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Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - November 2006

7 Health Myths

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When it comes to advice about health and nutrition, it may be what you think you know that can hurt you.

If in doubt, check it out. That's a good bit of conventional wisdom to follow, especially when it comes to information about your health.

Most doctors and nutritionists would agree. Even though the Internet puts volumes of health information a mere click away, much of it is horribly inaccurate, says Heather Blazier, R.D., a clinical dietitian at Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Health advice passed from person to person has a track record that's just as spotty. Unfortunately, that may include some of Mom's words of wisdom that you grew up on and follow to this day.

Once and for all, we set the record straight on seven myths that may be cluttering your mind and standing in the way of your good health.

Myth 1: Eating carrots improves your eyesight.
Blame this exaggeration on secret government scientists (not our own). During World War II, the British used radar that allowed the pilots of their Royal Air Force to "see" German planes at night. Rather than reveal their secret weapon, the British praised the pilots' excellent eyesight, honed by their high consumption of - you guessed it - carrots.

As with many health myths, this one has some basis in truth, which may help account for its longevity. Carrots - along with other bright yellow or orange and dark green fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, cantaloupes, apricots, squash, spinach, broccoli, and sweet potatoes - are rich in beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, which plays a crucial role in vision. And, in fact, a deficiency in vitamin A (rare in North America) can lead to night blindness, says Brook Harmon, R.D., a nutrition-intervention coordinator at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. But while carrots and other good sources of vitamin A can help correct or prevent a deficiency, they won't improve your baseline vision. So don't throw away your glasses or contacts.

Health mythsMyth 2: Exercise until it hurts if you expect to get any benefits.
"No pain, no gain" certainly rolls off the tongue, but novice exercisers often don't understand the difference between the pain of torn tendons and the healthy burn of lactic-acid buildup, says Shawn E. Hunt, a physical therapist and lecturer at the University of Miami in Florida. A mild and gradual burn occurs with intense exercise, as the body adapts and strengthens from being stressed. This discomfort reaches its peak within two days of a workout and then resolves itself. But if you're still so tired after two days that you can't use proper form the next time you exercise, you've probably gone too far. And if you feel sudden pain that affects movement, strength, or coordination, you may have strained or torn a muscle or ligament. Then it's time to take a break - and maybe even see your doctor.
FridgeMyth 3: Eating after 8 p.m. makes you fat.
While it's true that swearing off food after a certain time can result in eating fewer calories, eating after dinner doesn't necessarily pack on the pounds. "It's not what time you eat that's important but what you eat and how much," Blazier says.

But if you find yourself hungry at 10 p.m., don't assume it's OK to make a double-decker sandwich. Instead, Blazier recommends nibbling on a few apple slices with a dab of peanut butter. And never forget the all-important weight-loss equation: You still have to expend more calories than you take in.

Myth 4: Skim milk gives you less calcium than whole milk.
Nutrients such as protein and carbohydrates are nearly identical in all types of milk, be it skim, whole, or somewhere in between, and calcium levels can even be slightly higher in the lower-fat versions."The only thing they've taken out is the fat - and nobody needs that extra fat," Blazier says. And speaking of fat, many people don't know the difference between 1 percent, 2 percent, and whole milk. "The percentages have to do with percentage of weight that is fat, not percentage of calories," Blazier says. For instance, for each 8-ounce glass, skim milk is fat-free, 1 percent milk has 3 fat grams, 2 percent milk has 5 fat grams, and whole milk has 8 fat grams. All of them give you about 275 to 300 milligrams of calcium. Most soy milks are fortified with calcium to bring them up to the level of cow's milk.

Myth 5: Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.
'Fess up, moms: You made this one up because that popping noise drove you crazy. It may be annoying, but popping your knuckles doesn't cause joint damage, says Patience H. White, M.D., chief public health officer for the Arthritis Foundation in Atlanta. The practice might cause some swelling from pulling ligaments, but it won't cause arthritis, which is swelling of the joints themselves, Dr. White says. The one drawback of habitual knuckle-cracking is that it can weaken your grip.

Still, there's good news for moms (and teachers) everywhere: Only one in four people are even able to crack their knuckles. Most of us have joint bones that are too far apart or we can't relax enough to let the bones separate. And even if you can make that irksome noise, you can only do it once about every 40 minutes. That's how long it takes for the bones to return to their original positions.

Myth 6: Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women.
Though breast cancer may strike fear in women's hearts, it's the heart itself that's more of a problem. Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, with strokes and heart attacks accounting for half of fatalities - or more than all types of cancer combined. Studies show only 4 percent of deaths are due to breast cancer, says Pam Marsden, R.N., parish nurse coordinator at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida. "We often forget there's a lot we can do to help prevent heart disease," she says.

Women should ask their doctors to help them assess their personal risk. That involves looking at family history of heart disease and getting a complete physical. Be sure the exam includes a check of cholesterol and blood glucose levels because diabetes and heart disease are closely linked.

And don't assume that if heart disease runs in your family, you're doomed. Improving your diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and decreasing stress all can help fight obesity and diabetes, which contribute to heart disease. For both women and men, improving your diet can lower levels of low-density cholesterol, the kind that contributes to artery hardening. And adding exercise can raise your high-density good cholesterol.

PeasMyth 7: Frozen veggies are less nutritious than fresh.
Fresh and frozen vegetables have nearly the same levels of vitamins and minerals - and that comes from no less an authority than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The reason? Frozen vegetables are blanched as soon as they are plucked from the fields. "There's not enough time for nutrients to leech," Blazier says. "You'll lose more vitamins by cooking them yourself. So minimize cooking time and liquid, and you'll maximize your veggies' value." Do read labels on frozen items - there's always the chance that unwanted salt was added.

And whether your veggies start out fresh or frozen, avoid serving them with sauces; you'll likely add fat, salt, and calories but no health benefits.

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