Can chicken really make your cough worse? 8 food beliefs investigated

To eat or not to eat - that's the nagging question in your mind when you're about to stuff your face against Granny's advice. Some food myths are so ridiculous, they're obviously untrue (read: "Finish your rice or your future husband will get pockmarks"), while others seems to have survived the test of time.

But does that make them true? Here's what the experts have to say about common food lore.

1. "Eating CHICKEN will worsen a cough."

Protein food like chicken are supposed to help the body build antibodies to fight infections, but this particular old wives' tale claims that chicken promotes the formation of phlegm and exacerbates coughs.

According to Wen Jun, it depends on the type of cough. Consumption of protein foods - including chicken - typically helps strengthen the respiratory system, she says.

"However chicken is not recommended for heaty coughs, where symptoms include a chesty cough and yellow phlegm." such coughs may also be accompanied by fever, dry mouth, sore throat, yellow urine and/or constipation. See a TCM physician if in doubt.

In Western societies, chicken soup is actually a home remedy for colds and flus. Dr Leslie Tay, general practitioner at Karri Family Clinic, shares that a couple of American studies show that chicken soup actually does help to reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms, although more research need to be done.

If you've consulted a TCM physician and are taking prescribed herbal medication, Dr Tay recommends following through with her advice. He adds: "If mum or Grandma tells you to avoid chicken, just do it. While it may not cure your cold, it makes for a peaceful home!"

Verdict: MAYBE.

2. "Eat bananas if you want to conceive a male baby."

A 2008 study of 740 first-time mothers by the Oxford and Exeter universities in the UK actually supports this notion. Researchers found that women who consumed more calories from eating bananas and cereals around the time of conception were more likely to have sons. The odds were 56 per cent of women with a high-calories intake compared to 45 per cent with a low-calorie diet.

However, Dr Lim Min Yu, a consultant from NUH Women's Centre at National University Hospital, says these findings could simply be attributed to chance as the UK study was not a controlled trial. Instead, it was observational and based on what mothers recalled eating.

Dr Lim emphasis that there are no foods or herbs that can influence the gender of a pregnancy. "Gender selection is technically only possible from a cycle of in vitro fertilisation with pre-implantation genetic screening, where a cell is removed from the embryo and tested for chromosomal abnormalities."

In case you were wondering, this procedure isn't allowed in Singapore yet.

Verdict: FALSE.

3. "SPICY FOOD causes stomach ulcers."

Bet you didn't know a local 2006 study published in the journal Food Science and Nutrition actually found that capsaicin, an active compound found in chilli, offers protection against some stomach ulcers. How? It stimulates neurons in the stomach and signals for protection against injury causing agents.

Citing similar studies done in Singapore and Malaysia, Dr Gwee Kok Ann, a consultant gastroenterologist on Shape's advisory board, adds that gastric diseases like ulcers and cancers have been found to occur more often among Singaporean Chinese than Malays or Indians who tend to eat more chilli. One study in particular noted that gastric ulcers are three times more common in the Chinese than Malays or Indians.

As for the myths about irregular meals causing gastric ulcers, Dr Gwee says that it has never been proven. In fact, stomach ulcers are mainly the result of infections due to the Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) bacteria - found in more than half of the world's population and usually asymptomatic - as well as the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) lime aspirin.

Verdict: FALSE.

See a doctor if you experience tummy upsets after eating spicy meals as you might have food intolerance.

If you suffer from recurring abdominal discomfort, Dr Gwee suggests getting a gastroscopy to check for H. pylori. This is particularly important if you are over 35, take NSAIDs, have a family history of gastric cancer or have symptoms such as weigh loss, blood in your stools, anaemeia and loss of appetite or vomiting after meals.

80 per cent

The proportion of stomach ulcers caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori.

4. "Eating too much sugar causes diabetes."

While diabetes is characterised by abnormally high blood glucose levels, it's inaccurate to attribute its cause to the overconsumption of sugar.

A person is said to be diabetic when she is unable to fully use the glucose in her blood because her body does not produce the sugar- processing hormone insulin (as in type 1 diabetes) or the hormone is ineffective (type 2).

Type 2 diabetes, where the insulin produced is insufficient or does not work properly, is more common. This type of diabetes is more often linked to lifestyle factors, says Dr Eric Khoo, consultant endocrinologist at National University Hospital.

It also occurs more frequently in people over 40, and particularly those who are overweight and sedentary, according to the Health Promotion Board (HPB) of Singapore

The myth probably came about because consuming too much sugar can cause temporarily high blood glucose levels. But you won't develop diabetes after a week of indulging in sweets.

However, an excessive sugar intake will add calories to your diet. Kept up over time, it can lead to weight gain and the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes, warns Dr Khoo.

Verdict: FALSE.

Still, you should limit your sugar intake to between eight and 11 teaspoons a day, advises the HPB.

5. "Avoid seafood if you have a wound."

