Losing weight, boosting your energy, eating better: Whatever your health goals may be, dropping bad behaviors and replacing them with healthier ones is the first step to achieving them. Sometimes, though, your "better" choice has its own downsides—and may not actually be good for you at all. Here, experts reveal the truth about some of the most common health swaps to help you decide what's best to help you reach your goals.
quicklist: 1 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: A normal diet for gluten-free url: text:
quicklist: 2 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Cigarettes for E-cigs url: text:
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices designed to deliver flavor, nicotine, and other chemicals, and without the harmful effects of smoking tobacco products. And while they do contain fewer contaminants, no study supports any benefits for using e-cigs to wean yourself off regular cigarettes, says Ray Casciari, MD, board certified pulmonologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. "One small study showed the rate of getting off cigarettes by using e-cigs was about 14%, the same success rate as going cold turkey. In fact, people often end up smoking both types of cigarettes, so it's actually worse." Talk to your healthcare provider for more effective ways to quit smoking.
quicklist: 3 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Regular soda for diet soda url: text:
quicklist: 4 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Soap and water for hand sanitizer url: text:You have hand sanitizer stashed in your bag, so why take the extra effort to find a bathroom and wash your hands the old-fashioned way? The problem, says Michael Schmidt, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, is that alcohol kills microbes by drying them out and killing them. With long-term use, you will begin to deplete your skin of the protective oils and damage the elasticity of your skin, Schmidt says. Plus, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is not considered as effective at killing all types of germs. It's fine to use hand sanitizer (choose an alcohol-based one that's 60-95% alcohol) when soap and water is not available, he says, just not as a regular substitute for real soap and water.
quicklist: 5 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Regular soap for antibacterial url: text:
quicklist: 6 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Whole-fat dairy for fat-free url: text:
quicklist: 7 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Some meat for no meat url: text:
Vegetarians and vegans tend to be thinner than meat-eaters, according to a 2013 study of nearly 72,000 adults published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That said, cutting out meat isn't a surefire solution to slim down. "The problem with vegetarian, especially strict vegan, is that there is a much more limited choice of high-protein foods," says Dr. Quebbemann. "High-protein foods are extremely filling and satisfying, so they actually help you eat fewer calories." For this reason, newly meat-free eaters end up eating many more calories than they would if they included some dairy or fish in their diets, he adds. Plus, it can be hard to get vitamin B12 from an animal product-free diet. So if you do go vegan, be sure to make plant-based proteins like beans, nuts, and soy 30% of your total calorie intake, and look for vitamin B12-fortified foods.
quicklist: 8 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Three daily meals for small meals all day url: text: Many experts recommend eating smaller meals throughout the day (typically five or six) instead of three larger meals. The idea is the regular meals help stabilize your blood sugar and therefore your hunger. But it doesn't work for everyone, says Ikemoto. "The jury is out if it actually leads to weight loss," she says. "If you're not careful, eating more throughout the day can provide extra calories that can pack on the pounds." The smarter strategy: when your stomach's rumbling—and it's been at least 4 hours since your last meal—have a snack that includes a healthy carb and protein, such as a cup of Greek yogurt topped with blueberries or a couple slices of turkey and an apple.
quicklist: 9 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Butter for margarine url: text: Margarine isn't always a better choice than butter for heart health. "Stick margarines are often made through a process called hydrogenation, transforming liquid oil into a solid, resulting in the creation of trans fats, which decrease good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol," says Ikemoto. A new study published in the British Medical Journal showed a clear link between trans fats and heart disease, while butter and other saturated fats were not associated with an increased risk of death, stroke, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. That said, the American Heart Association still advises limiting saturated fats to no more than 5 to 6% of your total calories. Tub margarines with no hydrogenated oils listed in the ingredients may be your best bet for a healthy heart.
quicklist: 10 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: A regular desk for a standing desk url: text:
You've probably seen the scary reports about "sitting disease." Research shows that the more time you spend sitting, the higher your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and death by any cause. Though switching to standing desk seems like a logical solution, an all-or-nothing approach can bring its own set of problems, like leg cramps, backaches, and foot pain, says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist based in Connecticut. If you decide to try a standing desk, Holland suggests starting by standing 10 minutes alternating with sitting 10 minutes and working your way up to longer periods of time.
quicklist: 11 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: A desk chair for a fitness ball url: text:
Similarly to using a stand-up desk, substituting a fitness ball for your office chair all at once can prove more trouble than it's worth. In theory, sitting on an unstable surface such as a fitness ball requires your core muscles to kick in. But it only works if you consciously focus on using your core, which is difficult to do for long periods of time, says Holland. "You can easily start hunching forward if you don't remain conscious of your form while sitting," he explains. "And if you can sit perfectly on the ball to start, you likely don't even need the ball." Swap out the ball for your office chair only for short increments of time (10 to 20 minutes), suggests Holland.
quicklist: 12 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Snacks for Snacks for energy bars url: text: Sure, an energy bar will give you a quick jolt—but then you'll crash. That's because some bars rev you up with sugar, unlike healthy unprocessed food snacks (like an apple and cheese), which provide longer-lasting energy with healthy carbs, fiber, and protein. "Energy bars are often packed with hidden sugars such as agave syrup, rice syrup, and high fructose corn syrup, as well as highly addictive sugar substitutes like sucralose, and 'natural flavors' that aren't," says Dr. Quebbemann. He points to one energy bar that contains 120 calories, only 2 grams of protein, very few nutrients.
quicklist: 13 category: 13 'Healthy' Swaps That Can Backfire title: The swap: Salad greens for kale url: text:
If your stomach starts rumbling in the afternoon, it could be the kale salad you ate for lunch. "Kale can be rough to digest," says James Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. "It contains a high amount of fiber as well as oligosaccharides, which can only be digested by our colonic bacteria. This can cause gas and bloating in some people, especially those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)." Sauteeing, steaming, or making soup from kale increases its digestibility.
This article originally appeared on Health.com.