Does an apple really keep the doc away?

Nutrition facts may surprise you

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Or so the saying goes.

But will eating an apple regularly really stave away colds and other illness? Or will carrots improve your eyesight?

With a host of old sayings and a World Wide Web full of new diet "tips," people are inundated with good and bad nutrition advice.

But when in doubt, people should turn to their doctor or dietitian for answers to diet-related questions, said Brooke Trimble, a registered dietitian at St. Francis Memorial Hospital. Professional experts are more reliable than the Internet and hearsay.

In the meantime, Trimble explains the myths and the realities behind some common beliefs about food and health.

1. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Not necessarily. Like all fruits, apples are considered healthy, Trimble said, but people should consume other types of fruits and vegetables as well. The two food groups provide a "wide array of health benefits," Trimble said, and a medium apple with skin has 81 calories and only 0.5 g of fat.

"(You) want to eat apples and other fruits and vegetables with the skin on them for the fiber benefits to help promote regularity," she said. Whole fruits are also higher in fiber than fruit juices.

2. Eating carrots will improve your eyesight.

Not necessarily. You would have to eat an extremely large amount of carrots for that to be true, Trimble said, so it's better to take supplements. Beta carotene, which is found in carrots, may help reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, but it should be taken in a high-dose supplement form. But vitamin A, also found in carrots, is toxic in large amounts, Trimble said.

"Individuals need to consult a health care professional before beginning supplements of any kind," she said. "Carrots are a good source of vitamin A when compared with other fruits and vegetables."

3. If a food is labeled "fat-free," you can eat as much of it as you want.

False. "Fat-free" foods must contain less than 0.5 grams of fat, but foods with very little fat may still contain carbohydrates and calories. Fat-free foods with carbohydrates will increase blood sugars in diabetics, Trimble said.

"Individuals can still enjoy their regular foods, but watch the portion sizes," Trimble said.

4. Margarine is healthier than butter.

True. Margarine has less saturated fat than butter, Trimble said.

"The fats in margarine have a lower risk for causing heart damage than the fats in butter," she said. "Too much saturated fat can increase the risk for heart disease."

5. It's better to eat unhealthy foods, such as an ice cream sundae, earlier in the day than later in the day.

False. "The simple rule is to balance the calories you consume with the amount of energy you burn through exercise," Trimble said. "It doesn't matter what time of day you are consuming the extra calories, as long as you account for those calories in your daily total and are exercising to compensate for them."

6. Chicken soup can help cure the common cold.

False. "There is no evidence that chicken noodle soup 'cures' colds, but it can have positive results in treating the symptoms of a cold," Trimble said. "For example, the steam and warmth from the soup may help decrease congestion and may soothe a sore throat. The soup won't 'cure' you, but it will help you feel better."

7. Taking a daily multivitamin will make up for an unbalanced diet.

False. Even if you're taking a multivitamin, it's still important to eat a healthy diet, Trimble said. Skipping meals will deprive your body of energy and slow your metabolism.

"Your body prefers to receive the nutrients in a food form," she said. "The body needs healthy foods for energy."

Even so, it's important to take a daily multivitamin to make up for any vitamins and minerals you didn't consume through solid foods.

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