You drink plenty of water, you floss, you pay attention to what you eat—but are all these so-called healthy habits as healthy as you think they are? We asked the experts.

By Karen Asp
August 26, 2019
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When it comes to getting healthier from the inside out, there’s no end to the number of healthy habits you can adopt. But just start thinking about them all and your head will start to spin. The truth is, not all of these habits are as healthy as they’re cracked up to be. But how do you know?

We turned to the experts to get the scoop behind seven habits that sound healthy—but the truth behind them may be more complicated. Read on to see which ones get the green light, and which healthy habits you can reconsider.

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1. Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily

The verdict: Do it.

What the expert says: On average, you need to replace about 2.4 liters (roughly 81 ounces) of water a day. While the eight-by-eight rule isn’t hard science, it’s meant to be an easy guideline to remember that works for most people. “Some will need more or less based on their activity levels and fluid intake from other sources,” says Elroy Vojdani, MD, a functional medicine pioneer in Los Angeles. If your skin is dry or lips are chapped or dry, that could be a tip-off that you’re not drinking enough water.

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Tip: Buy water in glass bottles or, even better, fill reusable glass or stainless steel containers with filtered water. With plastic bottles, you could be gulping chemicals such as BPA and harmful phthalates even in BPA-free bottles, Dr. Vojdani says. (Plus, plastic bottles are a major source of environmental pollution.)

2. Flossing daily

The verdict: Do it.

What the expert says: “Brushing cleans only three of the five exposed tooth surfaces, so to clean the other two, you must floss,” says Bill Dorfman, DDS, a Los Angeles-based cosmetic dentist from the ABC's Extreme Makeover and author of Billion Dollar Smile. If not, you’ll get cavities between those teeth; left untreated, they can lead to numerous issues. Worse? “Residual plaque that’s left can lead to chronic mouth infections, which have been linked to heart disease,” Dr. Dorfman says. Aim to floss at least once a day before you brush, using an up and down motion, and be sure you know how to floss correctly.

3. Doing a cleanse

The verdict: Skip it.

What the expert says: People often do cleanses to clean toxins from their bodies and even help jumpstart metabolism for weight loss, but don’t follow their lead.

“With the exception of some short-term, quick weight loss, research hasn’t been able to prove consistent results,” says Kellie Gragg, RDN, director of clinical services with Strata Integrated Wellness Spa at Garden of the Gods Resort and Club in Colorado Springs, Colo. The good news? “The body is uniquely designed to neutralize and eliminate most of the toxins you’re exposed to every day,” she says, adding that the internal detoxifying system works best when you treat yourself well.

Some simple strategies: Avoid processed foods with artificial preservatives, drink plenty of water, sweat daily, build meals around plant foods, log adequate sleep, and keep body fat in check (toxic chemicals accumulate in fat).

4. Popping a probiotic

The verdict: Do it.

What the expert says: If you’re looking to improve your long-term health, especially if you have IBS or occasional issues digesting food, probiotics could help. “They change the composition of bacteria in your gut, which then decreases overall inflammation in the gut,” Dr. Vojdani says. And because research shows a link between the health of the gut and that of the brain, they could, in theory, help you lower your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Look for a GMP-certified probiotic with lactobacilli and bifidobacteria species and at least 20 billion CFUs per serving. Take it with food, preferably green veggies.

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5. Counting calories

The verdict: Skip it.

What the expert says: Counting calories might be the backbone of commercial weight loss programs, but it doesn’t work. “It’s an imprecise measure and an exercise in frustration,” says Robin Foroutan, MS, RDN, an integrative medicine dietitian in New York City and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That’s because food companies are allowed to be off on labeled calorie counts by 20 percent.

Even more importantly? “Not everybody absorbs calories in the same way or burns calories at the same rate, and different kinds of calories affect metabolism in different ways,” she says. While it’s a good idea to have a sense of how much you’re eating in a day, counting calories in a strict way can encourage disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food in the long term.  

6. Stepping on the scale daily

The verdict: It depends.

What the expert says: Because the studies are mixed, it depends on your goals. If you’re trying to lose or maintain weight loss, studies show that daily weighing can help with both. The downside? “Frequent weighing for some can become obsessive and extremely unhealthy,” Gragg says. Just remember that weight doesn’t tell you everything you should know about your body. “Thin is not in if it’s not healthy and made up of too much body fat,” she says.

7. Taking a calcium supplement

The verdict: It depends.

What the expert says: If you’re not getting adequate calcium from your diet, a nutrient required for heart and bone health, supplementing may help ensure that you’re getting enough, Vojdani says. Two groups who will benefit the most: Men and women over 50 and individuals following a vegan diet. When taking calcium, supplement with vitamin D3 and vitamin K2-7 to help your body deposit the calcium in bones, not arteries. As with any supplement, ask your doctor about the dosing and form that’s best for you.

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