12 Questionable Health Beliefs That Have Shown Up in the Last 100 Years

February 20, 2024

It’s no secret that there have been some pretty wild health trends over the past 100 years. From the “cigarette diet” and “tapeworm diet” in the 1920s and ‘30s to the “cabbage soup diet” that gained popularity in the ‘80s…

As bizarre as they may sound, these were real diets that made waves in their time. And with the internet now at our fingertips, misinformation about food and nutrition spreads faster than ever before. Because of this, we’re getting further and further from how our ancestors originally ate, and it’s wreaking havoc on our health.

So, what are the questionable health beliefs we’re facing today?

There are twelve, in particular. Each of these—which you’ve almost certainly heard of—is blatantly wrong (science is now confirming this). So for each health belief, I’ll share the myth that you’ve been told, and the alternative approach you can take instead.

Ready for some truth bombs? Let’s dive in.

The Obesity Paradox

The obesity paradox is an outrageous term that some researchers use to describe a phenomenon where individuals with obesity appear to live longer than those of a healthy weight (1). 

“The obesity paradox caused a lot of confusion and potential damage because we know there are cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular risks associated with obesity,” said Dr. Sadiya Khan, an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine cardiologist.

Recent studies have shown that (2):

  • The likelihood of having a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or cardiovascular death in overweight middle-aged men 40 to 59 years old was 21 percent higher than in normal-weight men. The odds were 32 percent higher in overweight women than normal-weight women.
  • The likelihood of having a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or cardiovascular death in obese middle-aged men 40 to 59 years old was 67 percent higher than in normal-weight men. The odds were 85 percent higher in obese women than normal-weight women.
  • Normal-weight middle-aged men also lived 1.9 years longer than obese men and six years longer than morbidly obese. 
  • Normal-weight middle-aged women lived 1.4 years longer than overweight women, 3.4 years longer than obese women, and six years longer than morbidly obese women.
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The Food Pyramid

In 1992, The US Department of Agriculture developed a food pyramid that reinvented how most people think about their diet. At the base of the pyramid were carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice, and cereals (of which we were told to eat 6 to 11 servings a day).

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The problem with this way of eating is that these carbohydrates turn into sugar when consumed and are then stored in your body as fat. In addition to the 57 pounds of sugar we eat yearly, we’re eating 130 pounds of flour that also breaks down into sugar (3, 4). 

Check out this video from Dr. Chad for a better example of what your plate should look like.

Low-Fat & Fat-Free Foods

Piggy-backing off the Food Pyramid is the belief around “low-fat” and “fat-free” foods. This anti-fat craze, which started in the 1960s, led to grocery store shelves filled with fat-free salad dressings, chips, cookies, and even fat-free butter. 

Since fat is often a source of flavor, food companies have to replace the fat with sugar, flour, and chemical additives. This is a recipe for disaster (i.e., chronic inflammation) in the body.

It might seem counterintuitive, but you should be eating fat—healthy fat, that is—daily.

Monounsaturated fats found in whole foods such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados have been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and boost HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood. Moreover, omega-3 fats in oily fish such as salmon and krill oil have been shown to lower LDL (5).

On a personal note, before getting into nutrition, I actually believed the “fat is bad” myth. I avoided nuts and avocados, only ate egg whites instead of whole eggs, used 0-cal cooking spray instead of olive oil, and even substituted light butter (which tastes absolutely terrible) for the real thing. It wreaked havoc on my health. My metabolism slowed down, my gut health deteriorated, my hair thinned, and my skin became dull and dry. It took years of changing my diet to repair the damage.

Milk Is Good for Your Bones

Despite what we’ve heard about drinking milk for strong bones and the millions of calcium supplements taken every year, calcium isn’t the bone-building hero we thought it was.

Recent studies indicate that increasing the calcium in your diet has a minimal impact on bone density in older age. Not only that, but it doesn’t even reduce fractures in people over 50 (6, 7). Some research even indicates that milk could increase your risk of bone fractures (8). And taking 1,000mg or more of calcium from supplements is linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, stomach symptoms, and kidney stones (9).

If you still want to protect your bones, there’s a better option: collagen peptides. Collagen is known as the “glue” that holds your body together. It even makes up 90% of your bones (10, 11). Unlike calcium, grass-fed collagen supplements are effective at replenishing the natural bone-building blocks your body has lost, along with replenishing bone density and preventing—and even reversing—bone loss (12, 13).

