The truth about weight, eggs and breakfast

NTU experts shed light on some health and fitness myths

By Kayce Teo
“You need a daily multivitamin to supplement your diet.”

Having balanced meals may be easier said than done, especially over long periods of time. And if you are a picky eater, or keep to a small variety of food, you may very well need a multivitamin.

“Diversity is more important than quantity when it comes to your diet,” says Prof Walter Wahli from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. “The recommended daily intakes are based on average values, and how much of each nutrient you actually need depends on your current state of health, age, lifestyle, and more.”

And remember that more is not necessarily better – taking too much of certain minerals and vitamins can cause health problems. Pop those pills with restraint!

“You need to exercise at least thrice a week. Anything less is pointless.”

Weekend warriors, fret not. “Any exercise is better than none,” says exercise physiologist Asst Prof Stephen Burns from NTU’s National Institute of Education. “But, more exercise is still better to accrue true health benefits.”

Asst Prof Burns adds that aerobic activity should be in bouts of at least 10 minutes totalling 150 minutes per week, while muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups should be done two or more days per week.

The better news? “Physical activity includes things such as brisk walking, so the exercise doesn’t have to be structured,” he elaborates. So, make it a point to walk to your favourite lunch spots, or schedule that evening stroll around your hall.

“Using antiperspirant causes breast cancer.”

Antiperspirants work by “plugging” our sweat ducts with certain compounds that stop the flow of perspiration. Some scientists say these aluminium-based compounds and parabens, which are used as preservatives in deodorants, can be absorbed through the skin and end up in breast tissue, making tumours more likely. The US National Cancer Institute, however, finds no basis for this belief.

Assoc Prof Karen Crasta from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine agrees: “The data from these studies is largely unconvincing. There have also been studies showing evidence to the contrary. Because of these conflicting reports, more research needs to be done.”

Until then, there is no need to suffer the embarrassment of having unsightly sweat stains on your clothes if you are prone to perspiring.

“Eggs labelled ‘omega-3-enriched’ and ‘low-cholesterol’ are better than normal eggs.”

Omega-3-enriched eggs come from chickens whose feeds are supplemented with an omega-3 source, like flax seeds. Chickens which are said to produce “low-cholesterol eggs” have a different diet too. However, if you have been buying both these kinds of eggs, you might want to consider putting your money elsewhere.

“A study done in the US found that eggs labelled low-cholesterol, with 185-210mg instead of 210-230mg of cholesterol, did not contain significantly less cholesterol compared to regular eggs,” says Prof William Chen, Director of the Food Science and Technology Programme in NTU’s School of Chemical & Biomedical Engineering.

As for omega-3 enriched eggs, he adds, they are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids but not necessarily the most cost-effective one. “Instead of these eggs, you can supplement your diet with walnuts, edible seeds or fish oil to get the omega-3 fatty acids your body needs to function well.”

“Lifting weights will make your muscles grow bigger.”

Your body adapts and changes according to the physical activities you engage in, so targeted exercises, like weight-lifting, build bigger muscles.

“If you run, your heart – a muscle – grows bigger,” explains Asst Prof Burns. “But the extent of growth is determined by how much you train, and gender and genetic differences.”

Compared to men, women tend to “bulk up” less with exercise, as they have fewer of the hormones that cause muscle growth, such as testosterone.

Unless you are consuming large amounts of protein-rich food and overdosing on your lifting exercises, you won’t be taking part in any bodybuilding pageants anytime soon.

“Don’t skip breakfast if you want to lose weight.”

The age-old belief that eating breakfast aids in weight loss may not be true. A recent study found that people who skipped breakfast consumed about 400 fewer calories a day. However, they were also observed to be more sedentary.

Says Asst Prof Burns: “Eating breakfast may increase your physical activity. People who do eat breakfast are often slimmer because they are more active. Eating breakfast regularly also has benefits beyond caloric expenditure – such as blood sugar control.”

So, get up for your daily dose of eggs and toast if you want to feel more energised during the day.

“Green mucus means you have an infection.”

If you’ve ever sneezed or coughed up a greenish lump, you know it could mean a trip to the clinic. But how reliable is the colour of your phlegm as an indicator of illness?

“When we have an infection, white blood cells are dispatched to the area to help fight against the bacteria,” explains Asst Prof Sanjay Chotirmall from NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. “These white blood cells contain iron, and when they have been fighting an infection for a while, the iron leaks into the surrounding snot, causing it to turn green. But it is also possible to have perfectly clear mucus and a terrible infection with symptoms like fever, congestion and facial pressure.”

The next time you have any of these symptoms, visit a doctor immediately instead of waiting for the colour of your mucus to change.

“Being cold gives you a cold.”

You probably won’t catch a cold by being in a cold lecture theatre, but don’t leave your jacket behind just yet.

“Sneezing is a reflex to get rid of irritants, for example germs, dust or pollutants,” says Asst Prof Chotirmall. “Rapid temperature changes can also trigger sneezing.”

But while exposure to the cold does not directly cause illness, it may make our immune system less effective at fighting invading organisms such as bacteria or viruses, leading to infection,” he elaborates.