Learning > Health

50 Food Myths Busted (Part 3)

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 27: CONSUMING PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS IMPROVES YOUR SPORTS PERFORMANCE

 

FACT

 

What protein supplements have been proven to do is to help in the repair of muscle wear-and-tear.

 

Research has yet to conclusively show that they can enhance sports performance, say dietitians.

 

Taking protein helps the body to recover from intense exercise by restoring muscle glycogen, which acts as a source of fuel.

 

Protein also provides a person with some energy during exercise, especially during prolonged sessions.

 

This is because when carbohydrate reserves are low, the body turns to protein for fuel.

 

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Get protein from food, if possible.

 

For instance, half a chicken breast would have roughly the same amount of protein as that in a protein shake.

 

Both endurance and strength athletes can benefit from taking some protein before exercise to promote muscle repair, say experts.

 

MYTH 28: PROTEIN SHAKES CAN BE SAFELY USED AS A WEIGHT LOSS TOOL

 

FACT

 

There is no guideline on what would be a safe amount of protein shake to take for weight loss, said Mr Chad Han, a dietitian at Alexandra Hospital.

 

However, recent research has shown that protein helps to make one feel full and therefore, reduce one’s need for snacking.

 

A high protein intake is also linked to lower levels of hunger-inducing hormones. 

 

It is therefore not wrong to say that protein shakes can be used as a weight loss tool. 

 

But drinking too much of it may not be safe for everyone. A high protein intake increases the amount of waste products in the body which, in turn, increases the risk of dehydration. This would be indicated by dark-coloured urine. 

 

Muscle cramps have also been reported with higher protein intakes. 

 

Furthermore, protein shakes may not be suitable for people with pre-existing kidney problems that require protein restrictions.

 

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The body requires a wide variety of nutrients, so consuming protein shakes alone can deprive a person of nutrients, leading to unpleasant symptoms, for instance, hair loss due to a lack of zinc. 

 

As there are no regulatory bodies governing the nutritional content of protein shake products in the market, they can range widely from close to 100 per cent protein to mostly carbohydrates and fat with little protein. 

 

Healthy weight loss can be achieved on a calorie-controlled diet without the use of protein shakes. 

 

MYTH 29: TAKE PLENTY OF ANTIOXIDANT SUPPLEMENTS, SUCH AS VITAMIN C, SHORTLY AFTER YOUR WORKOUT TO REDUCE OXIDATIVE DAMAGE IN THE MUSCLES

 

FACT

 

Too many free radicals in the body may be bad, but they do play a positive role in exercise. 

 

Large doses of antioxidants can cancel out the effects of free radicals and, in turn, reduce the benefits of your workout, said Ms Ng Puay Shi, a senior dietitian at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s nutrition and dietetics department. 

 

Free radicals operate as signalling molecules. They appear to regulate many physiological processes and functions. Taking antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, may hamper muscle adaptation, said Ms Ng. 

 

Studies have even shown that such supplements decrease the production of mitochondria, which generates energy in our cells.

 

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It is not advisable to consume antioxidants in the form of supplements as they often contain high doses, said Ms Ng. 

 

Eat two servings of fruit and veggies daily to meet your antioxidant needs instead. 

 

MYTH 30: COCONUT WATER IS AN IDEAL REPLACEMENT FOR REGULAR SPORTS DRINKS AFTER PROLONGED OR ENDURANCE EXERCISE

 

FACT

 

While both beverages contain sugar, potassium and sodium, the low sodium level in coconut water may not suit the needs of athletes after a lengthy workout, said Ms Ler Yi Bin from Mount Alvernia Hospital’s nutrition & dietetics services. 

 

This is because only drinks with high levels of sodium can help to rehydrate and replenish lost electrolytes after prolonged or endurance exercise, she said. 

 

One serving (250ml) of coconut water has only 2.5mg of sodium, which pales in comparison to the 135mg found in sports drinks. 

 

In other words, coconut water can only help to keep the body hydrated, just as water does. 

 

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Drinks with sodium actually enhance water uptake in our body and help to maintain fluid balance. 

 

A low sodium level in the body may give you cramps and cause exhaustion, said Ms Ler, adding that sports drinks are still the best bet after a long workout. But watch how much you drink – sports drinks do contain calories after all. As for people who do light exercise, plain water is good enough or, if you like some flavour, throw some lemon slices into the cup. 

