If asked to reflect upon our now sepia-toned childhood I’m sure many of us would be able to recall the various ways our parents would woo us into eating healthily. Perhaps the seductive promise that eating carrots would provide remarkable night vision, chomping down spinach would result in Popeye’s super heroic strength, or quite simply, the blackmailed agreement that leaving our veg would see the TV in a hostage situation were all in the mix. Of course, gossip about our grub is not confined to the good stuff. When off sick from school the silver lining- aside from missing Maths and German- would arrive in the form of slurping hot soup when tucked up in bed; the edible knight in shining armour.
Now but a stranger to the days of being provided nutritional supervision, I have set out to re-examine a few of the most popular food myths- old wives’ tales if you will- which may prove to be as misguided as wearing socks and sandals.
‘An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away’- True
Needless to say if you smoke like a chimney, shy away from pulse-raising activity, or regularly indulge on a diet of doughnuts and takeaway the power of a mere apple is limited- otherwise it is a multi-tasking health booster. Containing substances called ‘phytonutrients’ which can aid in preventing neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, apples are proven-but little known- to protect from brain disease. What’s more, the juice of an apple has properties that can kill 80% of oral bacteria to fight against tooth decay and are loaded with vitamin C to strengthen overall immunity. Win!
‘Coke Tastes Better From a Glass Bottle’- True
This one has an element of subjectivity but the countless times I have heard an unmatchably satisfying ‘aaah’ exhaled after seeing another sip from a glass-bottled Coca-Cola, followed by the confirming statement; “it’s so much better from a glass bottle” is a real giveaway. So why does it taste better than the aluminium or plastic packaged variety? Well it’s partly to do with glass being able to withstand pressure much more durably than the other materials, thus keeping an optimum amount of fizz. The plastic bottles are made using a polymer called Polyethylene Terephthalate which releases small amount of acetaldehyde that also slightly changes the taste. Likewise, aluminium cans have an inside coating of Epoxy Resin (a compound used to make airline wings) which absorbs small amounts of flavour from the liquid it comes into contact with. Glass however, may bask in its structural superiority as its inertness has pretty much no effect on the drink.
‘Cheese Gives You Nightmares’- False
This myth was actually inadvertently created by Charles Dickens who penned one of his most famous protagonists, Ebenezer Scrooge, to dismiss his first ghostly encounter as a nightmare caused by ingesting ‘a crumb of cheese’ before slumbering in his lonely Victorian boudoir. Britain is the only nation in Europe to believe this nutritional myth and in actual fact, cheese is more likely to have the opposite effect. This beguiling foodstuff contains the essential amino acid found in milk- tryptophan- that manufactures serotonin. The latter is one of the major mood neurotransmitters in our brain; when we have low levels we are depressed and high levels we are happy. It is also linked with thought rationalisation and is thus more likely to induce a more restful sleep. Moreover, a study conducted by ‘The British Cheese Board’ (pun intended I believe) carried out a scientific investigation in 2005 in which participants were asked to eat a 3 ounce piece of cheese before bedtime. 75% reported their forty winks to be normal or stress-free thus radically contradicting this meddlesome myth.
‘Cravings are an Indication of Nutrients that Your Body Needs’- False
Irrepressibly craving that familiar foil-wrapped quadrilateral of cocoa is, for me, call for the consoling thought that my body must be running low on sugar, and perhaps craving a Kinder Egg means one must be in need of a mood boost that comes in the form of a flat-packed, shell-concealed toy. Sadly my dear chocolate lovers, the reality swerves more towards the latter. Marcia Pelchet Ph.D., a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia, says human food cravings are more about satisfying emotional needs. She explains; ‘cravings tend to occur when your diet is restricted and boring or when you know you can’t have something- if it’s forbidden you usually want it more’. Time to find another way to make that chocolate bar guilt-free!
Do Beans Really Make you Fart?- Yes, But it’s Complicated
We’ve all said it, or at least heard it; ‘beans, beans the musical fruit, the more you eat the more you toot’. Some may think when you eat them directly, your bowel doesn’t seem to function correctly- I couldn’t help myself, apologies. This unceremonious label that has been for so long attached to the poor baked bean is much more problematic and is actually more to do with the bacteria in your stomach. To put it simply, the digestive enzymes within this organ breaks down meals into bits and bobs the body can use (such as carbs, proteins, sugars etc.), but this process isn’t so easy with beans. Their natural sweetness comes from a group of sugars called oligosaccharides which are bulky molecules that can’t slip though the intestinal wall on their own because our tool kit of enzymes isn’t enough to break them down. They pass into the large intestine to then be attacked by 700+ species of bacteria which will unreservedly dig into the sugars. This metabolic activity produces gases- hydrogen and methane included- that are eventually released by the body in the form of a faux pas that may require the odd squirt of Febreze. In this case we can’t place all the blame on the little legumes, it takes two to tango!
With food fashions changing as often as traffic lights it is hard to keep on top of what’s true and what is mythical. It’s always handy to know the secrets on how to keep your body in tip-top shape, but to those who leave their crusts in fear of gaining curly hair, only eat in daylight to avoid piling on pounds, or steer away from fruit in fear of sugar overload, remember to research first!