Food myths as plentiful as calories in pecan pie

It?s the new year and like so many, I have vowed to shed those extra pounds. Losing weight is no easy task. Expectations often exceed the will to lose the weight gradually during an extended period of time.

Today, there are as many diets out there as there are people who attempt to stick to them. What it really boils down to is watching what we eat, caloric intake and exercise. If we have the discipline to do that, each of us can meet our goals.

Still, when it comes to exercise and diet, myths are as plentiful as the calories in a piece of pecan pie?one of my favorites by the way. To clear up some of these misconceptions, I visited with a nutrition specialist during the holidays to set the record straight or at least point me in the right direction.

One common myth and core ingredient in several popular diets today involves eating extra protein to build strong muscles and rev up your metabolism. Today, most Americans, whether they are weekend warriors (athletes) or not, take in plenty of protein from a normal diet.

Protein powders and amino acid supplements are unnecessary. That is unless you want to bulk up and look like the former governor of California whose most famous movie line was, ?I?ll be back.?

The only healthy and safe way to increase the size and strength of muscles is to work out. Too much protein, if not burned as energy, turns to body fat.

Another myth would have us believe that sugary foods provide quick energy. While a candy bar, energy bar or soft drink before exercising may trigger an insulin response, that causes a rapid peak and then fall of blood sugar.

The most efficient source of energy comes from complex carbohydrates. That includes whole-grain breads and cereals, pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables.

So what about the popular diets that suggest staying away from carbs altogether?

Not such a good idea. The real key to a healthy diet is moderation and balance. It also includes a diverse, complete grouping of foods.

As for the so-called energy drinks and I won?t mention even one of those flooding the convenience and supermarket shelves, most of these are caffeine, speed or some other stimulant. And we all know that speed kills, maims or throws your body out of whack.

Vitamins and minerals do not contain energy. However, some vitamins help the body use energy.

Unless there is a deficiency, supplements will not help performance. Taking unneeded supplement may do more harm than good. Too much vitamin A or D can lead to side effects such as liver damage.

Another myth suggests thirst is a good signal it?s time to take fluid. Wrong. Vigorous exercise can blunt the body?s thirst mechanism. Drinking plenty of liquids, especially water, is important during exercise to prevent dehydration. For every pound of weight we lose through sweating, we need to drink two cups of water, whether we are thirsty or not.

The last myth, but one we cannot forget, suggests that milk causes ?cottonmouth.? Nervousness and fluid loss, not milk, make the mouth feel dry before a game, match or other competition.

Drinking milk, water or other fluids before exercising is essential. The body needs to maintain its fluid levels during a workout. Cold drinks, with the exception of those containing alcohol, are the ideal beverage during physical activity because they help cool our bodies.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.

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