 

CHAPTER IV: IN TIMES OF SICKNESS
MYTH 31: AVOID EATING SEAFOOD, SUCH AS PRAWNS, AFTER CHEMOTHERAPY OR SURGERY

 

FACT

 

Shellfish, such as prawns and crabs, have long been believed to be “toxic” to those who eat it, especially those in need of physical recovery from an illness or medical treatment.

 

It is believed that eating them would slow down wound healing.

 

But they are just sources of protein, said Ms Gina Lin, a dietitian at Singapore General Hospital. 

 

Unfortunately, besides having a bad reputation for being “bottom feeders”, shellfish are commonly responsible for triggering certain allergies.

 

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Chemotherapy or surgery puts the body under tremendous stress and weakens the immune system.

 

The body thus requires more protein for recovery. Options include fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, prawns, crabs, beans and legumes.

 

Ensure that these foods are well-cooked so as not to further compromise the patients’ already weakened immune systems.

 

MYTH 32: PUTTING HONEY ON BURNS CAN SOOTHE THE PAIN AS IT HAS ANTI-BACTERIAL AND ANTI-INFLAMMATORY PROPERTIES

 

FACT

 

This is inconclusive. While some studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory properties of honey on wounds, the quality of the research is low, while some studies have methodological flaws. 

 

This is according to a review article on this topic published in 2013.

 

It revealed several gaps in the research of honey in modern wound care and made recommendations for further research.

 

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When you suffer a burn, first extricate yourself from the site of injury to prevent further injuries, said Dr Chong Si Jack, an associate consultant at the department of plastics, reconstruction and aesthetics surgery at Singapore General Hospital.

 

Place the wound under running water until the burning sensation stops. This reduces further burn injuries to the skin.

 

Then, apply a topical antiseptic and put sterile dressing on the wound, said Dr Chong. This keeps the wound moist, reduces further contamination and can be easily removed without pain.

 

Consult your general practitioner if the wound is small and superficial.

 

But if the area involved is large, go to the hospital’s accident & emergency department.

 

MYTH 33: VITAMIN C CAN PREVENT COLDS

 

FACT

 

In most cases, vitamin C supplements won’t help to prevent colds, according to a study of 20 trials with more than 11,000 people.

 

Taking the vitamin reduced colds by only 3 per cent, according to the study on the Mayo Clinic’s website.

 

However, for those under high physical stress, such as marathon runners, the extra vitamin C cut their incidence of colds in half.

 

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Taking vitamin C before the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of symptoms. Meanwhile, chicken soup can speed the recovery of colds. Studies have shown that it can improve the ability of cilia, which are tiny hair-like parts of nasal passages, to protect the body from bacteria and virus, said Ms Alefia Vasanwala, principal dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

 

Plus, a rich chicken broth can provide the body with protein and calcium. It also contains electrolytes, which are especially valuable when one is dehydrated.

 

MYTH 34: SUPERFOODS OR ORGANIC FOOD CAN PREVENT CANCER

 

FACT

 

“Superfoods” is a term used by marketers and manufacturers to describe foods with apparent special health benefits.

 

Some examples are blueberries, raspberries, broccoli, garlic and green tea. Besides being high in antioxidants, these foods are also claimed to have anti-tumour properties. 

 

But studies investigating the benefits of these so-called “superfoods” have been inconclusive, said Ms Gina Lin, a dietitian at Singapore General Hospital.

 

In general, fruit and vegetables are known to reduce cancer risk, thanks to their antioxidant properties and high fibre content.

 

Organic food, on the other hand, have gained popularity as healthier alternatives to food grown by traditional techniques which includes using chemical pesticides, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics. 

 

Some evidence has shown that exposure to pesticides may increase the risk of certain cancers.

 

However, the evidence again remains inconclusive, said Ms Lin.

 

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No single food can provide us with all the nutrients our bodies need. Particularly for cancer patients, the utmost nutritional priority is to ensure they get adequate energy and protein from their diet to cope with the cancer or cancer treatment.

 

Eating only “superfoods” or organic food may be too restrictive and deprive the body of essential nutrients it requires. A balanced diet providing sufficient energy, protein and other nutrients is encouraged.

 

MYTH 35: EATING LOTS OF FAT RAISES CHOLESTEROL LEVELS IN THE BLOOD, LEADING TO CLOGGED ARTERIES AND HEART DISEASE

 

FACT

 

People tend to think that anything that contains fat is bad and avoid eating these items. 

 

This mindset needs to be corrected, as our body needs some fat to function properly, said Dr Lim Su Lin, chief dietitian at the department of dietetics at National University Hospital.