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Artificial Sweeteners Are Healthy

The argument for artificial sweeteners seems appealing on the surface. All the sweetness of sugar, with none of the calories. Sounds great, right? Well, in my experience, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. 

Research has shown some concerning side effects of artificial sweeteners that may include (14, 15, 16, 17):

  • Increased risk for stroke and heart disease
  • Increased risk for metabolic syndrome
  • Altered gut microbiome
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Poorly regulated blood sugar

It's also possible that artificial sweeteners change the way we taste food. These sweeteners can be 200 to 700 times sweeter than table sugar. That means people who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, downright unpalatable.

Opt for natural alternatives like stevia, monk fruit, or honey. 

Artificial Colors Are Safe

Food dyes are chemical substances developed to enhance the appearance of food by giving it an artificial color. The first artificial food colorings were created in 1856 from coal tar. Over the years, hundreds of artificial food dyes have been developed, but most of them have since been found to be toxic. 

Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 may contain known cancer-causing contaminants. While benzidine, 4-aminobiphenyl, and 4-aminoazobenzene are potential carcinogens found in food dyes (18).

Studies also suggest a significant association between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity in children (19). In fact, one study found that 73% of children with ADHD showed a decrease in symptoms when artificial food dyes and preservatives were eliminated (20).

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Vegetable & Seed Oils

If you look at the ingredient list on your favorite packaged foods, you'll likely see at least one type of vegetable oil (like canola, sunflower, or soybean oil). From chips to popcorn to granola bars, vegetable oils are everywhere, and overall consumption has increased dramatically over the last 100 years. 

In fact, global production of vegetable oils has increased over 1600% since the early 1900s, has doubled in the last 20 years, and is expected to grow 30% in the next four years (21). With the growing consumption of seed oil worldwide, we've also seen a rise in chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, macular degeneration, and neurological disease (22).

Sensing a connection here?

The dangers of seed oils can include (23, 24, 25):

  • Unprecedented levels of omega-6 fats
  • Disruption of cell membranes
  • Promotes oxidative stress and inflammation
  • Excess trans fats
  • Harmful chemical additives, including the carcinogenic compounds BHT and BHA 
  • Linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer's, and more


Most foods in your local supermarket contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because they’re easier and more cost-effective for farmers, which makes them cheaper for the consumer.

Most foods in your local supermarket contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because they’re easier and more cost-effective for farmers, which makes them cheaper for the consumer.

In the United States, foods grown using GMO techniques include corn, soybean, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, cotton, potatoes, papaya, pink pineapple, summer squash, and a few varieties of apples.

Most studies on genetically modified foods suggest they might lead to certain toxic effects on your liver, pancreas, kidney, or reproductive organs. They could also impact your blood, biochemistry, and immune system (26).

Also, since most GMO crops are engineered to be resistant to herbicides like Roundup, farmers often use these herbicides to kill surrounding weeds without damaging their crops. But Roundup and its active ingredient, glyphosate, are controversial because research has linked them to various diseases like cancer and birth defects. There’s even new evidence that glyphosate exposure may increase the relative risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma by 41% (27)!

You Shouldn’t Eat Meat

Meat has developed a bad reputation over the years, with many health-conscious people limiting their animal protein intake. Some have even removed it from their diet entirely. But the latest scientific evidence (paired with what we know from millions of years of evolution) suggests that avoiding meat—especially beef—is a misguided health strategy.

Here are some key benefits of consuming meat (28): 

  • Meat is an excellent source of essential and non-essential amino acids—which are vital for bodily functions, including protein synthesis, muscle and tissue repair, and nutrient absorption.
  • Meat is an excellent source of B vitamins, copper, heme-iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin E, zinc, and more—these vitamins are crucial for energy and metabolism, nervous system function, and blood production. Copper can even help you absorb iron and collagen. People can often be deficient in them if they eliminate meat from their diet.
  • Meat is a great source of healthy saturated fats—which serve an important role in fueling the body and protecting cells.
  • Meat has vitamin K2—the most bioavailable form of vitamin K to support bone health.
  • Meat is rich in creatine, which plays an important part in muscle and brain function.
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Grain-Fed & Grass-Fed Are The Same

The old adage goes, “You are what you eat.”

