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How Much Water Do You Really Need? 14 Health Myths Debunked

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Popular health advice is everywhere. From what to eat to how much to exercise, it can feel overwhelming to make the right choices. Naturopathic doctor, Jacob Wolf, ND, cuts through the noise and shares the evidence behind common health myths.


Pete Kenworthy
I like to say I can’t wait for the study that shows that bacon is good for you, right? I’m obviously not holding my breath, but it seems like there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. Coffee is bad for you. Wait, it actually has health benefits. You can’t get enough protein from plant-based diets. Well, I know I don’t have to worry about that one because I love eating meat, but lots of people who are vegetarian or vegan certainly consider it.

Macie Jepson
Hey. Speaking of healthy foods, what about organic food? Just because the label says it’s organic, is it really better for you? Well, we know that it sure costs a lot more. And then there’s the old adage about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. Hope that’s not the case, Pete. I happen to know you skip it. I mean, is that really true? And here’s a big one. Certainly, here in America, 10,000 steps, eight glasses of water every day. Really? Hi everybody, I’m Macie Jepson.

Pete Kenworthy
And I’m Pete Kenworthy, and this is The Science of Health. And joining us today is Dr. Jacob Wolf, a naturopathic doctor at University Hospitals Connor Whole Health in Cleveland. Thanks for being with us.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Thanks for having me.

Pete Kenworthy
So, we want to cover a lot of myths today and the science behind them. We have kinds of foods and drinks and also things that we do because we think we’re supposed to do them to be healthy. So let’s start with food and drinks. First off, coffee, right? Good or bad, or is it that it depends.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Coffee is an interesting question. It depends. In most cases nowadays it’s good. The studies change a lot, but coffee is generally seen as a good thing right now. For most people, it’s their primary source of antioxidants for the day. Most people don’t eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables, so taking out coffee is going to be a big hit to them. But there is some research that it helps to decrease cancer risk. It can lower risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and can maybe help with Type Two diabetes as well. So I think coffee’s a good thing.

Pete Kenworthy
Is there too much coffee though?

Jacob Wolf, ND
There’s a too much coffee. So somewhere around four to five cups a day is kind of the maximum. You’re getting around 400 milligrams of caffeine. Most people feel really jittery at that point. You don’t need that much. Tea works well as well, so less caffeine, but has similar benefits as coffee if you don’t like coffee.

Macie Jepson
And when it comes to drinking things, of course, everybody’s trying to get enough water. And that would be eight glasses a day or would it be?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Yeah, water is another one. It’s an arbitrary number. So we kind of picked eight glasses a day as a standard. Originally it came from some research of all fluid for the day. So that’s not just water, that’s all of your foods, all your fruits and vegetables. Most people don’t need exactly eight glasses of water a day. If you’re feeling thirsty, drink fluids. If your urine is not clear or light yellow, drink fluids, you should be aiming for some amount of water every day or healthy liquids, not soda, not calorie beverages, something that’s good for you.

Pete Kenworthy
There’s actually a danger to too much water, right? I mean, we’ve seen stories about people thinking they need to drink lots and lots of water and it actually gets them in physical trouble.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Sure, you’re talking about usually gallons and gallons of water at that point. That’s well beyond what most people would need. There’s also a time where you do need more water: if you’re exercising a lot, if it’s hot out, if you’re pregnant, if you’re breastfeeding. So there’s times where you may need way more than eight glasses of water, but that’s a good kind of average.

Macie Jepson
Pay attention to your body.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Pay attention to your body. Again, if you feel thirsty or your urine is dark yellow, drink fluids. You should hydrate at that point.

Pete Kenworthy
What about vegetables? Frozen produce lasts longer, but fresh is better for you. Is that right?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Vegetables are vegetables. Frozen vegetables and frozen fruits are perfectly good. They are frozen instantly. They’re at the peak of their freshness, particularly if there are foods that are not in season, it’s a great time to get frozen. It could be more cost effective as well. So I’d rather people eat vegetables and fruits than not eat vegetables and fruits. And they’re equal nutrition either way. The big thing you do need to watch out for is if they’re adding salts and sugars. So if it’s a green that’s frozen, there should be no added salt into it. And you should watch on the packaging.

Macie Jepson
We’re kind of running through these quickly, but something that comes to mind for me and Pete, we’ve talked about this. When we were on the air in our former careers as news anchors, literally from week to week or month to month, the headline could change and we could say, coffee is bad for you and everybody’s talking about it. And then a month later, it’s embarrassing almost to a certain point. Nope, nope, hold on, coffee is really good for you. Before we go down the list any further, why do we get such conflicting information?

