Demystifying Common Food Myths

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
We've all heard rumours, myths, urban legends or even old-wives' tails regarding food beliefs, either going around on the internet or in everyday conversations. I don't know if you're like me, but I personally never know what to believe! Some sound so credible, it just makes it harder to sort fact from fiction. Well, much to my surprise, the next ten legends are all false... despite what you may have heard in the past! 

1. Apple cider vinegar helps to lose weight
Some manufacturers claim that a few tablespoons a day of their apple cider vinegar helps destroy excess fat cells and promotes gradual weight loss, with or without dieting. You should know that no acidic food, whether its vinegar, grapefruit, lemon juice or anything else, can make "fat melt". Only physical activity helps burn calories and prevents the excess from being stored as fat. Swallowing pure vinegar, undiluted, can also damage tooth enamel, irritate the throat and on the long run, lead to a decrease in potassium level and bone density. Apple cider vinegar can be delicious in salads or for deglazing a pork tenderloin. Just know that there's no miracle when it comes to loosing weight... you just need to burn more calories than the ingested amount.

2. Eating at night is fattening
No matter the time of day or night, the food will not be assimilated slower or quicker. In the evening, many people have the habit of snacking and drinking (anything other than water) in front of the TV or computer, without necessarily being hungry. In consequence, these calories are added to those taken during the day and may ultimately contribute to weight gain.

3. Avoid eating fruits with your meals
This more than 60-year-old theory is flat out outdated. No, it's not necessary to eat a fruit on an empty stomach 30 minutes before or after a meal on the grounds that it will ferment in the stomach in the presence of other foods. No reliable scientific data supports the conclusion that the activity of specific food groups' enzymes triggers digestive problems which can lead to a weight gain. In reality, the body produces a host of digestive enzymes, all very well orchestrated and able to digest several foods at once. Fruit combined with other foods during the course of the same meal can actually be a good thing! For example, vitamin C found in many fruits, such as citrus, strawberry, kiwi, cantaloupe, helps with the absorption of iron from certain foods like legumes, nuts and grains. You probably didn't suspect this, but vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are in reality fruits!

4. Cheese constipates
No particular food causes constipation. Neither cheese, nor rice, nor bananas! Factors related to one's lifestyle are often the root of the problem. Such examples are a sedentary lifestyle, stress, pregnancy, a change in schedules, trips... even certain medication (including laxative abuse) and health disorders can also cause constipation. But the three most common reasons remain a low-fiber diet, insufficient hydration and a lack of physical activity.

5. Don't swallow gum or it will remain stuck to your stomach
Yes, it's a myth, even if every parent has tried to use this as an argument (or even maybe a trickery!) with their children! It is a fact that basic gum (formerly known as chicle, obtained by boiling the sapote tree's fruits and trunk's latex) is composed of different substances that confers its elasticity and makes it insoluble in saliva. However, swallowed gum will not stay in the stomach... as a result of peristaltic motion, it makes its way through the digestive tract and eventually ends up being excreted, same as other indigestible substances such as dietary fibers.

6. Stay away from milk when you're hit with a cold because it increases secretions
Milk consumption doesn't increase mucus production. You should know that, on an every day basis, the human body produces from 1 to 1.5L of mucus to lubricate the tissues of the nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, intestines, etc. Its viscosity captures dust and other undesirables. Mucus also contains valuable antibodies which help fight against bacteria and viruses that attack the respiratory and digestive systems. Lots of people confuse the milk's temporary effect of saliva on the tongue with mucus production. To demonstrate it, a study compared cow's milk and soy beverage, both providing a similar mouthfeel. Those who believed that milk increases mucus production reported similar effects with both drinks, which suggests that it's the texture of the drink rather than the cow's milk itself that is behind this phenomenon.

7. Frozen vegetables are less nutritious than fresh vegetables
If harvested when ripe, and frozen within the following hours, which is usually the case, frozen vegetables will consequently have preserved an excellent nutritional value. During the off season, they're  preferred over some fresh vegetables... imported, conveyed and stored for several days prior to being offered to consumers. The same applies to fruits. Kept in the freezer where they stay practical and handy, frozen vegetables and fruits are just standing by, waiting to make their way onto your plate!

8. Adults should drink 8 glasses of water a day
We hear it all the time... we need to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water for the sake of staying hydrated and healthy. Well, as a matter of fact, it is actually 6 to 8 glasses of fluids per day. Each glass is 250 ml or 1 cup. This recommendation applies to water, but also includes tea, coffee, fruit and vegetable juices, milk, soups and broths. The idea is basically all about varying the intake. In hot or humid weather, or when perspiring abundantly, you have to hydrate yourself. As Dr. Oz had showcased it on his show, your best clue to figure out if you drink enough fluids or not is your pee! Yep! It should be clear and heavy. If it's dark yellow, you're in trouble... you're not drinking enough!

9. Sugar makes kids hyperactive
Even though this belief is deeply rooted among parents, teachers, educators, you name it, you will be happy, and probably surprised, to learn that it has been refuted by more than a dozen reputable scientific studies. Foods high in sugar, like candy, cookies and chocolate for instance, do not cause behavioural problems or hyperactivity in normal children, or even in the ones with an attention deficit disorder. The degree of excitedness of a child may be explained by other reasons, such as the presence of guests at a party, an outing, a deprivation of sleep or lack of mentoring by the parents. For the overall health of your child, it is still better to keep sweets for special occasions. Nonetheless, an excessive consumption of caffeinated foods, like soft drinks, cake or chocolate bars, at a party for example can lead to hyper-activeness and headaches, or other side effects, especially in young children. You should know that the levels of caffeine in most energy drinks surpasses the maximum recommended intakes for children ages 12 and under.

10. Milk is packed with hormones and antibiotics
In Canada, it is strictly forbidden to sell or use synthetic growth hormones, such as the recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), to encourage a cow's milk production. Even though this hormone is considered as safe in the U.S. and other countries, Health Canada does not permit its usage in the country. Now regarding antibiotics, any sick cow treated with these must be separated from the herd. In order to market that cow's milk again, specific tests and analysis must demonstrate that the milk doesn't contain any trace of residue. A milk producer who does not comply with these regulations is liable to hefty fines.

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