But in this case, “You are what you eat, eats.”

The diet of grain-fed cattle includes genetically modified and pesticide-laden corn, soybeans, and grains. What’s worse is that the feed may include various “creative” and seemingly inedible waste products.

Farmers have experimented with feeding their animals the remains of other slaughtered animals, dehydrated food garbage, peanut shells, manure, leftover fat from restaurant fryers, and stale candy—gross, right (29)? And to top it off, one more ingredient goes into the feed of conventionally raised cows—hormones.

Eating these animals has some serious health implications. Studies have shown that almost half of the meat from conventionally-raised animals contains multi-drug resistant bacteria, including (30):

  • Campylobacter species
  • Salmonella species
  • Enterococcus species
  • Escherichia coli
  • Staphylococcus aureus

This means that the infections that were once easy to treat are now becoming more serious and even deadly. It’s estimated that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) kills about 11,000 people in the U.S. every year, and Salmonella claims about 450 lives, in addition to causing an estimated 1.2 million illnesses annually (31).

On the flip side, grass-fed, grass-finished beef comes from cows that are raised on pasture…eating grass, shrubs, and plants for their whole life—the way nature designed it to be. 

Benefits of eating grass-fed beef include (32, 33, 34):

  • Higher levels of cancer-fighting CLA
  • Higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids
  • More vitamin E, vitamin K, and B vitamins
  • Higher in anti-inflammatory antioxidants

Native Note: If animals are grass-fed and grass-finished, it should be reflected on the label. Look for labels that specify “100% grass-fed,” “grass-fed and grass-finished,” or “pure grass-fed.”

Eggs Are Unhealthy

“Eating one egg per day is as dangerous as smoking five cigarettes.”

This quote is just one example of the egg hysteria on the internet. With misinformation, contradictory studies, and misleading cherry-picking of data, many people believe eggs are bad for them.

Despite what you may have heard, whole eggs are actually nutrient powerhouses. They’re packed with vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. Plus, they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs—and in healthy ratios.

In every egg, you’ll find protein, iron, vitamin A, selenium (which supports the immune system), riboflavin (a B vitamin linked to preventing chronic inflammation), lutein, carotenoids, and zeaxanthin (which are all linked to lowering inflammation and supporting eye health), and folate (a B vitamin important for brain health) (35, 36).

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Salt Is Bad For You

When most people hear “salt,” they immediately think of sodium, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But what if I said that most of what you’ve been told about salt is wrong?

Salt actually plays a pivotal role in your body. It’s comprised of two minerals: 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

Sodium plays a crucial part in muscle contractions, nerve function, and nutrient absorption while also helping regulate blood volume and pressure (37, 38).

Chloride is also integral to body function. After sodium, chloride is the second most abundant electrolyte in your blood (39). As an electrolyte, chloride is important in fluid balance, nerves, and other vital functions. If you don’t get enough chloride, you may experience respiratory acidosis, which happens when carbon dioxide builds up in your blood, making it more acidic (40).

It’s important to note that not all salt is created equal. Himalayan sea salt contains 84 essential minerals and trace elements your body needs. It also has more calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron than regular sea salt (41).

The health benefits of Himalayan salt include (42, 43, 44):

  • Helps make stomach acid, which aids digestion
  • Supports adrenal function
  • Maintains a healthy immune system
  • Aids in regular muscle and nerve function
  • Keeps us adequately hydrated
  • Regulates blood sugar levels 
  • May improve sleep


In the ever-evolving landscape of health and wellness, the past century alone has given rise to a fascinating array of dietary beliefs—12 of which we've covered in this blog. But with each passing week, it seems a new "best diet" is being touted in the latest Netflix documentary or health guru's podcast. It's a reminder of the importance of critical thinking in this field. Who is funding these productions? What might their motivations be? Doing your due diligence to thoroughly research popular diet trends is not just wise, it's essential. In a world awash with information, discernment is our most valuable tool. Stay informed, stay skeptical, and most importantly, stay healthy.

Kat Kennedy
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Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy is the Fitness and Nutrition Editor at NativePath. With a NASM CPT, NCSF CPT, and NCSF Sports Nutrition Certification, she has a passion for giving people the tools they need to feel healthy, strong, and confident.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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