The headline of a recent article by Dani Blum, a News Assistant in the “Well” section of the New York Times, forced me to ask myself, “Are we really this misinformed about what contributes to good health and wellness, and the basic actions we can take to improve our chances of aging well and avoiding disease and chronic pain?” Blum’s piece, entitled, “You Won’t Live Longer by Diet or Exercise Alone, Study Says,” began by stating “Sprawling new research showed that healthy eating and regular workouts do not, in isolation, stave off later health issues. They need to be done together.”

Really? You mean it took “Sprawling new research” to verify that walking Fido vigorously each morning, then taking him with me for a pancake and whipped cream breakfast seven days a week might not be the best preparation for my senior years? That three-times-a-week to the gym followed by a mocha cookie crumble frappuccino and double-smoked bacon, cheddar and egg croissant sandwich won’t necessarily qualify me for the Canada Summer Games next time they swing into Niagara?

Assume my diet is a perfect combination of organic leafy greens, black beans, lentils and gluten-free, hearth-baked bread with natural honey on seaweed crackers for dessert. Does this mean I can sit in an ergonomic chair at work or in front of my home computer all day, then watch four hours of Netflix every evening without risking my long-term health? Of course not. Next up was an article in The Guardian by Linda Geddes, Science Correspondent, entitled, “Sunlight may trigger hormone that makes men hungrier, study suggests.”

The piece was based on a study by Carmit Levy, a Professor of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, at Tel Aviv University, examining the effect of sunlight on appetite in male and female people and similar genders of mice.

The substance of the article was that his team had discovered ghrelin levels (a gut hormone which stimulates food intake, fat deposition and growth hormone release in our bodies) rise in males’ blood after sun exposure, but estrogen appears to block a similar increase in females. The article stated, “Analysis of 3,000 people revealed that men, but not women, increased their food intake during the summer months.” Okay, but could there possibly be any other reasons than exposure to sunlight?

I don’t recall many of my male buds worrying about losing a few pounds to fit into a new bathing suit before hitting the beach and going on a summer crash diet, or blaming sunshine for the need to have a beer or three and plate of fries after playing a round of golf, which is most-often done in the summer. Seems backyard steak and sausage BBQs are more prevalent in the summer than winter too. Could any of these be a factor?

As I completed reading Geddes’ article, my skepticism was rewarded by a review notation in the second to last paragraph. It read, “Dr. Duane Mellor, a dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston University (Birmingham, England) was more cautious. ‘What it does show is the potential mechanism of how UVB can influence hormone metabolism, and how this may be associated with an increase in the appetite hormone ghrelin, at least in mice,’ he said.”

The need to evaluate wellness and health advice, as this column generally cautions when it ventures into these topics, through additional corroborating evidence mixed with our own best common sense is clear. Indiscriminately accepting what fits into our preconceived ideas is seldom useful, and understanding the motivation behind conflicting health information is helpful. Those of us born in the two decades immediately following the Second World War remember our mothers constantly telling us to eat carrots by the bunch to improve our vision. Dear mom was aided in this unabashed conspiracy of forced carrot consumption by Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros sassy carrot-chomping wild hare in cartoon after cartoon.

Science later proved that the beta-carotene in carrots does indeed help our bodies produce vitamin A, which increases the ability of our eyes to convert light into signals the brain understands, and reduces cornea degeneration as we age.

Problem is, this carrot and eyesight health link wasn’t founded on solid health science in the early 1940s. It seems that the British Royal Air Force had developed radar technology late in the war, suddenly increasing the success of their bombing raids on Germany. In an effort to hide their discovery, the British promoted the myth that their airmen had suddenly become more capable of night vision by eating volumes of carrots. The science came much later than the headlines.

Remember the MSG (monosodium glutamate, a common amino acid with one sodium atom added) scare which began in the late 1960s? I’m still afraid of this food additive, or at least I was until I read that MSG’s bad rap began in 1968, when an American doctor named Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a letter to the New England Journal Medicine, calling a medical condition of general numbness and weakness the “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” citing the MSG used to flavour Chinese food as the culprit. The American Chemical Society, a potentially unbiased stakeholder if ever there was one, swiftly responded with the vague non-statement that “MSG can temporarily affect a select few when consumed in huge quantities on an empty stomach, but it’s perfectly safe for the vast majority of people.”

Confused by this conundrum between natural salt and MSG, I personally chose to switch to pink Himalayan salt. It’s reputed to contain healthy trace minerals, which worked for me until my son pointed out that the dispenser I was using to grind it had hardened plastic cutting teeth rather than metallic ones. I was in fact ingesting more trace plastic than healthy trace minerals. Now it’s “Pass the sea salt please” at our house.

Then there’s the “five-second rule,” the idea that if a piece of food drops on the floor you can safely pick it up and eat it as long as it doesn’t sit there for more than five seconds. Apparently Julia Child gets the blame for this one. During one of her TV shows she dropped a potato pancake, promptly returned it to the pan, and continued with her cooking demonstration as if nothing had happened.

The crazy part is that the five-second rule has since been the subject of countless studies which have determined that food on the floor can pick up bacteria quickly, that sticky wet food will collect more potential pathogens than dry morsels, that some floor bacteria are more harmful than others, and that dirty floors are more likely to be unsafe for five second food drops than clean ones. Sure hope our taxes weren’t funding Health Canada to participate in this research. My personal interpretation of the five-second rule doesn’t need scientific guidance. If the food dropped is a cookie or ripe sweet cherry, it will be picked up and eaten. Dropped soggy cooked brussels sprouts go straight to the compost bucket. Pizza is situational. When I bought the last slice of warm pizza at 5:59 PM from the only gas station still open along some desolate road in northern Ontario, after cycling 120 kilometres, then promptly dropped it face-down on the sidewalk, a five-second or five-minute rule wouldn’t have saved that pizza slice and a few fresh tiny specs of gravel from being eaten.

Are the natural sugars in honey better for you than processed sugar? Will an apple a day keep the doctor away? Is herbal tea or juice better for detoxing? The list goes on.

As Dani Blum suggested at the beginning of this column, I’ll stick with balancing diet and exercise, and do my best research before I intentionally change a wellness habit. In the meantime, I just viewed the beginning of a podcast, and now I really need to find out why Dr. Steven Gundry, MD and best-selling author of nutrition and cookbooks, claims that, “Beans are so lethal that five raw kidney beans will kill a human being in five minutes by coagulating their blood.”