12 Diet Facts Revealed

Authors of the bestselling You: The Owner’s Manual help sort fact from fiction.

Think of your body as a home: Your bones are the two-by-fours that support it; your lungs are the ventilation system; your brain is the fuse box; your intestines are the plumbing; your mouth is the food processor; your heart is the water main; your hair is the lawn (some of us have more grass than others!); and your fat is all the unnecessary junk you’ve stored in the attic that your spouse has been nagging you to get rid of. You generally don’t call an electrician if a light bulb burns out, nor do you summon a plumber if you just have a little backup in the pipes. When something really goes wrong, though, it’s easy to panic. But you can become an expert on your body. Here, we separate myth from reality to give you a more solid foundation.

[step-list-wrapper title=”” time=””] [step-item number=”1. ” image_url=”” title=”You can work out your brain with weights.” ]True. Your sense of balance is one sign of brain strength, and you can use free weights to develop better balance. Try this: Stand on one leg and close your eyes. The longer you can stand without falling, the better (20 seconds is very good if you are 45 or older). Working out with dumbbells develops your proprioception, the complex action of body orientation that helps you balance and stimulates neural pathways. Weight machines don’t have the same effect because the weights are attached to a fixed surface, so you don’t develop your balancing abilities as you lift them.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”2. ” image_url=”” title=”Coffee is good for your brain.” ]True. Enough studies have been done that we can say that drinking about 20 ounces of coffee a day could significantly decrease your risk of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. No one is quite sure why, but the effect of caffeine seems substantial, whether it’s in coffee, tea or soft drinks. Warning: For some people, too much caffeine may cause health problems.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”3. ” image_url=”” title=”Pampering can speed recovery from back pain.” ]False. If you’ve ever strained your back, you know that on a scale of 1 to 10, the pain ranks a 692. It can be paralyzing — making it difficult to walk, sit, get up, sleep or anything else. All you want to do is lie down, prop your head on some pillows, flick on reruns and remain still. You can think of nothing better than having your spouse deliver ice packs, ibuprofen and the latest issue of Reader’s Digest directly to your bed. But your spouse shouldn’t play nurse. Why? Attentive mates may be doing the right thing emotionally, but by encouraging you to stay in bed they’re doing the wrong thing physically. If you stay in bed more than two or three days, your back muscles weaken and can slow your recuperation. In order to recover from strain, your muscles need to grow stronger and stay active, and the only way they’ll do that is by working, even if it’s just a little bit. The best method: walking.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”4. ” image_url=”” title=”You’ll know if you’re having a heart attack.” ]Not necessarily. About half of all people who have had heart attacks never felt a symptom — or didn’t recognize it. The most common signs are:
• chest discomfort (pressure, fullness or squeezing)
• discomfort in upper body (arm, back, neck, jaw or shoulder)
• shortness of breath
• cold sweat
• nausea
• sudden extreme fatigue (without lack of sleep).
Symptoms can be unpredictable. For example, talk show host Larry King felt intense pain in his right arm, not the usual side for heart pain. Why? The heart’s nerves don’t feel pain directly. But when something goes wrong, its nerves may become electrically unstable. When they cross the spinal column, they may short-circuit other nerves — so your arm aches, or your chest, or even your jaw. But if the nerve fibers don’t cross, you may not have any discomfort at all.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”5. ” image_url=”” title=”Erectile dysfunction is inevitable as men age.” ]False. Maintaining the health of your sex organs not only improves your longevity, but also helps support a rich and fulfilling life. The most important thing is to follow guidelines for decreasing arterial aging, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising and watching your blood pressure and cholesterol. A clear and well-flowing vascular system promotes blood flow to every part of your body.[/step-item]
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[step-list-wrapper title=”” time=””] [step-item number=”6. ” image_url=”” title=”Cracking your knuckles will cause arthritis.” ]False. It makes you sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies and never goes over well in church. While it’s painful for us to hear, you’re not doing any harm to your joints, bones or muscles when you crack — unless you feel pain as you do it. The noise is caused by the high-pressure suction of gas being expelled when your joints move apart. If it hurts when your knuckles or knees crack, you need to see your doctor to assess what kind of joint damage you may have.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”7. ” image_url=”” title=”Men can drink more than women.” ]True — but not for the reason you think. It doesn’t have anything to do with machismo. Men have an enzyme that metabolizes more of the alcohol they drink before it even hits the bloodstream. Women don’t have as much of that enzyme in their gut walls. Their bodies also contain less water than men’s do, resulting in higher blood-alcohol levels drink for drink.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”8. ” image_url=”” title=”Blood in the toilet means you have cancer.” ]Probably not. A small amount of bright red blood is usually nothing to be alarmed about. It most likely indicates hemorrhoids, and just a single drop of blood can turn the whole bowl red. Check with your doctor to be safe. You can detect microscopic levels of blood, which could signal something more serious, with an at-home test called Hemoccult. It’s available at pharmacies. Don’t worry; it’s not as gross as it sounds. Just follow the directions on the label.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”9. ” image_url=”” title=”You can ‘spot reduce’ a specific problem area.” ]False. Let’s say you have a gut, or some cellulite on your thighs. Do crunches or squats every day and you’ll eventually work off the fat, right? Sorry. That’s not how the body works. Think about when you see someone who’s lost weight. Where’s the first place you notice it? The face. Since we don’t see too many people doing face crunches in the gym, it just goes to show that your body dictates where fat is burned. If you want to build muscle in a particular area, you can make it look younger and firmer. But the only way to target a trouble spot is through an overall program of aerobic exercise, resistance work and a calorie-controlled diet. You have to lose it under the chin to lose it from your belly.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”10. ” image_url=”” title=”For diarrhea, the best cure is waiting it out.” ]False. The best solution isn’t setting up camp on the toilet and waiting for the deluge to run its course. It’s chicken soup with rice. That combination of rice and broth seems to break down certain sugars that, along with sodium, suck water back into your system, offsetting the dehydration caused by Old Faithful.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”11. ” image_url=”” title=”Hormones control your emotions.” ]Usually false. Pregnant women may disagree, but it’s actually more often the other way around. Emotions control your hormones through biochemical changes in the brain. Fear, for instance, is accompanied by the production of one set of brain chemicals that can make you alert and ready to flee, while pleasure triggers the release of other chemicals that soothe and calm. Stress can cause a sustained production of stress hormones, which can then damage the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s crucial to learning and memory.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”12. ” image_url=”” title=”You can take a vitamin instead of eating.” ]Sometimes true, as, for instance, with calcium supplements (with vitamin D). But don’t be misled into thinking that it’s better to down pills than to down vegetables. Orange juice has more in it than just vitamin C. And foods don’t just have a biochemical importance; they can create a kind of energy force in your body. For example, it may be that it’s not one nutrient that helps prevent cancer or reduce heart disease, but rather the combination of several ingredients that does the trick. And that’s the kind of nutritional power you find only in the way nature makes our food. In fact, we believe that the study of how food can heal is the next frontier in medicine.[/step-item]
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Adapted from “You: The Owner’s Manual” copyright © 2005 by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. OZ, M.D., published at $24.95 by HarperResource, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 10 E. 53rd St., New York, N.Y. 10022

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest