By Evan See
You’ve probably seen the articles shared on Facebook that warn you away from MSG or gluten. Or your family members may have mentioned to you that eating egg yolks causes heart disease. Some of these dietary myths have become so widespread that many have regarded them as universal truths. But just how true are they? Here we examine 4 of the most commonly believed nutrition myths.
1. MSG is Bad for You
The additive monosodium glutamate has been used in many Singaporean foods for decades. It’s been accused of causing reactions like headaches, nausea, and even asthma.
But studies conducted using monkeys had previously failed to reveal any consistent effects of ingesting MSG. Another study conducted where 71 subjects were given MSG and placebo doses revealed that the “side effects” of MSG did not consistently occur in subjects with the MSG doses.
Apart from specific side-effects, MSG is believed to be bad for general health, with many linking it to brain damage, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity.
One study found that mice increased their body weight by 7.9% after consuming MSG, while another study conducted among a rural Thai population associated MSG with metabolic disorders. However, this study was later criticised for its methodological flaws, while the study conducted on mice had very little resemblance to a human’s regular dietary intake.
Overall, researchers have not found conclusive evidence that MSG is any worse than regular table salt, and the U.S. Food and Drug Association has given it a GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) designation.
2. Eat the White, Throw Away the Yolk
It’s fairly common to see Singaporeans removing the yolk from the hard-boiled egg in their duck rice or mee siam. While not entirely untrue, many Singaporeans tend to have the impression that egg yolk is extremely high in cholesterol and should be avoided to prevent potential health risks like heart disease and high blood pressure.
However, the egg yolk is actually the most nutritious part of the egg, containing most of its iron, folate and vitamins, while also containing lutein and zeaxanthin – two nutrients that prevent several eye diseases.
Additionally, the high amount of cholesterol in yolks raises HDL (good) cholesterol levels, while LDL (bad) cholesterol levels tend to not increase. This means that blood cholesterol levels often remain unaffected after eating egg yolks.
However, eating eggs has been associated with higher risk of heart disease for people with type II diabetes, who should not follow the same egg-consumption guidelines as the rest of the population.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean you should eat four dozen eggs each morning. Too much of any food group generally isn’t a good idea, but up to three eggs a day is considered safe for most people.
3. Moderate Drinking is Good for You
Ah, the myth everybody wants to believe: that moderate drinking of about one drink a day for women or two for men is actually good for you. Researchers and dietary guidelines have been preaching it for decades. Moderate drinking is believed to have health benefits, with studies linking it to longer life expectancy and reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
However, making a blanket statement that moderate alcohol consumption is unequivocally good for one’s health is quite possibly one made too soon with too little evidence.
Studies comparing moderate drinkers to non-drinkers are often observational and merely record statistical trends among large groups. They often cannot locate clear causal reasons linking moderate drinking to said health benefits. The lack of controls in mass studies also means that results can be influenced by other factors including wealth, education or the “sick quitter” phenomenon – where “non-drinkers” in many studies had previously quit drinking due to poor health, skewing the results against them.
Alcohol has also been linked to risks that possibly outweigh its health benefits. It’s been found that up to 10% of all cancers are linked to alcohol, with researching showing that even light drinking increases cancer risk in individuals. Another study has linked moderate consumption to decreased brain capacity with age, while the risks surrounding traffic accidents or binge drinking can potentially emerge from the drinking habits of even moderate drinkers.
So, if you’re already drinking moderately, there’s no need to quit, but do understand that this theory isn’t widespread medical consensus – there’s just not enough evidence to properly define the benefits (or risks) of moderate drinking.
4. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
You’ve heard this a million times – from parents making their children finish their cereal to diet plans on fitness sites.
Many believe that eating a meal in the morning has various benefits for weight loss such as boosting your metabolism, or preventing you from overeating during other meals.
Some experts have supported the idea of eating breakfast for weight loss. Early in the morning, our blood sugar levels are easier to control, but more volatile at night, due to the body’s natural Circadian rhythm. Therefore, eating more food early in the morning should not affect one’s weight as much as eating more later at night. Yet, numerous studies, including a controlled trial amongst 283 participants published by Oxford, have revealed no discernible relationship between eating breakfast and weight change, while another study found no correlation between breakfast consumption and higher metabolism.
On the bright side, eating breakfast has been shown to improve brain function, including concentration, memory and language skills. But when it comes to the much-espoused belief that one should never skip breakfast when trying to lose weight, it seems that there isn’t much basis to the claim.
There you have it: four very common nutrition myths that are thrown around both dinner tables and social media alike. While some aren’t entirely baseless, they aren’t gospel truths that you should go out of your way to incorporate into your diet. But if you’re dying to know how to improve your diet, go to a doctor or a dietician – not your aunt’s Facebook wall.