The sheer volume of online information about diet and fitness can be both a blessing and a curse. With so many health "influencers", blogs and vlogs, it can be difficult to separate the truth from half-truths and blatant lies.
To help us weed out some of the top lies being fed, fitness expert and nutritionist Isilda da Costa and registered dietician Ashley Gibbon shared seven bad bits of diet and fitness advice from the internet you should always be wary of.
1. 'Don't eat anything white'
Just because it's any other colour but white does not mean it's necessarily not good for you, cautioned Gibbon, who noted that some of this thinking may come from the processed nature of other white foods such as rice and bread, as opposed to the brown version of these foods.
Yet, she cautioned, if you avoid all food that's white may mean you miss out in nutrient-rich foods that are good for your body such as mushrooms, cauliflower, garlic, egg whites, milk, onions, potatoes and fruits such as dates, white peaches and bananas.
"Educate yourself about what's 'healthy' and 'unhealthy', versus what's super-trendy," said Gibbon.
2. "It's trans fat-free, sugar-free or gluten-free, therefore healthier"
This is not necessarily true.
"A lot of things are associated with health that don't really need to be associated with health," said Gibbon.
For example, even if there are 0g of trans fat listed on the nutrition label, it does not mean that there is no trans fat in the product. Legally, companies are allowed to state that a product contains no trans-fats if it contains less than 0.5g, which is still trans fat, clarified Da Costa.
Similarly, "a lot of people think gluten-free is healthy, but for example, if you don't have gluten-intolerance, you don't need to be eating gluten-free," added Gibbon.
3. "For flat abs, do this ab exercise for 10 minutes every day"
"There is no magic wand to abs; it's all about hard and consistent work and a good diet, cautioned Da Costa.
She pointed out that even with consistent ab workouts, your abs might hide under fat until you lose weight, because muscles in the abdomen are naturally covered by a layer of fat.
Similarly, so-called "belly fat-burning foods" can't work outside of a holistically healthier diet and some exercise. "We must remember that fat is burnt when your body uses up more calories than it receives. And when this process happens often, you lose weight. It's not one type of food that does all the work," said Da Costa.
4. "With this 20-day juice cleanse, you will lose 10-20kg"
Low energy, muscle loss and blood-sugar spikes are all consequences of — in particular — longer-term juice cleanses and detoxes that people do to "rest the colon" or "remove toxins from the body". Further, the gains aren't sustainable, as you can't juice for life, noted Gibbon.
"I would say any period of time in which you are restrictive of your nutrient and energy intake could be potentially dangerous," said Gibbon.
"Your body has its own 'detox' system in the form of the blood filtration systems in the kidneys and the liver. These are essential organs that remove toxins from the blood," she added.
5. "Raw water is the most natural form of water"
And so it is healthier for you. Those pro this trend argue that untreated water is the healthiest form of the liquid because it's unprocessed and has beneficial minerals that are removed from treated or filtered water. Also it doesn't include chemicals in tap water, such as fluoride, or move through infrastructure such as lead pipes.
A view Tony Marchesini, managing director of H2O International, does not support. "Today, in South Africa our infrastructure is in a poor state of repair, and our water quality is suffering due to many factors. Unlike twenty years ago, we can't be assured that the tap water we are drinking is good for our health."
This is why he supports drinking purified water. He noted that while municipal water, although treated with chemicals, may still have metals and contaminants leach to it as it runs through the pipes. To remove these chemicals, contaminants and toxins, he suggests you purify your water with a filter that removes them completely
6. "Appetite-suppressing pills"
There is a proliferation of these on the South African market, and a number of them are not lawfully registered with the relevant regulatory bodies.
One such product is "The Secret Fat Burner" that health authorities recently warned South African consumers about. It promises that you'll lose 2 to 4kg in the first week, and your food cravings will be suppressed. However, it has reportedly landed some users in hospital, with SEMDSA — the Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa — asking the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to attend to the issue of this particular product as a matter or urgency.
"The dangers of weightloss products can range from mild to severe, depending on the product you use. Gastrointestinal effects, micronutrient deficiencies and digestive problems may present," said Gibbon.
Those pills are evil. I was sure I was going crazy plus they gave me kidney problems. Ngiyawabonga!— Ntandoyenkosi ⭐ (@NtandoThabethe_) February 21, 2017
Yho! The people who have completed a box of #Duromine are strong.— Ma'am (@Zintle_intombi) December 18, 2017
7. "The best time to exercise is the morning"
While there's ongoing research in this area, the time of day doesn't make a big enough difference to matter, and ultimately it depends on what works best for you, pointed out Da Costa.
"I've seen too many of the 'rules' be broken, and people still see great results. Hard work, adequate rest and recovery, and consistency with clean nutrition are 95 percent of the equation for most," personal trainer Shane Doll told Livestrong.
"No one size fits all — with diet and fitness," stressed Da Costa. "What works for you may not work for somebody else, and this is dependent on a number of variables."
"Secondly, I strongly believe nothing can do what hard work does," she added. So if you're looking for health information online, rather consult social media accounts of professional fitness and health experts, she concluded.