MSG causes hair loss: True or false? A closer look at some food myths

SINGAPORE - A Nielsen survey has found that about one in two, or 57 per cent, of Singaporeans follow diets that limit or omit certain ingredients, such as fats, sugar or meat.

About a quarter of Singaporeans follow either a low/no fat diet, or a low/no sugar diet.

Most also avoid monosodium glutamate or MSG, and artificial preservatives.

Are our food choices based on real science or hearsay? Why are some foods vilified while others emit a healthful halo?

For example, the trendy coconut oil was not always as popular as it is now. In the 1980s, the oil was blamed for causing heart problems.

Today, it is touted as a health food that can aid weight loss, among other medicinal benefits.

But is it just marketing hype?

You may have also heard from a young age that carrots are good for your eyes and milk for your bones, but how true is this?

We take a look at which beliefs about food are kosher and which ones are sugar-coated lies.

1. MSG makes your hair fall out

There is no proof for this claim or other symptoms, such as headaches and numbness in the limbs, reportedly caused by MSG.

How did this myth start?

One study in the 1960s found that flavour enhancer MSG caused brain damage in mice, but the substance was injected directly into them in large amounts.

The notoriety of MSG has spread since and, as seen in the survey, many people will avoid this condiment like the plague.

Subsequent studies, which were better designed and involved more participants, have found little proof that humans who ingested MSG suffered ill effects.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies MSG as "Generally Recognised As Safe".

2. Low fat or low sugar?

Some Singaporeans said they adhered to a low-fat diet while others expunged sugar and carbohydrates from their meals.

Who's right?

There have been many studies done on this with mixed results. One study in The Lancet last year, which looked at 53 studies comparing diet types, found no significant or consistent difference in the results of each type of diet.

When it comes to weight loss, experts agree on one thing - the diet that you should stick to is the one that works for you.

Another consideration is that people react differently to different foods. An Israeli study found that there were large differences in blood sugar spikes in people who ate identical meals.

3. Fat is unhealthy

Fat is an essential nutrient. Some fat is needed for energy, and to help store and transport vitamins.

Too much fat, in particular saturated and trans fat, leads to weight gain. This can result in chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease later in life. Unsaturated fat, which is found in fish, nuts and plant-based oil, are best for you.

Avoid trans fat, which is found in solid margarine, fried foods and packaged snacks.

Also avoid cooking with palm oil, which has been found to raise the risk of contracting heart disease. Healthier alternatives are olive oil, sunflower oil and canola oil.

4. Eat carrots for good vision

This myth was concocted by the British Ministry of Information during war time. To hide the fact that it had developed radar technology and could detect planes approaching in the dark, it spread the myth that carrots were the secret to their fighter pilots developing "night vision" and their ablity to shoot down German aircraft at night.

As with all good stories, there is a grain of truth. The beta-carotene in carrots is converted to vitamin A in our bodies, and it is an essential nutrient for your eyes to function properly.

However, when you are not lacking in the vitamin, eating copious amounts of carrots will not make you see better.

5. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day

There is no conclusive evidence that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but also nothing to say it hurts.

It's a trusim perpetuated by breakfast food manufacturers, like Kellogg's and Quaker Oats, to sell their products.

It started way back in 1917 when an article in Good Health magazine included the line: "In many ways, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, because it is the meal that gets the day started."

The editor of the magazine was none other than Dr John Harvey Kellogg, co-inventor of cornflake.

While studies have "proven" that people who eat breakfast lose weight, most were not rigorous. One study in 1992, which was a carefully controlled trial, showed no effect.

This article was first published on October 21, 2016.
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