Time to separate nutrition fiction from fact

nutritionTime to let out the belt a notch and hide the bathroom scale. Eating season is in high gear.

With all the time and pleasure spent talking about, preparing and consuming food, you'd think we'd be experts on how it affects our health. But, when it comes to nutrition, most of us have a lot to learn.

"So many people believe nutrition myths, things we've heard from grandma or popularized in the media. And, it's completely understandable because everyone can relate to food.

Everyone eats.

We all have our own little food experiences," says Cheryl Rock, professor of nutrition at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. "Because so many myths are constantly reinforced through television or other media, it can be hard to separate belief systems from the science of nutrition."

However, for our health's sake, we need to try.

Before you add more salsa to your sandwich or reach for another low-fat cookie, challenge your nutrition savvy with the following feasting facts and fiction. These morsels of diet info are good to keep in mind around the holidays or anytime you sit down at the table:

- American adults gain an average of 5 to 8 pounds during the annual feasting season, the end of October through the beginning of January. FICTION.

In 2000, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health which found that although people did gain weight over the holidays, it's only about 0.48 kilograms, or slightly over one pound. The problem, according to the study, is that few adults lose that extra holiday weight.

"It may be only a 1-pound weight gain, but over 10 years, that adds up to 10 pounds," Rock says.

- Total caloric intake for Thanksgiving Day is often more than 4,000 calories. FACT.

"Many people start by snacking throughout the day, and that combined with the meal can lead to a total caloric intake of 4,500," says Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise. Bryant says holiday delicacies can be enjoyed as long as they're eaten in moderation and combined with a proper exercise plan. But keep in mind, he adds, that "a 160-pound person would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours or walk 30 miles to burn off a 3,000-calorie Thanksgiving Day meal."

- Dinner isn't a race to the finish. You'll eat less food if you eat slowly. FACT.

It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to signal the brain that you're full. So, chew your food thoroughly, put down your fork in between bites and savor the flavor, smell and texture of your foods. By lingering over your meal, you'll let the body's natural satiation mechanism work and you'll likely eat less than if you wolf down your meal, says Katie Bogue, a registered dietitian and director of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Nutrition Network.

- You can barely keep your eyes open to finish your Thanksgiving dinner dessert. Blame it on the turkey and all its sleep-inducing tryptophan. FICTION.

Turkey does contain tryptophan, an amino acid which is a natural sedative. However, tryptophan is only one minor amino acid among many in turkey and other protein foods, and the amount eaten even in a big Thanksgiving meal is not enough to cause an appreciable effect. That lazy, lethargic feeling that overcomes some people after a festive holiday dinner is more likely due to eating a high-calorie meal while imbibing alcohol.

- Just say "no" to the fudge and caramel corn. Eating too much sugar can cause diabetes. FICTION.

Diabetes, a chronic disease in which the body does not produce or use insulin to convert sugar into energy, is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. However, being overweight does increase your risk for developing diabetes. If you have a history of diabetes in your family, eating a healthy meal plan and engaging in regular exercise are recommended to manage your weight.

- Hide the candy canes and cookies. All that sugar will have the kids bouncing off the walls. FICTION.

Contrary to what many people believe, sugar doesn't make children hyperactive. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine gave some kids sugared foods and others foods with artificial sweeteners. Their parents and the researchers didn't know who was eating sugar and who wasn't. The kids were monitored for things like irritability and hyperactivity, and no difference was found.

Kids get hyper because there are other kids around; they're excited because it's a party.

- You thawed a turkey for your holiday feast, only to have plans change at the last minute. But, it's OK. You can safely refreeze meat, poultry and other foods once they've been defrosted. FACT.

As long as food is thawed properly (in the refrigerator) so pathogens don't multiply to dangerous levels, it is an acceptable practice to refreeze it without cooking. The only thing you will lose is quality flavor due to moisture loss. However, if you refreeze foods that were left out on the counter or thawed incorrectly and have grown bacteria, you will be refreezing a dangerous food. Freezing doesn't kill bacteria, it just slows the bacterial growth.

- Go ahead and have another cookie, or four or five. They're fat-free so they're not fattening. FICTION.

Low-fat or fat-free doesn't means no calories. Sometimes a fat-reduced food may have more calories than the full-fat version because extra sugar, flour or starch thickeners are added to make it taste better. Check the nutrition label and compare.

- Heap on the carrots. They're great for your eyesight. FACT.

Although munching on carrots won't allow you to toss your specs, the beta carotene in the vegetable may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Deficiencies of the nutrient can cause poor night vision.

However, don't megadose on carrots. Too much beta carotene will result in carotenemia, a temporary condition that turns the skin yellow or orange.

- Load up on the proteins. It only builds muscle, not fat. FICTION.

Any kind of excess food - protein, carbohydrates or dietary fat - can make you fat. Protein over and above what you need for your size and energy expenditure is sent to the liver, converted to glucose and eventually makes its way to fat stores.

"Protein is important in the diet, but so are carbohydrates and fat. You need a balance of these to be healthy and have sustained energy," Bogue says.

- Pour on the salsa and chili peppers. Hot and spicy foods speed up metabolism, helping burn fat faster. FICTION.

While the hot stuff may make you sweat like you've been working out, the only way to speed up your metabolism is to actually get the body moving, says Bogue.

- Hurry, hurry. It's 7:55 and you have to gulp down your dinner since eating after 8 p.m. causes weight gain. FICTION.

It doesn't matter what time of day you eat, it's how much you eat during the whole day and how much exercise you get that makes you gain or lose weight. No matter when you eat your meals, your body will store extra calories as fat. If you want to have a snack before bedtime, make sure that you first think about how many calories you have already eaten that day.

- If you like bananas, don't let a few brown or black spots deter you. Peel and enjoy. The discoloration won't hurt you. FACT.

The color change is due to biochemical changes in the fruit, not to the presence of harmful bacteria. The taste of a dark spot, however, may not be great.

The best place to store bananas is outside the refrigerator, unless you want to stop the ripening process, in which case the coolness of the fridge will do this, but it also will darken the peel.

- Just because your supermarket produce section's a bit bare in the dead of winter is no excuse to fill up on chips and chocolate. Check out the freezer section. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are as nutritious as fresh. FACT.

Frozen or canned produce is often packaged right after it has been picked, which helps keep most of its nutrients. Fresh produce, on the other hand, can often lose nutrients after being exposed to light or air during shipping and storage.

- A few after-dinner laps in the heated pool would feel great, but for safety's sake you need to wait two hours after you eat to jump in. FICTION.

This dated advice doesn't hold water. The old wives' tale is based on the mistaken idea that the stomach will take away some of the oxygen needed by our muscles during swimming. In reality, people have more than enough oxygen to supply both the stomach and their skeletal muscles, according to Dr. Richard Fedorak, head of gastroenterology at the University of Alberta Hospital. Competitive swimmers, however, generally shouldn't eat a large meal before an event because there's a risk cramps caused by strenuous swimming could hinder their performance. 

source  - The Paramus Post