8 Surprising Health Mistakes You're Probably Making

These seemingly harmless habits are actually sabotaging your health goals.

1 / 9

You work hard to stay fit, eat right and avoid risky behaviors, but you might be sabotaging your hard work without realizing it. Even the healthiest people can make these surprising mistakes. Here are eight health pitfalls you’re probably making and simple ways to avoid them.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

You inhale cooking fumes

2 / 9 You inhale cooking fumes

You may be exposing yourself to a shocking source of second-hand smoke. Experts believe frying fats release harmful chemicals associated with lung cancer into the air. Fried meats, especially, produce toxic chemicals called heterocyclic amines, or cancer-causing compounds that also can be found in cigarette smoke. To avoid exposure, cook in a well-ventilated area and grill meats outdoors whenever possible.

You avoid carbs

3 / 9 You avoid carbs

Skipping carbs entirely may not keep you slim. In fact, people who ate more pasta had lower BMI’s and smaller waistlines, according to a study from the Journal of Nutrition and Diabetes that looked at the eating habits of more than 23,000 Italians.

That doesn’t give you the green light to eat bucket-loads of pasta, says Frances Largeman-Roth, registered dietitian nutritionist, author of Eating in Color and co-author of The CarbLovers Diet. Eat a reasonable amount of pasta along with other things—extra virgin olive oil, herbs, vegetables and lean protein, she recommends. “Treat the pasta more as an ingredient in the total dish, and not as the center of the plate,” adds Largeman-Roth.

And while you should keep your portions of refined carbohydrates controlled, adding whole grains to your diet is a healthy option. Try quinoa, farro, brown rice or bulger as an addition to your next meal.

You put aspartame in your coffee

4 / 9 You put aspartame in your coffee

Coffee is associated with a number of brain-boosting effects. It may improve mood and even offer some protection against Alzheimer’s disease, though more research is needed.

But don’t counteract the positive effects of coffee by adding aspartame, which can be found in artificial sweeteners like Equal. In one study, people who consumed just half the FDA’s recommended daily limit experienced greater levels of depression, irritability and scored lower on cognitive tests. Opt for natural coffee enhancers like honey or nutmeg instead. Or just stick to a splash of low-fat milk.

You eat well, but leave out entire food groups

5 / 9 You eat well, but leave out entire food groups

Just because you consistently choose healthy foods doesn’t mean you’re getting the full range of nutrients you need. Keep a journal for a week to take stock of your habits. You may realize you’re neglecting entire food groups like lean dairy—86 percent of Americans don’t get enough.

Or, you may discover you're over-eating others like sugar—70 percent of Americans get too much. Your notes may reveal surprising trends in your routine and kick-start better habits. One large study suggests keeping a food log can even double weight loss when dieting.

If writing down everything you eat sounds like a lot of work, try using an app like Sharecare, available on iOS and Android. Within the app, you can track the quality of your food intake to determine if you're making healthy choices.

You touch the menu—and then your food

6 / 9 You touch the menu—and then your food

You may wash your hands before sitting down to meals, but still wind up seasoning your entrée with bacteria if you then touch the menu. Menus often harbor fecal matter and germs because:

  • Even though they're often-touched surfaces, restaurants rarely clean them.
  • About 95 percent of people don’t wash their hands properly after using the restroom.

One study from the Journal of Environmental Health found menus to be covered in bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, which continued to spread to people’s hands for up to 24 hours. Salt and pepper shakers are also frequently used, but rarely washed surfaces. The next time you eat out, wash your hands after ordering and use a napkin to grab the condiments.

You overlook allergy hot zones when cleaning

7 / 9 You overlook allergy hot zones when cleaning

You keep a tidy home, but allergens like mold, pollen and dust mites can settle into some surprising places. Did you know your AC filter should be cleaned or replaced once a month? The small-particle filters in both central AC systems and wall units, which capture household allergens, can clog easily, causing particles to flourish and spread. Duvets and stuffed animals also should be washed on a hot cycle or frozen monthly to kill dust mites.

The inside of your trash can and the back of your shower curtain can be mold hideaways too. Regularly disinfect them with diluted bleach; aim to clean your trash can weekly and your shower curtain monthly.

You only apply sunscreen once

8 / 9 You only apply sunscreen once

Sun damage can happen after just 15 minutes, yet the majority of Americans don’t wear the proper amount of sunscreen. Applying it once at the start of your day isn’t enough. For optimum protection, reapply at least every two hours—more frequently when swimming or sweating. Remember to lather up on overcast days too, when 80 percent of the sun’s rays can still reach you.

The best approach is a combination of sun-safety strategies, including seeking shade, using a full-spectrum SPF sunscreen and wearing a hat and cover-up. Sunscreen doesn’t protect against 100 percent of the sun’s rays and you can still get burnt in the shade since sun bounces off reflective surfaces like sand and water.

You're always eating on-the-go

9 / 9 You're always eating on-the-go

If you consistently scarf down meals to save time, you might be hurting your health in the long run. People who eat faster are more likely to have a higher BMI and be obese, according to a review of 23 studies published in the Intentional Journal of Obesity.

When you frantically shovel food, it piles up in your stomach before your brain can realize you’re full. Give your mind a chance to catch up by timing your meals so they last at least 20 minutes. Add fiber-rich foods like raw vegetables, which slow down your chewing and encourage healthy digestion.

If you do have to eat on-the-go, take time to prep some healthy options at home. For a handheld meal, try a whole grain wrap filled with lean chicken, tons of veggies and mustard. Make your own trail mix by combining unsalted nuts, dried cranberries and a little bit of dark chocolate. Veggie sticks and mini packs of hummus are easy to pack on the go.

Continue Learning about Wellness

What May Be Wreaking Havoc on Your Body Clock
What May Be Wreaking Havoc on Your Body Clock
If you find yourself nodding off at 10 p.m. despite your best efforts to stay awake, or routinely opening your eyes at 7 a.m.—even on mornings when yo...
Read More
How can I raise my body temperature?
National Academy of Sports MedicineNational Academy of Sports Medicine
A thorough and effective warm up will allow you to raise your core body temperature in preparation f...
More Answers
7 Things Your Personal Trainer Does That You Should Do, Too
7 Things Your Personal Trainer Does That You Should Do, Too7 Things Your Personal Trainer Does That You Should Do, Too7 Things Your Personal Trainer Does That You Should Do, Too7 Things Your Personal Trainer Does That You Should Do, Too
Stay motivated and get fit with these personal trainer-approved health tips.
Start Slideshow
Can I Worry Too Much About Being Clean?
Can I Worry Too Much About Being Clean?