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50 Food Myths Busted (Part 2)

Experts clear the air on widely held misconceptions and beliefs about food. They address questions on myths on the daily diet, pregnancy and babies, fuelling workouts, sickness and what we drink.

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Joan Chew, Poon Chian Hui, Ng Wan Ching, Joyce Teo on 04 May 2018

The Straits Times

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MYTH 14: EXPECTANT MOTHERS MUST TAKE FOLIC ACID AND VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS DAILY THROUGHOUT PREGNANCY

 

FACT

 

Daily folic acid and vitamin supplements throughout pregnancy are not compulsory, although they are good for expectant mothers, said Dr Ting Hua Sieng of The Obstetrics & Gynaecology Centre, a Singapore Medical Group clinic.

 

Folic acid is a vitamin that can help prevent neural tube defects, which involve the incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord, among other benefits.

 

“If the pregnant mother is already eating a healthy balanced diet, she should have all the folic acid and vitamins she needs from her diet,” said the specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology.

 

However, expectant mothers often have poor appetites due to morning sickness and other problems. 

 

That’s when supplements become important, said Dr Ting. 

 

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The recommended dose of folic acid for pregnant women is 1mg daily, said Dr Ting. However, taking more is not an issue as it is water-soluble and gets excreted in the urine, she said. Unlike folic acid and vitamin C, vitamins A, D, E and K are not water-soluble. One should not consume too much of these as the excess cannot be easily excreted through urine, said Dr Ting.

 

MYTH 15: A NEW MUM SHOULD START DIETING IMMEDIATELY, EVEN IF SHE IS BREASTFEEDING, IN ORDER TO QUICKLY SHED THE PREGNANCY WEIGHT

 

FACT

 

Post-natal mothers should consume plenty of fluids and a balanced diet for nutrition, said Mrs Wong Boh Boi, a senior lactation consultant and assistant director (clinical) at Thomson ParentCraft Centre. 

 

Ideally, they should not diet at all, because their body needs extra nutrients at this stage to produce enough milk for her baby, she said. A woman’s metabolic rate usually increases by 25 per cent during this period. 

 

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Nursing mothers burn about 500 more calories per day, and would need to consume three main meals and two snacks daily. Her diet should preferably be light and include fish, chicken or pork. She should also choose whole grains, instead of starchy grains, to obtain the necessary energy required for breastfeeding, said Mrs Wong. 

 

The amount of fluid intake depends on the mother’s needs – she can take extra fluids as long as she feels thirsty. Warm water or beverages, as well as soup, can help increase vascularity and aid in lactation, said Mrs Wong. 

 

MYTH 16: AVOID SPICY FOOD AS IT MAY TRIGGER EARLY LABOUR

 

FACT

 

There is no evidence to prove that eating any food will trigger labour, said Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, head and senior consultant at the inpatient service division of obstetrics and gynaecology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).

 

That said, eating healthily before conception and throughout pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby.

 

Good nutrition optimises the growth and development of your baby and, at the same time, safeguards your own health, he said.

 

Also, a pregnant woman does not need to eat specific foods just before giving birth, said Ms Nehal Kamdar, a senior dietitian at KKH’s nutrition and dietetics department.

 

She should continue to eat a balanced diet throughout her pregnancy.

 

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A balanced diet means choosing foods from all the food groups in “My Healthy Plate” – a visual tool designed by Health Promotion Board, said Ms Nehal.

 

This means eating a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables for folic acid, vitamin A and vitamin C; fatty fish for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); milk and high calcium foods like cheese and yoghurt for calcium; and meat like chicken for iron.

 

MYTH 17: DO NOT EAT OR DRINK “COLD” STUFF AFTER GIVING BIRTH AS THE BODY IS WEAK IN QI

 

FACT

 

Based on Western medicine’s perspective, there are no “cooling” or “warm” foods, said Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, head and senior consultant at the inpatient service division of obstetrics and gynaecology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

 

As long as the diet is balanced, the new mother can eat all kinds of food, he said.

 

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Try not to overeat foods such as ice cream as the sugar content is high, said Prof Tan.

 

Drinking sufficient fluids after delivery is also advisable, especially if the mother is breastfeeding.

 

The kidneys will produce more urine in the next few weeks after the baby is born to remove excess fluid that has accumulated during the pregnancy.

 

MYTH 18: THE BIGGER THE BABY, THE HEALTHIER HE IS

 

FACT

 

Size does not determine a baby’s health, said Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, head and senior consultant at the inpatient service division of obstetrics and gynaecology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH). 