 

For instance, fat helps with the absorption and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. 

 

“Our body also requires a type of fat called essential fatty acids (such as omega-3 and omega-6) which must be obtained through food.”

 

A moderate amount of fat in the diet, in particular unsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to be beneficial for health. 

 

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People should focus on the quality of fat consumed. Choose foods prepared with healthier oil, for instance, said Dr Lim.

 

Polyunsaturated fat, such as sunflower and soya bean oil; and monounsaturated fat, such as canola and olive oil, can lower the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood. 

 

If you need to eat deep-fried food, cook them at home with healthy oil no more than once a week and discard the leftover oil, said Dr Lim.

 

Try to include some oily fish in your diet too, as studies suggested that eicosapentenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fishes, such as salmon, cod and sardines, can help to lower one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. 

 

MYTH 36: PREPARING OR STORING FOOD IN ALUMINIUM FOIL AND COOKWARE CAN CAUSE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE, AS THE METAL CONTENT GETS DEPOSITED IN THE BRAIN

 

FACT

 

The actual amount of ingested aluminium absorbed by a healthy person is minimal, as it can be naturally excreted from the body, through one’s faeces and urine, said Dr Lim Yen Peng, principal dietitian at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s nutrition and dietetics department.

 

This controversial claim was made in the 1960s when scientists found that exposing rabbits’ brains to the metal caused some brain damage similar to that seen in Alzheimer’s disease. But several subsequent studies did not back this claim.

 

Since then, major public health agencies, including the World Health Organisation, as well as international Alzheimer’s associations, have said that aluminium is not a significant risk factor for the incurable disease. 

 

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Don’t worry about using aluminium cookware and foil. It is unlikely that avoiding these products can reduce your level of exposure to aluminium significantly, said Dr Lim. Aluminium is, after all, naturally present in the environment. It is also found in soil, water, air and food.

 

The levels of aluminium in food, medicine, cookware and foil products are generally deemed safe by regulatory agencies and do not pose threats to one’s health, she added. 

 

MYTH 37: CONSUMING GELATIN OR GLUCOSAMINE SUPPLEMENTS HELP TO STRENGTHEN JOINTS AND REPAIR CARTILAGE

 

FACT

 

There is no clear evidence that these products repair one’s cartilage or reverse the effects of osteoarthritis.

 

The hype over glucosamine supplements is largely based on small numbers of pre-clinical (animal) studies which show that glucosamine sulphate – one of two forms of glucosamine – slightly increased the amount of cartilage in the laboratory setting. But this has never been proven in clinical or human studies, said Dr Kevin Lee, an orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre. 

 

Glucosamine is a basic building block of joint cartilage. Most glucosamine products work via an anti-inflammatory pathway to provide slight pain relief in mild cases of arthritis. The effect generally wears off after six months, noted Dr Lee. 

 

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Movement stimulates our body’s natural production of hyaluronic acid, the lubricant in joints. It is why joints stiffen quickly when they are not moved, for instance, when you have your knee in a plaster cast for weeks. It is best to avoid exercises that lead to high impact in those joints affected by arthritis, said Dr Lee.

 

For instance, if you have arthritis in the knees, then you should avoid high impact sports such as running – which puts up to six times one’s body weight through each knee on every stride – and switch to low-impact sports such as swimming, brisk walking or working out on the elliptical machine, he advised.

 

MYTH 38: DRINKING COLD WATER AFTER A MEAL CAN SOLIDIFY OILY FOOD, RAISING YOUR RISK OF A HEART ATTACK OR CANCER

 

FACT

 

Nothing remains cold or hot for a very long time in our system. The liquid will quickly reach the same temperature as the body, said Ms Alefia Vasanwala, principal dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. 

 

In fact, water is necessary for fat digestion to take place. It does not solidify fats in the meal, nor does 
it raise the risk of cancer or a heart attack.

 

Five different body organs secrete digestive juices in order to digest food – the salivary gland, stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas.

 

By the time food leaves the stomach, digestion of carbohydrates, proteins and fats would have begun, and the process gains momentum in the small intestine.

 

There, the pancreas, liver and small intestine contribute additional digestive juices, which contain enzymes, bicarbonate, and bile.

 

The gall bladder squirts bile into the small intestine whenever fat arrives there. After the fats are emulsified, enzymes break them down for absorption.

 

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Avoid a high fat diet, as it can lead to obesity, which is indirectly related to diseases like cancer and heart attack.

 

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

 

 

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