Review: November 2016

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Get ready, here come the holidays – that time of year that brings even the most staunch willpower to its knees. However, there are a few common beliefs about holiday fare that are down-right wrong, from the “unavoidable” 7-pound weight gain to the groggy effect of eating too much turkey.

Myth #1: Most people gain 7 pounds during the holiday season:

Fact: The average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Years is about one pound, not seven. Even though enjoying delicious holiday fare might not dramatically increase your waistline,  people tend to trade muscle for fat, ending up fatter despite a minimal change on the scale. In addition, people often don’t reverse their gains after the first of the year, so the poundage accumulates from year to year, contributing to substantial gains as people age.

Myth #2: Turkey makes you sleepy

Fact: Yes, turkey and other high-protein foods contain the amino acid, tryptophan, which is the building block for a  nerve chemical called serotonin that makes you feel relaxed and even drowsy. But, turkey does not raise serotonin levels. Only all-carb snacks can do that. It is the tryptophan already in the blood that boosts brain levels of serotonin, and a carb-rich snack, like popcorn or a slice of bread, aids in transferring this amino acid across the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, while protein-rich foods actually block serotonin production. The real reason why a nap is so appealing after a holiday feast is the large amount of energy required to digest it. During the process, blood is diverted from the brain to the digestive tract, where it is used to help breakdown food and absorb nutrients. You get drowsy as a result.

Myth #3: Traditional holiday foods might taste great, but they are bad for your health

Fact: Not so. Many of your favorites are nutrient-packed wonders that should be eaten more often. For example, sweet potatoes are high in potassium, fiber, and the antioxidant beta carotene, which help lower heart-disease risk. Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidant phytochemicals, called polyphenols, shown to reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries, lowering heart disease. Cranberries contain tannins that help fight urinary tract infections and possibly some types of ulcers, while hot cocoa, if made with 70% cocoa powder, contains twice the disease-fighting antioxidants of red wine!

Myth #4: It’s OK to eat big meals over the holidays as long as you exercise.

Fact: It is true that weight is a direct reflection of how many calories you take in versus how many burned in exercise. The more you exercise, the more you can eat. However, a string of big meals can “stretch” your stomach, which means if you pig out too often, it will take more food to fill you up, which means more and more hours at the gym to burn off the excess calories.

Myth #5: Gobble a truck-size load of turkey and stuffing and you’ll gain up to 5 pounds.

Fact: It is unlikely you gain a pound after a glut-fest, since it takes an extra 3,500 calories over and above what you need to maintain your current weight – or about 5,500 calories total in a day for the average woman – to pack on one pound of body fat. Granted, when you get on the scale the next morning, you could weigh more than you did the day before, but the extra weight is mostly water, held in tissues by the increased sodium consumed. The added carbs are stored as glycogen and every ounce is packaged with three ounces of water. Within a day or two, the water weight disappears as you burn the glycogen during workouts and excrete the retained fluids.

Schoeller D: The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiology & Behavior 2014;134:66-69.

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