamate is the culprit rather than the Monosodium and unfortunately it comes under various names which make it difficult to spot, such as autolyzed yeast protein. These are added to food to enhance the flavour but they actually overexcite brain cells which can lead to cell damage or even death. A few other things to avoid are artificial food dyes, nitrates and potassium bromate to name a few. However, this isn’t an exhaustive list, there are many more artificial food ingredients that may be causing you harm.

1. Synthetic Cosmetic Ingredients

Skincare and makeup are intended to enhance beauty and appearance, unfortunately many of the products that we use contain ingredients that just aren’t good for our skin or overall health. There are so many ingredients on labels that it is often hard to decipher what to avoid; knowledge is the best thing we can arm ourselves with. Here are some common ones to avoid. Methyl, Propyl, Butyl, and Ethyl Paraben. These are added to products to inhibit microbes from growing in them and also to extend the shelf life of products. The problem is that they are toxic and have caused many allergic reactions and skin rashes. Petrolatum, which is derived from petroleum (the same thing that fuels our cars), is also often used to moisturise skin and lips even though it causes the opposite; it also causes sensitivity to the sun. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is used in shampoos and soaps as a foaming agent. It is known to cause eye irritation, skin rashes, hair loss and allergic reactions. If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, do some thorough research on your products; there are many other ingredients we should also avoid. 

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