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8 ‘Healthy’ Food and Lifestyle Alternatives That Aren’t

You’ve switched from beef to turkey burgers, traded smoking cigs to "vape", and only reach for low-fat yogurt. Your efforts are admirable. Unfortunately, they may not actually be more beneficial for your body. Turns out, these 8 seemingly “healthier” swaps aren’t any better for you than the original.

Low-Fat Dairy for Full-Fat
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While full-fat dairy packs more calories, it’s also more filling. (A great example of When More Calories Is Better.) That may help explain why a 2013 study review in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat the fatty stuff are less likely to suffer from obesity than those who try and skip the calories with low-fat dairy. The study authors also found no ties between full-fat dairy and heart disease or diabetes. Ironically, some acids in milk fat—ones you don’t get from zero-fat varieties—may crank up your body’s calorie-burning centers, says study coauthor Mario Kratz, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Washington. 

Turkey Burgers for Beef
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Turkey is generally leaner than beef. But when it comes to burgers, it depends on the particular cut of meat, says Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D., author of Whole Body Reboot. The ground turkey at your supermarket may contain the dark-meat parts of the bird, which can bloat its fat content up to 20 percent, he says. The tradeoff gets worse when you’re dining out: Turkey dries out more easily than beef. So restaurant chefs tend to pack their turkey burgers with fat and condiments in order to make them flavorful, Villacorta explains.

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter for Regular
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Check out the nutrition labels on jars of regular and reduced-fat peanut butter. You’ll see a few differences: While the reduced-fat PB has—surprise!—less fat, it also has more sugar and salt. Now consider that the fat in PB is the healthful, monosaturated kind that research shows lowers your sensitivity to insulin. “You’re really just trading healthy fat for sugar,” Villacorta says.

E-Cigs for Tobacco Cigarettes
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Old-school cigarettes are terrible for you, obviously. But don’t buy into the narrative that electronic cigarettes are “just water vapor.” That vapor contains nicotine and “flavorant chemicals,” says David Peyton, Ph.D., a chemist at Portland State University. Peyton’s research shows when you “vape,” you’re also sucking in chemical agents that release formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing chemical. E-cigs are newer; whether they’re any healthier is far from determined, Peyton suggests.

Diet Soda for Regular
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Diet soda has zero calories, so it must be better for you than regular cola, right? That assumption has been blown apart by a wave of recent scientific studies. Consuming a lot of diet soda can nearly double your risk of becoming overweight or obese, shows a report in Obesity. How? Diet soda dulls your brain’s reaction to sweet flavors, which screws with your metabolism and may lead you to eat more unhealthy snack and dessert foods, suggests another study from San Diego State University. (Satisfy your sugar cravings with these 8 Infused Water Recipes to Upgrade Your H2O.)

Antibacterial Soap for Regular
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Believe it or not, there’s no evidence antibacterial soap protects you from germs better than regular soap. A University of Michigan study found no drop in infectious disease rates among families who used the antibacterial stuff. On the other hand, some experts are worried antibacterial soap may put your health at risk by wiping out skin bacteria that protects you from disease. (6 Ways to Clean Your Place Like a Germ Expert)

Egg Whites for Whole Eggs
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The whites have fewer calories, but they’re also short on pretty much everything that makes an egg good for you. Yolks are a great source of brain health-supporting choline and antioxidants, says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., Shape's nutrition expert. The yolks also contain vitamin D, zinc, folate, iron, and several other vitamins your body needs (which the whites don’t have), according to the USDA. In fact, a recent study found zero health benefits among people who ate whites instead of whole eggs. (Tired of scrambled? Try these 20 Quick and Easy Ways to Cook Eggs.)

Endurance Runs for Shorter Jogs
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People who run at an easy pace for an hour or two a week enjoy a big drop in mortality risk, shows a new study from the U.S. and Denmark. But hardcore runners—those who pound pavement at a moderate or fast pace for more than four hours a week—die at rates on par with people who don’t exercise at all, the same study reports. Too much strenuous physical activity (and pretty much all running is strenuous) can cause unhealthy changes to your heart, the study authors say. While this certainly doesn’t mean sitting on the couch is healthier than training for a marathon, it does mean that if you aren’t naturally driven to pound the pavement for hours, stick to your short runs guilt-free. (Change it up with these 4 Fat-Burning Plans to Beat Treadmill Boredom.)

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