Jacob Wolf, ND
The research is changing all the time. There’s new information coming out all the time. Some initial research is coming maybe from animal studies or from small groups, and then they do larger groups and generalize it to the wider population and find that the information has changed. Research is notoriously challenging. There could be different factors in the research study itself that changed the answer. And sometimes news picks up on a small piece of the headline, but not the bigger story of is it good or bad? And then that finally comes out as well.

Macie Jepson
So what about organic foods though? I mean, talk about headlines. But can we just wash that stuff away? And if it says organic, is it really better for you?

Jacob Wolf, ND
So organic is a challenging question. So nutritionally organic may not be dramatically better than conventional, but you’re reducing the risk of exposure to excess pesticides, fertilizers, potentially antibiotic resistant bacteria. And so that’s the stuff that we’re really most cautious with with organic foods. There’s an easy way to figure it out which ones you should buy. There’s a list put out by the environmental working group every year: the Dirty Dozen in the Clean 15, which foods are the most clean and which foods have the most residues on them? And that’s a great dividing line of should I buy organic or should I buy conventional? The easiest way to remember it if you don’t have that list is if you eat the whole product, if you eat the whole strawberry or the lettuce, then you should buy organic. If you’re peeling off the outside, then you can usually buy conventional and be okay.

Pete Kenworthy
Well, that’s great advice. How about low fat foods? Because it sounds like just by their name, right? Low fat has to be better. It can’t be a myth that low fat foods are better for us. That can’t be a myth, right? They have to be better for us.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Low fat and fat is a category that’s changed a lot over the last decade or two. In the 90s, fat was bad. Now we’ve totally changed our tune. Fat is good. There’s important benefits to our health with fat. Low fat can be beneficial sometimes with things like with dairy, with other types of fats. But we need fats in general to live. There are a lot of good fats. Nuts and seeds, avocados, olives or great fats that we need every day. And we’re even changing our tune on saturated fat that we’re looking more at where is the fat coming from versus just fat or not fat. So getting some fat from a healthy piece of grassfed steak is better than getting the same amount of fat from a cupcake or a donut. There’s differences in types of fats.

Macie Jepson
And along those lines, I’ve often wondered, especially when you go fat free in a margarine, what’s left? It’s got to be bad for you eventually when you’re processing it down to nothing.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Nothing. Yeah. Whenever I see free, whether it’s gluten-free or fat-free, it means that we’re adding in a whole bunch of other chemicals to make it work. So if you’re taking out fat and presenting someone with margarine, which is fat, what’s in there? Now you’ve made it into trans fats. You made it into really exceptionally bad fats that are, we know are harmful to your health. And so making it fat-free a product that should be fat is really bizarre. But fat-free products that don’t have that in are using lots of sugars and artificial things to make it seem like it’s fatty in your mouth and to your taste.

Macie Jepson
Did you look at our list? Because we’re talking artificial sweeteners now and sugar. What are your thoughts on that?

Jacob Wolf, ND
For overall health, we shouldn’t be using sweeteners at all. Our food should be sweet how they are. Getting fruits are a natural source of sweeteners. Honey is a great natural source of sweetener, but we shouldn’t be adding sugar to things in general. As far as artificial sweeteners, there’s some new research showing that artificial sweeteners can worsen the risk of Type Two diabetes. It’s not adding sugar in the body, but it’s raising your insulin levels and kind of putting you on that same pathway. Artificial sweeteners also change our bacteria in our gut, which change overall health and how we can process foods and eliminate things. So a calorie-free sweetener is not necessarily better than using a small amount of sugar.

Pete Kenworthy
I mean you have to add sugar to things like cake and cupcakes and donuts, but we already talked about how bad those are for you, right?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Yeah, so you can add a small amount of sugar. That’s a time where using a good sugar or honey or maple syrup or using apple sauce or something else. Bananas that are naturally sweet is a great option versus using tons of artificial sweetener or a lot of regular sugar.

Macie Jepson
So is the idea of an artificial but natural sweetener being good for you also a myth? I’m thinking Stevia, I guess.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Yeah, Stevia is probably the best option for many people. It is a non-calorie sweetener. You’re just drying that plant and using that as a sweetener. I don’t know if the research is really out there on how it affects blood sugar or insulin. It may do similar things as artificial sweeteners, but at least you’re not using a chemical. You’re using a natural product. You’re using really minute amounts. The problem with Stevia is that some people don’t like the taste. Some people find a little bitter and it could be a little awkward to add to things.