 

In fact, large newborns weighing more than 3.8kg face more complications than normal-sized babies, said Associate Professor Victor Samuel Rajadurai, head and senior consultant at KKH’s department of neonatology.

 

These include birth injury, low blood sugar, low calcium levels and jaundice.

 

On average, the weight of full-term babies in Singapore range from 2.8kg to 3kg, said Prof Tan.

 

Most large babies are born to mothers with underlying diabetes or who developed diabetes during pregnancy. In general, such babies have a three-fold higher rate of birth defects involving the brain, lungs, heart, gastrointestinal tract and spine. Some can be critically ill.

 

A birth-weight of more than 4kg puts the baby at high risk of developing obesity and diabetes as a child and also as an adult.

 

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Pregnant women should monitor their blood glucose in the second half of their pregnancy to detect any emergence of diabetes. 
If the condition is well-controlled, most of the adverse effects can be prevented, said Prof Rajadurai.

 

MYTH 19: DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH WATER ONE MONTH AFTER GIVING BIRTH AS YOU WILL GET WATER RETENTION

 

FACT

 

Drinking sufficient fluids actually helps the body to remove excess fluid, said Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, head and senior consultant at the inpatient service division of obstetrics and gynaecology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH). The body starts to retain more fluids from the third trimester of pregnancy onwards.

 

It is also advisable to drink enough after delivery, especially if the mother is breastfeeding. The kidneys will produce more urine in the next few weeks after the baby is born to remove excess fluid that has accumulated during the course of the pregnancy, he said.

 

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To manage water retention, women should reduce their salt intake, drink more water and avoid foods which have a dehydrating effect, such as coffee, tea and alcohol. Also, exercise regularly and elevate the legs whenever possible, suggested Prof Tan. 

 

MYTH 20: YOU SHOULDN’T FOLLOW A VEGETARIAN DIET IF YOU ARE PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING

 

FACT

 

Going vegetarian during breastfeeding will not cause a drop in the mother’s milk supply. Plus, the nutritional needs of breastfeeding women on vegetarian diets do not differ from that of a woman on normal diet, said Ms Nehal Kamdar, a senior dietitian at the nutrition and dietetics department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

 

Depending on the type of vegetarian diet a breastfeeding woman is following, her nutritional intake may need to be adjusted to ensure that she is getting adequate calcium, iron, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.

 

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Vegetarian food sources for calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, beancurd, broccoli, spinach, nuts, and fortified products, such as calcium-fortified soy milk.

 

For iron, take eggs, green vegetables, beancurd, legumes, nuts and dried fruit. Vitamin B12 is in milk, fortified soy milk, eggs and fermented soy products, such as miso or tempeh. As for omega-3 fatty acids, they are found in oil (canola, soybean), seeds (flax, chia), nuts and legumes (soybeans, lentils). For vitamin D, take eggs, fortified milk and get 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure daily. 

 

CHAPTER III: FUEL YOUR WORKOUT

MYTH 21: WATER IS JUST AS GOOD AS A SPORTS DRINK FOR HYDRATION AFTER EXERCISE

 

FACT

 

Water, in general, does not contain electrolytes (for example, sodium, potassium and chloride) that people lose through sweating.

 

Based on this, water does not assist with fuel needs of some people, depending on the type of physical activity they are engaged in, said senior dietitian Joanna Tan from Changi General Hospital. 

 

Sports drinks, on the other hand, contain between four and eight per cent of carbohydrates and electrolytes. They are better options for meeting fluid and carbohydrate requirements simultaneously following a long workout.

 

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Water is more than sufficient to replenish fluid requirements for non-endurance physical activities – those that are less than 30 minutes – as well as skill-based sports with little aerobic requirements, such as shooting, bowling and archery. 

 

People taking part in physical activities lasting beyond an hour may want to consider taking sports drinks. In addition, sports drinks may taste better than water, and this could make people more inclined to stay hydrated.

 

MYTH 22: CARBOHYDRATE-LOADING SIMPLY MEANS EATING LOTS OF STARCHY FOOD, SUCH AS RICE OR PASTA, THE NIGHT BEFORE AN ENDURANCE EVENT

 

FACT

 

Carbohydrate-loading involves increasing the amount of carbohydrates one eats several days before a high-intensity sporting event, while scaling back on one’s activity level, said senior dietitian Joanna Tan from Changi General Hospital.The goal is to stock up on carbohydrates in muscles – known as muscle glycogen – which would be depleted in the race. 

