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Dispelling Some Common Food Myths

2016 gave us two important terms – “fake news” and “post-truth”. Now, media agencies and even search engines are attempting to combat both. Now, more than ever, we need an informed public with critical thinking skills. Food is one of those subjects where the general population is regularly misinformed. It’s not just from mainstream media; some of the following myths go back generations.

Organic Food is Better for the Environment

One often repeated claim is that organic food has a higher nutritional value than conventional food, but this is simply not true. One of the biggest claims is that organic food is better for the environment. Many people believe that organic food means that no pesticides are used in production. However, organic food does use pesticides. In order to gain organic certification, the producer only need prove that he or she used “natural” pesticides – often the same compounds with the same attributes and therefore no different.

Food MythsRed Meat Causes Cancer

Cancer is not one condition, but a whole range of medical illnesses with different structures, causes and treatments. While eating a high volume of processed meat is not healthy, and cancer is a possible risk, there is little link to support these scare stories. The story came up as recently as 2016. The problem was that the media quoted a high and concerning statistic of 16% increased risk; they subsequently failed to explain whether this was a relative or an absolute figure. One is significant (absolute) while the other is insignificant (relative). Red meat does not cause cancer, but eating too much slightly elevates your risk.

There is Such a Thing as “Negative Calorie Food”

Negative calorie food is described as food that consumes more calories to digest than is actually contained within the food. Citrus fruits and celery regularly held up as a dieter’s best friend in this regard. However, although there are plenty of low-calorie fruit, vegetables and drinks – nothing has ever been effectively demonstrated as “negative calorie”. As ever, the key to losing weight is exercising properly and eating sensibly.

Eggs and Cholesterol

The humble egg has received a lot of bad press in the last few decades. Starting with the salmonella scare in the 1980s, many stopped eating eggs for a while. Sales recovered, but not without another obstacle in the belief that eggs exponentially increase a person’s cholesterol levels. Repeated studies in the last decade or so have revealed that this is not the case. Although eggs do contain cholesterol, this passes through the digestive system but does not end up in the bloodstream (where it can do the most damage).

Coffee Sobers You Up

This is one of the oldest food myths around. Realising that you have an important meeting to attend the night after drinking a lot of alcohol will usually come with the advice to drink coffee. Caffeine is known to improve your alertness. It will take the edge off your fatigue or sleepiness after alcohol, but it neither reduces the effects of dulled reaction times nor lowers the amount of alcohol in the body. This increased alertness is often mistaken for the same response as sobering up, but they are quite different.

XXX Boosts Your Immune System by XXXX%

Often claimed by alternative medicine, the idea that simple foods (usually herbs and spices) can “boost your immune system” is scientifically wrong on so many levels. For starters, these fanciful percentage figures, as impressive as they may look, are unsubstantiated. The second issue is that a “boosted” immune system is not a good thing. We more commonly know it is allergy – an immune system having a hypersensitive reaction to a harmless substance in mistakenly identifying it as something dangerous.