Pete Kenworthy
So speaking of sugars, what about those smoothies or fruit juices, right? A lot of people assume that I’m just going to have a smoothie for lunch, right? That’s a healthy option.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Yeah. Smoothies and juices can be a good option. I prefer smoothies over juices. Smoothies are blending the whole fruit and vegetable. You’re getting all the fiber still in there. So that’s the part that slows down digestion. Fiber is good for you overall. Most people are deficient in their fiber intake, and you’re using less produce per drink. When you are juicing, you’re getting rid of all the fiber. So now you’re almost changing it into a soda. It’s just the sugar in the liquid. There’s no fiber, and you’re juicing a lot more produce per unit than you are with a smoothie. So now you’re eating 10 apples instead of one apple. There’s just a lot more sugar involved with the juice.

Pete Kenworthy
And smoothies can have things like if you go to a store and get a smoothie, things are added into there many times, right? Like syrups or sugars?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Oh sure. Yeah. There’s a lot of things that can be added in. If you’re going to get a smoothie, make sure that you can watch them usually just putting in the fruits and vegetables. Focus on vegetables. Add fruit for taste and add fruit for sweetness, but it shouldn’t be all sweet fruits all the time.

Macie Jepson
I think when we have protein in our mind, we think about meat. And so how would a vegetarian or a vegan get enough of that protein with a plant-based diet?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Vegetarians and vegans have tons of options for protein. We can look at someone like Tom Brady who’s completely plant-based and he’s clearly getting enough protein in his diet and there’s many other athletes who do it as well. There are beans. There’s tofu. There’s all your fruits and vegetables, have a little bit of protein in it. You can get it from nuts and seeds. You can get it from all sorts of different places. Once you’re going to vegetarianism or pescatarian, you’re adding in animal products. So now you’re adding in maybe some dairy or eggs and then you even greatly enhance the amount of protein you can get.

Macie Jepson
So there are those Beyond Beef type things out there though. And again, when you look at the ingredients, they’re a little bit scary. Is that something to be concerned about?

Jacob Wolf, ND
It’s a chemical product. It’s made from mixing things together to pretend to be meat. Is it better or worse than low quality proteins that you can already buy in the store? Maybe not. There may be a little higher quality proteins in there than others, but it’s not necessarily as healthy as eating beans or something for protein or a lean piece of chicken and/or fish or whatever it may be.

Pete Kenworthy
Speaking of fish, we eat a lot of salmon in my house, but when I go shopping, I see a couple options there for salmon, right? You have wild caught salmon and then you have the farm salmon. Is one better than the other or is salmon just good for you because it’s salmon?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Salmon is a really challenging question. And the science is changing right now as well. And so we used to say that wild caught is always better than farm raised, but our oceans are getting more polluted. And so now we have less control over where wild fish are living. And so I think salmon is a good option in general. If you had to choose between salmon and hot dogs, then choose salmon, whether it’s wild caught or farm raised. There are maybe a little bit more fats in a farm raised fish because they can add different things to their diet. There’s maybe more nutrients and more micronutrients in a wild caught fish, but never adding questions about maybe there’s more plastics in small chemicals or whatnot. So it really gets challenging. But find the best quality you can find is the best option.

Macie Jepson
This seems pretty straightforward, but something tells me it’s not. And that’s calcium. We need it. We all do. Women, especially as we age. So either you get it out of dairy or you get it from a supplement. Is that true?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Calcium can be found in many places. And so dairy is one option. It may not be the best option for most people. Many people are sensitive to dairy or choose not to eat dairy for whatever reason. So all of our dairy alternatives have calcium in them: non-dairy milks, non-dairy yogurts, non-dairy cheeses. We can get calcium from leafy greens. We can get calcium from sardines and from tofu and from beans and from nuts and seeds, and you can get calcium all over the place. A supplement is also a good option for those who don’t like those foods, but it doesn’t have to be just dairy.

Pete Kenworthy
Alright, let’s talk about some things that we’re told to do to stay healthy. The first one is that one that everybody talks about, certainly at least here in America, they do: getting 10,000 steps a day. Really? Like I feel like I’ve seen reports recently that that number was arbitrary like we talked about the 64 ounces of water, right? It’s just this arbitrary number that someone came up with, but we really only need maybe 6,000 or 7,000. Is there a magic number? Is it person dependent? Where does that number come from?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Steps a day is a little bit person dependent. And I actually did some research to figure out where 10,000 steps a day really came from. And it came from an early pedometer that was called 10,000 Steps a Day, and that was the name of the pedometer. And that’s kind of where a lot of this started. The newer research shows that for folks under the age of 60, somewhere around 8,000 steps a day is optimal: over 60, somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 steps a day is optimal. And you can look at it at more than just steps. It’s really active time. So you need to have a certain number of minutes of either moderate or vigorous active time based off your age. And it’s just trying to get people out and about. So if you don’t like walking, do something else. It doesn’t have to be, oh, I swam today, but I only got 10 steps. I need to do more steps. No, you did an activity for the day and that’s a good step as well.