 

That said, consuming a meal high in carbohydrates the night before an event does help to increase the storage of muscle glycogen and enhance exercise performance.

 

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Three days before an event, most athletes should consume between 8g and 12g of carbohydrates for every kilogram of body weight each day.

 

If an athlete weighs 60kg, the estimated carbohydrate intake will be between 480g and 720g. If he has four pieces of white bread with one tablespoon of jam, a medium-sized banana and a 250ml cup of low-fat milk for breakfast, he would already have obtained 105g of carbs.

 

They are encouraged to try out this eating regimen well before important competitions to ensure that they are comfortable with the food choices and their quantities.

 

MYTH 23: TO BURN MORE FAT, EXERCISE ON AN EMPTY STOMACH

 

FACT

 

This concept is flawed, said sports dietitian Kejendran Mangaikarasu of National University Hospital (NUH) and NUH Sports Centre. 

 

Different factors, such as the type and intensity of exercise, affects our bodies’ source of energy. 

 

During low- to moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking or cycling, our body tends to use up more fat stores.

 

But for high-intensity activity like running or vigorous swimming, our body uses less fat and more of its carbohydrate stores.

 

The time of the last meal prior to the workout, and the type of food eaten, also matters, he said.

 

For instance, carbs would slow down the rate of fat being used to provide energy during exercise later.

 

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Eat before you exercise, as the benefits of doing this may outweigh that of exercising on an empty stomach, said Mr Kejendran.

 

A pre-exercise meal can help you to get the most of your workout.

 

You will be able to train more vigorously over a longer period of time and experience less fatigue.

 

MYTH 24: EATING OR DRINKING BEFORE EXERCISING GIVES YOU CRAMPS OR STITCHES

 

FACT

 

There has yet to be concrete evidence on this.

 

What studies have shown is that the risk of stitches depends on the sporting activity, said sports dietitian Kejendran Mangaikarasu of National University Hospital (NUH) and NUH Sports Centre.

 

Such exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP) is more common in swimmers and runners, compared to cyclists.

 

ETAP is described as a localised abdominal pain characterised by cramping or a sharp, stabbing sensation.

 

Other possible reasons for the discomfort include poor fitness levels, high-intensity exercise and the lack of warm-ups, he added.

 

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Do proper warm-ups before engaging in exercise. Also, improving your fitness level can help, said Mr Kejendran.

 

Don’t skip your pre-exercise meal as it actually helps you to finetune your carbohydrate and fluid needs. Failure to meet one’s energy needs can result in an impaired sports performance, reduced immunity and fatigue.

 

MYTH 25: FAT BURNER PRODUCTS DON’T HELP YOU SHED ANY WEIGHT

 

FACT

 

Fat burners act by raising the body’s metabolism, decreasing one’s appetite or blocking fat absorption, among other methods.

 

Many of these products can help you to lose weight, say dietitians. 

 

But there’s a catch: After you stop taking them, there is a high chance that you will regain the weight.

 

Sometimes, you may end up even heavier than what you started off at, especially if you have not adopted a healthy diet and exercise regimen.

 

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It’s best to avoid fat burners, as they can cause side effects, such as a rapid heart rate, constipation, an elevated blood pressure and sleeplessness, warn experts.

 

Some also contain ephedrine, which may cause dependence on the product.

 

Other ingredients like aspirin may cause bleeding.

 

Incorporating a balanced diet and exercise remains the safest route to take for long-term benefits. 

 

MYTH 26: AVOID ISOTONIC DRINKS IF YOU ARE NOT EXERCISING. THEIR SODIUM CONTENT WILL AFFECT THE KIDNEYS IF CONSUMED REGULARLY

 

FACT

 

Excessive consumption of isotonic drinks has not been known to cause kidney problems.

 

But these drinks contain carbohydrates in the form of sugar, which contribute to weight gain if consumed in excess, said senior dietitian Joanna Tan from Changi General Hospital. 

 

The sodium content of most commercial sports drinks is between 10 and 25 millimoles per litre. Excess electrolytes, which include sodium, are passed out of the body through the urine. 

 

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Isotonic drinks, rather than fruit juice, are encouraged for those who have had at least 45 minutes of moderately intense physical activity. Compared to isotonic drinks, fruit juices are higher in carbohydrates but contain negligible amounts of electrolytes. There is also a possible risk of an upset tummy if the juice is high in fructose (fruit sugar). 

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

 

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