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Video: Fact or fiction: Diet myths revealed

updated 12/19/2006 11:48:45 AM ET 2006-12-19T16:48:45

You've heard chicken soup is good for the soul, but can it really help cure a cold? Nutritionist Joy Bauer was invited to appear on TODAY to get to the bottom of all those things mama always said. Here she separates fact from fiction:

Vitamin C prevents a cold: Yes.
Studies have gone back and forth for years, and just when we thought the case was closed (a comprehensive review in 2004 of 55 comparative studies — carried out over a period of 65 years — determined that daily doses of 200mg (or more) failed to reduce the incidence, duration or severity of the common cold in the normal, healthy population)... a new study surfaced!

The latest Japanese study, published 2006 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed the risk of contracting three or more colds in the five-year period was decreased by 66 percent by the daily intake of the 500-mg vitamin C supplement. This study deserves special mention because it was much longer (five years) than the trials reported in previous studies and covered many cold seasons in which subjects were probably exposed repeatedly to many cold viruses.

What's a person to do? Eat lots of vitamin C-rich foods on a daily basis and consider taking 200mg/day of vitamin C in supplemental form during cold season. See if it makes a difference to you.

Vitamin C-rich foods:

  • Bell pepper, red or yellow (1 pepper = 280mg)
  • Bell pepper, green (1 pepper = 120 mg)
  • Grapefruit (1 grapefruit = 90 mg)
  • Orange (1 orange = 70 mg)
  • Strawberries (1 cup strawberries = 90 mg)
  • Broccoli (1 cup raw broccoli = 80 mg)
  • Brussels sprouts (1 cup = 74 milligrams)

Chicken soup helps when you're sick: Yes.
Grandma was right after all. Sipping on hot, tasty chicken soup (prepared with a variety of vegetables) may help you feel better. 

First, hot fluids in general help keep nasal passages moist, increase mucus velocity, prevent dehydration and sooth a sore throat. And the psychological comfort that soup provides may also have a placebo effect for those who are feeling ill. But most interesting is the supportive evidence that was shown in a scientific study, led by Dr. Stephan Rennard out of University of Nebraska a few years back. Researchers concluded that chicken soup with a variety of veggies, may contain substances that function as an anti-inflammatory mechanism and potentially ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, including congestion, stuffy nose, cough, and sore throat.

In other words, a healthy dose of chicken soup with veggies is good for a cold.

Margarine is better than butter: Not necessarily --  and definitely not when you’re talking about stick margarine.

The problem with butter is that it contains saturated fat. When eaten in excess, saturated fats increase the “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Just one tablespoon of butter contains over 7 grams of saturated fat!

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Margarine on the other hand — specifically stick margarine, contains trans fat. Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils, making the oil more solid and less likely to spoil. This process is called hydrogenation or partial hydrogenation and allows stick margarine to be firm at room temperature. Trans fats have been shown to increase the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) similarly to saturated fats, plus lower the “healthy” (HDL) cholesterol. Double whammy.

Which spread should you buy the next time you shop? Your best bet is to stick with a soft tub, vegetable spread that says “trans fat free.” It will automatically be low in saturated fat as well. If you’re watching you calories, choose the same soft tub brands in “reduced fat” or “light” versions.

Carrots are good for your eyes: Yes.
Mom was right! Carrots contain beta-carotene — a carotenoid pigment found in bright orange fruits and vegetables that is also the precursor for vitamin A. Vitamin A plays a major role in eyesight by preventing night blindness and through light perception at the retina and maintenance of a healthy, clear cornea (outer membrane of the eye). Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, mango, cantaloupe and apricots are all rich sources of beta-carotene.

Carrots also contain a compound called lutein, an antioxidant almost always paired with zeaxanthin. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin can increase the pigment density in the macula — and greater pigment density means better retina protection, and a lower risk of macula degeneration. Other lutein rich foods include kale, spinach, Swiss chard and other dark leafy greens.

No swimming for 30 minutes after eating : No.
There is no scientific research or compelling support for (or against) a specific waiting period between eating and swimming.  But here’s where mom most likely got this rule:

Blood flow to the stomach and intestines is increased directly after a meal in order to help with digestion and absorption of nutrients. Because of this, less blood flow is available for your muscles. When you exercise intensely after a large meal, your body is competing for the blood flow between the digestive system and your muscles. This “may” lead to upset stomach or cramps. While the myth is based on the idea that swimming may cause severe cramping, which can debilitate a person’s swimming ability and lead to drowning, it is highly unlikely that recreational swimming will pose such a risk. Thus, research shows it’s perfectly fine to let your kids play in the pool after eating lunch. However, before engaging in strenuous swimming, it’s certainly best to wait a while after eating…  so you feel comfortable and energized, rather than sluggish. 

Bottom line: The timing of meals and activity depends on an individual’s comfort level and the intensity of the activity. 

You’re pregnant, you’re eating for two. Yes and no.
Yes: Because your food selections will directly affect your growing baby. In other words, eat plenty of quality foods, loaded with nutrients, and you’ll shower your growing baby with all the right ingredients.

No: Because you’re clearly not eating for two adults. In fact, your growing baby is only a fraction of your size — so it’s not the time to win a gold medal in the food Olympics.

Over the course of your pregnancy, you’ll need to consume about an extra 70,000 calories. This caloric increase is spread out over nine months: It ends up approximately 150 extra calories a day during the first trimester (the first three months) and around 300 extra calories a day during the second and third trimesters (the last six months).

How many pounds should you gain?
All women are different — and the rate and speed will vary from person to person. Some gain a lot in the second trimester, and then it drastically slows down in the third — whereas others have a nice, even gain throughout. Here’s what’s recommended for most healthy women:

                                                                         
Pre-Pregnancy Weight: Suggested Gain (for single gestation)
Underweight                                                                
Below 90% of desirable weight: 28–40 pounds   
Normal weight: 25-35 pounds         
Moderately overweight                                                  
More than 120–135% of desirable weight: 15–25 pounds   
Very overweight                                                           
More than 135% of desirable weight: 15–20 pounds   

Coffee stunts your growth: No.
Research suggests that coffee consumption has no effect on height. This myth was started decades ago when it was thought that caffeine in coffee may be a risk factor for osteoporosis, and subsequently lead to reduced bone mass. However, much of the previous research that linked caffeinated beverages and osteoporosis were made in populations that also had low calcium intakes. These people were more likely replacing calcium-rich milk with coffee or caffeinated sodas. Low calcium intakes are clearly linked to reduced bone health.

More recent studies suggest that even if caffeine does offset calcium absorption, the effect is both slight and easily offset by adding some milk in your coffee. Of course, you’ll also need an appropriate daily dose of calcium throughout the day from low-fat dairy, fortified foods, certain greens and/or supplements.

So coffee won’t stunt your kid’s growth, should you still limit their consumption? Yes, because there are other potential adverse side effects including stomach discomfort, nervousness, shakiness, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, and irritability. If your child is diagnosed with ADD or a behavioral issue, caffeinated coffee may temporarily make matters worse.

For more information on healthy eating, visit nutrition expert, Joy Bauer’s website at www.joybauernutrition.com

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