Pete Kenworthy
And this is all about cardiovascular health, right?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Cardiovascular health, mental, emotional health, physical health, bone health. There’s lots to just walking other than the heart, but cardiovascular is a big part of it.

Macie Jepson
So when it comes to activity, does the time of day matter if it’s hot, cold outside?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Yeah. For exercising in general, anytime of day is good. That’s the first step. There’s some benefits to exercising in the morning. Some people find it better to do in the morning just as part of routine and habit. They may have more free time. You may get a little more calorie burn in the morning, particularly if you’re on an empty stomach. But our peak energy and our peak endurance and power is later in the day. So if you’re looking to work on that, that might be more beneficial to do in the afternoon or early evening. Same with calories and temperature. Doing hot yoga will get you to sweat a lot and you’ll lose a lot of water weight and it may increase cardiovascular health, but exercising in cool weather increases calorie burn. Your body needs to exercise and utilize all that energy, but also keep you warm and regulate temperature. So there’s a higher calorie burn in cold.

Pete Kenworthy
When I lost 25 pounds a couple of years ago, part of how I did it was cutting out breakfast. I guess that’s a form of intermittent fasting, right? But I kept thinking about that old adage of breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Things have changed with this, right?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Breakfast could be the most important meal of the day if that’s the foundation of your day and you’re starting your day with food. Some people do intermittent fast and breakfast is probably the most common meal to skip just logistically and family dynamics. But the important part is that you’re getting enough calories for the day. So skipping a meal can really challenge that for a lot of people. It may lead to more snacking, more challenged eating habits later in the day, but you can do it effectively with different fasting styles.

Pete Kenworthy
Where does that come from though? Cause I would think the old saying came from, you need to fuel your body to get through the day, but for the last two years I’ve kind of proven you don’t have to do that. I’m still getting enough calories for me. Is that what it comes from? You need to fuel your body for the day, but you don’t necessarily need that?

Jacob Wolf, ND
Yeah, I mean it’s a good start to the day. Most people are in the most active earlier parts of the day. They need their mental clarity and they need all their energy to start going through the day. So it’s a good way to start. But as you mentioned, you can do things to trick your body into utilizing calories in different ways. So if you are doing things like intermittent fasting, you’ve trained your body to utilize your reserves in that early part of the day, and then you just feed it appropriately later in the day. The group of people that’s most important to eat breakfast is children. They don’t do well with intermittent fasting. It’s much harder to focus in school when you’re in that kind of non-eating time for breakfast. So really important for kids to have a good foundation to the day.

Macie Jepson
I can’t think of any need, physical need to eat late at night. Now my emotional need is a completely different thing. But this is something people struggle with. And the myth, if you will, is that you’ll gain weight if you eat late at night. Is that true?

Jacob Wolf, ND
So this is also some new science about whether eating at different times of day is important or not. Some of the newer studies show that eating late may actually affect how your body breaks down the calories. Our digestion may slow down at night. We may signal our body to store more fat eating later in the day. And so some of this is about what you’re eating and quantity. So eating one apple at midnight is different than eating a whole box of donuts at midnight. It’s the same concern.

Macie Jepson
I’m not going for the apple, just saying.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Yeah, most people are not. Most people aren’t hankering for broccoli late at night, but some of that plays a role. But we do know that our body probably utilizes calories differently later in the day.

Pete Kenworthy
Anything we missed? Anything you were thinking of when you did get to see this list ahead of time? But anything overall health, overall nutritional myths, anything else you’re thinking of?

Jacob Wolf, ND
These were definitely the big ones. I tried to think about some other ones, but we hit a lot of topics today.

Macie Jepson
So it sounds like at the end of the day, the message is, pay attention to your body.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Certainly.

Macie Jepson
What’s your takeaway, Pete?

Pete Kenworthy
Look for foods that have things added to them. Right? Be careful of that.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Right? There’s this big new focus on whole foods. We want foods that are real, that are the foods that we’re expecting them to be. So looking for additives, looking at nutrient content and what the ingredients are will get you a long way.

Macie Jepson
Dr. Jacob Wolf from University Hospitals in Cleveland, thank you so much for joining us and clearing some things up today.

Jacob Wolf, ND
Thanks for having me.

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