Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor at ABC news, is a man who’s used to getting lots of questions. “Doc, you got a minute,” is a question he says he hears often and it opened his eyes to the lack of solid information people are getting. In a world where people get an earache, and within an hour have googled their way to a cancer-diagnosis, Besser wanted to simplify health in a way that allowed people to own their own. His new book Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: Easy-to-understand answers to your most confusing and critical health questions, does just that.
We chatted by phone with the New York-based MD the day of his book’s release and got his final word on topics like weight loss, snacking and juicing. Read on for his truths on these topics and more:
1. The truth about dieting: It’s simple, “Eat less, eat differently, move more.” Diets are not the best way to lose weight. Life-long change comes from overhauling your whole lifestyle. But you can do this one small step at a time, like replacing soda with water or asking for half your meal packed in a to-go container before it even hits your table at a restaurant.
2. The truth about juice diets: “Unless you have a problem with your digestive system that prevents you from breaking down solid food, there is no need for a liquid diet.” Though juicing as part of an already-healthy diet is OK, Besser also warns that juices have zero fibre, meaning they may leave you feeling hungry faster than just eating the fruit or vegetables.
3. The truth about salt: “The bulk of the evidence supports the idea that excess sodium does raise blood pressure,” says Besser. He advises to always look for low, or no, salt options as you can always add a pinch in if the taste isn’t to your liking. He also warns to watch out for foods that are surprisingly high in sodium like Dijon mustard, peanut butter, pasta sauces and canned vegetables for example.
4. The truth about fitness: “We’ve established an exercise culture that implies physical activity doesn’t count unless you push yourself beyond normal levels of exertions,” Besser says based on our fanaticism with things like hot yoga, Spinning and cross fit classes. He told us, “You don’t need to run a marathon to be fit. Feel accomplished for the small feats – cook a meal for example, those things add up when you do — the health and success snowballs.”
5. The truth about losing weight: “The most important factor in losing weight is cutting back on how much you eat.” And though exercise is still very important, it’s hard to lose weight just by doing that alone he says.
And while exercise has great benefits, like building bone mass and heart strength, he encourages snacking as a great way to balance your hunger pains during a diet overhaul. We asked him what was at his desk snack-wise and he found, “Dried cranberries and nuts, pretzel rods and fruit and complex carbs.” Admittedly he sticks to whole foods and snacks from the Mediterranean diet.
6. The truth about online healing: When it comes to looking up symptoms and remedies online, Besser warns that even sites with a lot of clout can have inaccurate information. He advises people’s first point of contact online be a government website, “…because they aren’t making money.”
He also stresses finding a great doctor (that you can build a relationship with) when you’re well, and getting a second opinion when it comes to something that could be potentially life-threatening. Ultimately, he wants to ensure people aren’t using “misinformation” as the basis of their health foundation.
What are some of the health-based questions you’re most confused by? Tell us in the comment section below and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.