Advice on how to stay healthy is abound but not all of it is sound. Singapore General Hospital's LIFE (Lifestyle Improvement and Fitness Enhancement) Centre gives the low-down on some popular beliefs.
1. A glass of wine every day is good for your health.
Although wine – especially red wine – contains antioxidant polyphenols that protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer, daily consumption of alcohol can damage the liver. For women, it increases the risk of breast cancer because alcohol disrupts the body’s ability to absorb folic acid, a B-vitamin with anti-cancer properties.
2. Standing at a desk is healthier than sitting down.
The body burns a few more calories standing up than sitting – about 30-50 calories more per hour spent standing. For reference, one Oreo cookie has 50 calories!
3. If fruit is eaten with other foods, it ferments and rots in the stomach, causing indigestion.
Fruit can be eaten at any time, and with other foods. The body produces digestive enzymes to help it break down and digest protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Besides, the stomach has a high concentration of hydrochloric acid, which will kill any bacteria before it is able to reproduce. So fermentation cannot take place in the stomach.
4. A raw food diet is healthier because heat destroys the nutrients and natural enzymes in food.
Enzymes boost digestion and fight disease. Not many foods can be eaten raw. One has to be careful with raw animal products, including dairy products, seafood and meat, which preferably should be cooked to kill bacteria. Rice, wheat and other grains, on the other hand, need to be cooked to make them digestible. So a typical raw food diet tends to be plant-based, consisting of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs and some sprouted grains.
Raw food diets tend to lack protein, iron, calcium and certain vitamins such as B12, as these nutrients are more readily available from animal sources.
If one avoids overcooking, there is little harm and plenty of benefit in consuming a mixed diet of raw and cooked food.
5. Duck fat and lard are healthier than processed vegetable oils because they are natural and have high levels of monounsaturated fat, which are better for people with heart disease.
Duck fat and lard in their original, unprocessed form have more saturated fat than healthier oils such as olive oil. Saturated fat raises the level of cholesterol in the body. However, commercially available fats and oils – from both animal and plant sources – undergo hydrogenation to prolong shelf life and for convenient packaging. This chemical processing changes the natural balance of unsaturated and saturated fats and creates unhealthy trans fats which are associated with heart disease.
6. All the fat in fish is good fat.
Only about 30 per cent of the fat in fish is “good” omega-3 fat (the exact percentage varies, depending on the type of fish). The rest is a mix of “bad” fat which raises cholesterol levels, and fat which has no special health benefit. Tuna, for instance, has 23 per cent “good” fat and 33 per cent “bad” fat, while salmon has 27 per cent “good” fat and 16 per cent “bad” fat.
7. People with diabetes should eat special food for diabetics, like sugar-free biscuits.
Sugar-free biscuits and other special foods for diabetics are conveniently packaged with detailed information, making it easier for people with diabetes to keep track of their calorie intake. But it is not necessary for diabetics to consume such commercially prepared foods. They should, in general, reduce their intake of carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates like sugar, white bread and sweet drinks.
8. Leave a few lady’s fingers in a glass of water to steep overnight before drinking the infusion. Doing so regularly will cure diabetes.
Lady’s finger extracts have been shown in laboratory studies to have antioxidant properties and to lower blood sugar and lipid levels in mice and rats. However, no clinical studies have been done on people to prove that okra extract can be used to treat diabetes.
Antioxidants are a broad range of compounds that can counter cell damage caused by free radicals. The best known antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E.
9. To lose weight, it is better to take many small meals rather than three big meals a day.
When trying to lose weight, the overall daily caloric intake is more important than whether one eats a small or a large meal. There is no difference between three meals of 600 calories each and six meals of 300 calories each!