Myths and facts about your winter diet

As winter sets in, many people adapt to the cold by changing their eating habits. They eat hot soup, seek out more fatty foods and eat huge meals for more body heat.But those precautions are not really necessary. Here are some myths and facts about our bodies in winter.

MYTH: You have to eat more during cold weather to maintain your body temperature.

FACT: Research shows that vastly increased intake of calories has no effect on the body's ability to maintain body heat. The layers of clothes we wear in cold weather allow the body to maintain its own miniclimate. Even people engaged in research at the South Pole need only a 4 percent increase in caloric intake, and this is only the result of their muscles working harder to support the extra layers of clothing they wore.

MYTH: You need to eat hot meals during cold weather.

FACT: Your body does not really need hot meals. But this is an easy myth to argue. It's probably psychological, but many studies do show increased performance levels among workers after they eat hot foods on a cold day. It seems that you just feel better after a breakfast of hot oatmeal or a soup and sandwich lunch. There is nothing wrong with that, but there are no scientific reasons why the body needs the extra warmth.

MYTH: You need to eat more fatty foods and less fiber to give you energy in cold weather.

FACT: Wrong. You should always try to reduce your fat intake and eat the correct amount of fiber. The time of year makes no difference. Actually, you should try even harder to make sure you get proper fiber intake in the winter when fresh fruits and vegetables are not as plentiful. Eat more cereals, breads, beans and fruit juices to make up for the fresh produce you normally eat in warmer months. (But remember that fruit juices contain only about half as much useful fiber as the whole fruit.)

MYTH: Human bodies have few built-in mechanisms to react to the cold.

FACT: New research is investigating the body's use of brown fat cells, which are located in the chest. Apparently they do not collect fatty deposits like normal fat cells. Instead, they burn fat.

And, it seems that they are stimulated by cold temperatures. They receive a message from the brain saying that it is cold outside and that they should increase the burning of calories. This keeps your blood warm as it returns to your heart.

This research may explain why children, who seem to have finely tuned brown fat mechanisms, don't need blankets at 2 a.m. in a cold house like adults do. Or, why they can go outside and play in the snow without wearing a jacket.

In essence, kids are turning up their heat production, meaning they are burning more calories.

For adults, research implications are that outdoor exercise, besides being invigorating, can actually burn excess calories. The brown fat theory is based only on very early research, but it can't hurt to get out in the cold and exercise a little.


Viewing the flu

The flu seems to be a common part of winter, but consumers and doctors tend to view this malady in different ways, according to a survey conducted by the makers of TheraFlu flu and cold medicine.

Both groups agree on methods of treatment - rest and plenty of liquids top the list - but there are significant differences in how they look at prevention.

For one thing, doctors rank the importance of flu shots higher than do consumers. Some 58 percent of doctors think that to avoid getting the flu, consumers should get a flu shot; only 8 percent of the consumers agree.

Other interesting findings of the survey include:

- 28 percent of consumers feel you cannot avoid getting the flu. Only 8 percent of doctors say getting the flu is inevitable.

- When asked how often they prescribe an over-the-counter medicine to flu patients, most doctors answered in the 90 percent to 100 percent range; 63 percent of consumers surveyed said they take an over-the-counter remedy to fight the flu.

- Consumers consider body aches the worst symptom of the flu; fever ranks second and stomach ailments are third. However, doctors consider chest congestion as the flu symptom most likely to cause health complications.

- Consumers living in the Northwest and West report a higher incidence of flu, while residents of the Southeast report fewer flu cases.

- Of 50 cities surveyed, the three cities with the highest incidence of cold and flu medication use are Denver, Dallas and Salt Lake City. People in Los Angeles are twice as likely to take a cold and flu medication as people in Minneapolis.

- Despite the fact that 96 percent of consumers report having flu symptoms for four days to one week, more than 50 percent stay home only one or two days.

- 27 percent of men did not stay home the last time they had the flu, compared to 20 percent of women. Women indicated they suffered from sore throats and headaches as flu symptoms more often than men did.

- 46 percent said that "overall health" is the condition that most affects whether or not you get the flu. Being in crowds and bad weather tied for the next most common answer.

- Fever was the most widely reported flu symptom (81 percent), and stomach ailments the least (28 percent).

- Another question asked people to recall the strangest flu remedies they had encountered. Wearing garlic around your neck was mentioned several times. Among the other home remedies: polecat grease, comfrey, geese fat, garlic toast, hot coals under a blanket, hot onion juice, raw garlic and grapefruit juice, mustard plasters, rubbing the soles of your feet with camphor. None of these rem-edies is particularly recommended.


Reacting to the common cold

The cold is common. More than 68.7 million Americans had colds last year - and spent more than $2.5 billion for over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. A nationwide survey found that the average respondent, male or female, had 2.2 colds during the year - contrary to some supposition, moms are not more susceptible to colds than dads.

The survey, done for SmithKline Beecham, makers of N'Ice sore throat lozenges, also showed:

Effect: "utterly miserable"

Three out of four Americans reported at least one cold in the past year, with an average of 2.2 colds per person. And while a whopping 85% referred to their colds as "common," over half agreed that even a common cold made them feel somewhere between "very miserable" and "utterly and completely miserable."

Percent rating utterly and

completely miserable.


A stuffed-up nose 49 68

A sore throat 43 56

A runny nose 42 56

A headache 35 47

Body aches and pains 34 35

A cough 27 35

Itchy, watery eyes 23 25

Married: with cold:

What about a sick spouse? In general, respondents felt they were twice as nice to their spouses as their spouses were to them. For instance, 64% said they are extra nice to sick spouses, but only 32% said their spouses are extra nice to them when they are sick.

When spouse is sick, you... Percent mentioning

Male Female

Fix things to eat or drink 69 59

Act extra nice 69 59

Take over some of your

spouse's household chores 80 43

Make home remedies (Do things

to make you feel better ) 17 31

Stay out of the way 61 51

Give (him/her) a lecture on 21 22

looking after(himself/herself)

Timely reminders of snow removal

Some safety tips on removing all the snow that's still headed our way this winter:

1. When using a snow thrower, make sure the area is clear and avoid excessive force. Let the machine do its job.

2. If you're shoveling, use a shovel proportionate to your lifting ability. Use both your arms and legs to do the work.

3. Avoid twisting and jerking motions. They can lead to back injuries.

4. Dress in several light layers so you can shed clothing as your body temperature increases.

5. Be careful. Snow shoveling requires six to 15 times the energy required during rest periods. This is comparable to running at nine miles per hour.