Health

Dirty sheets or dirty towels: Which is worse? 7 tricky health choices

March 27, 2014 at 11:05 AM ET

Video: Self magazine’s Meaghan Murphy joins TODAY to answer some tricky health questions, including whether it’s worse to down an energy drink instead of soda if you’re feeling exhausted.

You’re worn out from a long day at work but had planned to hit the gym. Is it worse to muster up the energy for a lame workout or skip it altogether? You’re reaching that mid-afternoon energy slump and need a caffeine boost. Which is worse: throwing back a can of soda or an energy drink?

Meaghan Murphy, deputy editor of SELF magazine, posed these tough “which is worse” health questions Thursday.

Which is worse?

1. Guzzling a can of soda or downing an energy drink?

Worse: Downing an energy drink

Soda is the better choice, say SELF contributing experts Stephanie Clarke, R.D., and Willow Jarosh, R.D. Both options are similar in terms of calories, but energy drinks tend to have more caffeine. The Food and Drug Administration limits soft drinks to 71 milligrams per 12-ounce can. Energy drinks can reach up to 294 milligrams. This much caffeine can mess with blood pressure and cause a jittery high followed by a zombie-like low. 

A safer bet: Try green tea (filled with natural energizers and contains no sugar).

2. Skipping a meal after eating junk or dining as usual?

Worse: Skipping a meal after eating junk

If you gorged on a jumbo cupcake or empty-carb chips, get that blood sugar back to normal by eating a high-protein dish, like grilled chicken and sautéed veggies. Junk food can cause blood sugar to spike and plummet, leaving you craving more treats packed with carbs and fat, says nutritionist Janis Jibrin, R.D., coauthor of "The Life You Want." Eating a healthy meal after will help reboot your brain to start making healthy food choices.

3. Blowing your nose or sniffling it up?

Worse: Sniffling it up

Blowing your nose is better, but do it gently. "The force can make your sinus passages swell or worsen an infection," says Dr. Monica Tadros, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Columbia University. Warm moisture loosens up your nasal passages, so after showering is a good time to get rid of the gunk. Also try a decongestant-expectorant combo, avoid dairy and use saline spray.

4. Doing a lame workout or just blowing it off?

Worse: Doing a lame workout

Blow it off, especially if you're not feeling up to it because of soreness or exhaustion. "The break allows time for muscle repair and replenishes glycogen, which fuels working muscles," says Katarina Borer, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. If you still need to do some kind of activity, try yoga or foam rolling, which speeds recovery.

5. Squatting or sitting on toilet?

Worse: Squatting

If you’re a squatter on public toilets, you could be risking a urinary tract infection, especially if you're prone to them. "Pelvic muscles tighten when you hover, preventing the bladder from emptying fully and "flushing out bacteria," says Dr. Michaella Prasad, assistant professor of urology at the Medical University of South Carolina. You won’t get germs from sitting on the toilet seat (skin is a great barrier unless you have a cut on your backside). If you’re in a particularly filthy situation (such as a porta-potty), spread your legs wide, shift your weight to your heels and bend low to empty your bladder.

6. Dirty bedsheets or dirty bath towels?

Worse: Dirty bath towels

Only have the change or time to do one load of laundry? Toss in the towels. 

They collect way more bacteria, fungus and yeast than sheets because they get wet (microbes thrive in a damp environment) and rub off dead skin cells. "Towels can transmit pathogens that cause skin and eye infections," says Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., codirector of Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community in Boston. 

Wash your towels once a week in hot water with a color-safe bleach. Sheets also collect dead skin cells and oils, so throw them in your next high-heat load.

7. Working out hungry or exercising after a meal?

Worse: Exercising after a meal

Exercising after a large meal (300+ calories) is worse, especially if it’s vigorous. And working out on an empty stomach may burn more fat, says Molly Kimball, R.D., of New Orleans. 

"Eating leads to increased insulin levels, which might make it harder to burn stored fat," Kimball says. Anything more than a light snack within an hour of exercise could lead to cramps and nausea. "You likely don't need to eat pre-workout unless it's high-intensity, like a boot camp, which requires mega energy, or if you get light-headed, which is probably from low blood sugar," Kimball says. 

If you need a snack before, try carbs with protein and a little fat (like whole-grain crackers with nut butter).

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