5 “Healthy” Habits That Really Aren’t Good for You

Are all-natural foods, sunscreen, and bottled water actually better for you?

By Perri O. Blumberg with additional research by Katie Macdonald
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    You always choose low-fat or fat-free salad dressing.

    They may be healthier on their own, but a 2012 Purdue University study shows that the lack of fat might make it more difficult for you to absorb your salad's nutrients, making you lose some of the disease-fighting properties that the vegetables offer. Carotenoids, which are linked to combating cancer, heart disease, and vision loss, are more readily absorbed from veggies when paired with fat-based dressings. So while you'll save on calories, slashing the veggies' benefits isn't worth it. What should you eat instead? The study found that monounsaturated fat-based dressings—those with avocado, olive oil, and canola oil—were most effective in nutrient absorption and limiting fat intake.

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    You slather on the sunscreen.

    You should apply sunscreen daily, and make sure you put on enough and as often as needed. But you need to read the ingredients. Certain consumer health groups suggest looking for octinoxate, a commonly used chemical compound in sunscreens and skincare products, which has been ranked by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as a moderately high health hazard. If you have concerns about chemicals and sunscreen, many dermatologists recommend choosing products that physically block harmful rays, such as those containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are not absorbed into your skin.

    You buy "all natural" groceries.

    Many so-called "all natural" or "100% natural" foods are actually heavily processed with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, and genetically modified plants, according to the Wall Street Journal, because the USDA and the FDA do not share a definition of those terms (along with other marketing words like "free range" or "cage free"). Yet in a 2011 survey, 25 percent of over 1,000 consumers thought the best description to read on a food label was “100% natural” or “all natural."

    Your diet includes several small meals a day.

    Though claims have been made that eating smaller, more frequent meals help your metabolism, some interesting new research doesn't support the theory. Scientists from Purdue University put a panel of men on a low-calorie, high-protein diet, and found that those who ate six smaller meals felt hungrier than those who were given three larger ones—and the frequent-meals group didn't lose any more weight. Check with your doctor if you have questions about what might work best for you.

    You drink bottled water instead of tap.

    According to the MayoClinic, bottled water is not healthier than what comes out of your faucet. Though the FDA oversees bottled waters and the EPA reviews tap, both use similar safety standards. With packaged products, you may not always know what you're getting: In 2011,18 percent of bottled waters failed to list their sources and 32 percent did not disclose water treatment, contaminant, or purity information. As for the environment, up to 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, which required the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil.

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