This might have some basis in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). According to Wong Wen Jun, a registered TCM physician at Eu Yan Sang TCM Wellness Clinics, some seafood can hamper wound healing. Those described as stimulating or "fa wu", such as cured fish and shellfish, may cause inflammation, says Wen Jun.

Also, shellfish like clams, scallops and oysters are filter feeders so they tend to harbour more bacteria than other seafood, adds Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical dietitian on Shape's advisory board.

However, protein-rich seafood is well documented in Western medicine to help prevent scars, so chances are, your surgeon won't limit your seafood intake post-op.

To play it safe, consider eating those approved by out experts: Wen Jun suggests eating non-stimulating seafood, like fresh fish and sea cucumber, as they actually help the body recover after surgery. Jaclyn also recommends fresh fish as it is a high-quality, easily digested protein.

Verdict: MAYBE.

Scars, be gone!

While protein is necessary for healing tissue, you'll need other nutrients too. Jaclyn recommends the following to boost recovery:

1 Iron for haemoglobin production Found in chicken, beef, pork, tofu, beans and legumes. These are also high in protein.

2 Vitamin C for collagen production Found in kiwi fruits, oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, dark green leafy vegetables, capsicum and broccoli.

3 Zinc for growth and tissue repair Found in chicken, fish, beef, pork, walnuts, beans, and wholegrain products such as wholemeal bread and high-fibre cereals.

4 Vitamin E for its antioxidant properties Found in avocados, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and egg yolks.

6. "Gargle with a salt water rinse to cure canker sores."

It all began with Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician referred to as the father of Western medicine. He recommended salt remedies after observing that seawater has therapeutic effects on the injured hands of fishermen.

Dr Jerry Lim, clinical director of Orchard Scotts Dental, confirms that similar treatments are still used today. In fact, patients are told to rinse their mouth with salt water after surgical procedures like tooth implants, wisdom tooth extractions or gum disease surgical therapy.

Open wounds like oral ulcers are often raw and easily infected with bacteria in the mouth. A salt water rinse eases pain from canker sores by gently reducing the alkalinity (and subsequently bacteria) in the mouth, and increasing the moisture level for salivary defence cells to speed up healing, explains Dr Lim.

Rubbing salt into ulcers, however, isn't recommended as this stimulates pain in nerve endings and causes sharp discomfort. The abrasion from coarse salt crystals can also make matters worse.

If you're wondering why your homemade remedy (mix one teaspoon of salt in a cup a of warm water and gargle for 30 seconds) doesn't work, swop processed or bleached table salt for sea salt. According to Dr Lim, sea salt also contains other natural minerals which may be beneficial.

Alternatively laser therapy, using light energy to sterilise the ulcer ans stimulate healing, can help an ulcer mend in half the time it usually takes.

Verdict: TRUE.

Just don't rub salt into the wound.

Pain in the mouth

If oral ulcers persist for more than week or the pain becomes unbearable, see your dentist. These are common causes of canker sores:

1 .Trauma We've all accidentally bitten our lips and caused an ulcer to form. Canker sores can also occur when sharp tooth edges or fillings rub against the inside of the mouth. If this is your problem, ask your dental surgeon about smoothing out those edges.

2. Diet A vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to ulcers, so take at least 2.4mcg daily. It is found almost exclusively in animal products like eggs and meat. However, vegan - friendly supplements are available in major pharmacies.

3. Viral infections

Germs that cause ulcers include herpes simplex (also known as the cold sore virus) as well as the hand foot and mouth disease viruses.

7. "Feeding water to newborns will prevent dehydration."

Seemingly innocuous, this advice is actually a big no-no. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that healthy babies do not need extra water. Breast milk and/or formula provides sufficient fluids during their first six months. What's scary; Feeding H2O to a newborn can actually cause water intoxication or throw off his or her salt balance in the bloodstream, warns Dr Diana Lin, an associate consultant from the Children's Emergency department at National University Hospital.

Babies get just the right amount of sodium and other electrolytes from milk, so too much water might cause their levels to dip - and this can cause seizures and even a coma. If your mother nags you to gulp down more water, tell her to lay off.

Verdict: FALSE.

8. "Avoid soya sauce when you have chicken pox or you'll scar."

This is how the theory goes: The pigments in the fermented dark soya sauce will cause scabs to turn black and leave long-lasting scars. With this myth, the official stand is a reassuring no. according to the HPB, scarring from chicken pox usually results from scratching that affects the healing process and increases the risk of bacterial infection. What's more, TCM experts like Wen Jun confirm that soya sauce does not cause scabs to darken. If you want your skin to stay unblemished, keep your fingers away from the spots and soothe the itch with cooling baths or calamine lotion.

Verdict: FALSE.


Those allergic to soya beans may experience itching, swelling and skin reactions like hives and eczema. If you're reacting to soya sauce, you could also be sensitive to its other components like wheat and histamines. Get a skin prick test to pinpoint the allergy.


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