On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked by friends and acquaintances alike, to advise them on what they should eat. It ranges from some coursemate of mine asking “What should I eat to lose weight if I don’t want to exercise?” (really happened.) to my teammates asking “What should I eat after training if I don’t drink protein?”
I get all these questions directed at me because for a time, I was sort of like the resident nutritionist on the team, having researched all about sports nutrition purely out of interest, and I was happy to help. Later, everyone else outside the team came to know me as ‘the guy who is permanently on a diet’. Some of them even consider me weirdos. But I’m not worried in the slightest. In fact, I have to thank them for their deluge of questions because I don’t study nutrition for a living and there were many unanswered questions I didn’t have the answers to. This spurred me to go look for those answers, and in the process, end up learning more.
I must add, though, it was probably the whole ‘Not a certified nutritionist thing’ which led to many of them not heeding my advice after, which really defeated the purpose of asking me in the first place.
Part of all this digging for answers also revealed some very interesting tidbits of information – the debunking of age-old food myths that we thought (or were taught) were facts. Stuff like…
1) Drinking Cold Water After A Meal Is Bad For You
This one is fairy recent. A couple of years ago I received an email from my mum, no less, harshly warning against the effects of cold water on your insides if you consume it directly after a meal. And then I subsequently continued to receive harsh warnings from the woman herself whenever I hit the fridge for a cold drink after meals. The research into this was purely out of frustration because I do love me a cold drink to round off a satisfying meal, and I wasn’t about to let an email of dubious origins rob me of that little pleasure.
Great verdict, as it turned out – The warning against drinking cold water actually, well, holds no water. (Pardon me.)
Here’s one version of the widely-circulated email:
“For those who like to drink cold water, this article is applicable to you.
It is nice to have a cup of cold drink after a meal. However, the cold water will solidify the oily stuff that you have just consumed. It will slow down the digestion.
Once this “sludge” reacts with the acid, it will break down and be absorbed by the intestine faster than the solid food. It will line the intestine.
Very soon, this will turn into fats and lead to cancer. It is best to drink hot soup or warm water after a meal.”
Other version of the email state an opposite reaction, the sludge in your intestines being harder to digest and will end up remaining as toxins in your body. This, as with the email above, is completely groundless.
Common sense should tell you that the internal body heat of the human body will quickly bring all consumed substances to a uniform temperature. If you’ve never performed this experiment you can very easily do so by drinking a mouthful of cold water and holding it in your mouth for about a minute. A minute is all it takes to bring the water’s temperature to the same as the inside of your mouth.
By the same coin, even if cold water could have any effect on substances in your stomach, the chances of that happening are low, because by the time the water reaches your gut, it would no longer be ‘cold’.
Besides this, the email claims that the ‘sludge’ would be absorbed by the intestine faster than ‘solid food’. This should be a dead giveaway as to the nature of the message. You see, by the time any food reaches the intestine, it would generally no longer be a ‘solid’. Your stomach acids, which hold a pH Value of about 1 -2 (Top-end of the acidic pH Scale) would quickly and efficiently have broken down anything ingestible.
According to BBC Science and Nature:
As soon as food enters your stomach, your stomach lining releases enzymes that start breaking down proteins in the food. Your stomach lining also secretes hydrochloric acid, which creates the ideal conditions for the protein-digesting enzymes to work.
I could go endlessly on about the science behind debunking this myth, but that would be an entire post by itself, all you need to know is that drinking that ice-cold cup of juice after your meal is neither cancer-causing nor bad for your waistline. It is in fact, perfectly safe. So grab one now – go on, you deserve it.
2) Mountain Dew Impedes Male Hormones and Lowers Sperm Count
Holy Crap! This one's radioactive!
This gem here is an old one. I remember far back in my Secondary School days, we used to eat at KFC nearly every week, and I’d always order a Mountain Dew to go with my meal, without fail. This would probably explain why I haven’t touched anything from KFC’s menu in nearly 5 years. (Perfectly serious, I’m hoping to go for…. oh, the rest of my life.)
My friends, at the time first brought this myth to my attention when they told me (and unanimously agreed) that “Mountain dew is gonna shrink your balls, man.”. “It’s been Proven” they used to add as an ominous afterthought.
I believed them at the time, but to my credit, It didn’t deter me from drinking the soda any less. After all, it was my favourite. Still is, actually.
Digging deeper into the rumor, I discovered that many people were citing the effects of ‘Yellow number 5’, the coloring agent in Mountain Dew. Most people, upon hearing this much information, are satisfied (or horrified, depending on how much they’ve been drinking of it) and accept the myth as fact. If only they had continued to dig deeper, they would have found that Yellow No. 5, also known as tartrazine, is an FDA-approved coloring used in both food and cosmetics, and it has been in use since 1916. (Or in other words, older than your Grandpa.) One would think that if there was any substance to the testicle-shrinking myth, we would have heard much more than just a couple of rumors by now.
It is true that tartrazine has been in a little trouble of its own, which caused a law to be passed requiring any products containing it to list the presence of the coloring on the label. However, this is mainly due to a few isolated cases of allergic reactions in a very small group of people, so it is hardly likely to happen to you.
Or , if you need further assuring, hardly likely to affect your testicles.
3) Instant Noodles Coat Your Insides With Cancer-Causing Wax
Here’s another myth that every single person I know seems to have accepted as fait-accompli. Some of the more health-conscious people have taken to boiling their noodles twice – once to remove the wax coating and the other to do the actual cooking with the seasoning.
The problem with this myth is that it propagates – man, does it propagate. The reason it spreads so easily is because it seems plausible that the cake of noodles can only be held together with wax. (How else does it hold its shape?) People ponder this question, and proceed to grab on to the nearest proffered explanation.
One example of the email reads:
There was an SBC (now TCS) actor some years ago, who at a busy time of his career had no time to cook, resorted to eating instant noodles everyday. He got cancer later on. His doctor told him about the wax in instant noodles. The doctor told him that our body will need up to 2 days to clear the wax.
There was also an SIA steward who after moving out from his mother’s house into his own house, did not cook but ate instant noodles almost every meal. He had cancer, and has since died from it. Nowadays the instant noodles are referred as “cancer noodles”.
How old this rumor is can be seen from the ‘TCS’ part of the email. TCS made the change to ‘Mediacorp’ more than 10 years ago.
Debunking this is easy when you realize that if this warning had any basis in fact, newspapers would have long-since printed the advisories to stay away from the noodles. This is provided the company who produced the noodles had not already taken their product off the market. Lastly, nowhere in Singapore’s history has an SBC actor even been reported as having cancer caused by wax, nor has there been a reported death of an SIA steward from instant noodles.
Some version state how surgery was required to remove the wax, but complications arose and the patient died instead. This one, however, at least recognizes the ridiculousness of the idea of surgery to remove wax from the stomach lining. However, it is still factually inaccurate by about a mile.
Instant noodles do not contain any wax. Noodle strands stick together because of cassava or potato starch, one of its main ingredients. Starch is what gives instant noodles its smooth texture and chewy bite. Its removal will cause clumping among the strands.
Neither do the styrofoam containers have wax. Styrofoam is composed of 95% air and 5% polystyrene. It meets stringent US FDA standards for use in food packaging and is safe for consumers. It does not in any way transfer its odor or taste to food because it is an inert, unreactive material.
No more need for boiling the noodles twice, methinks.
4) Correct Time For Eating Fruit is Before Your Meal
We are dangerous. 😀
Another relatively recent one, at least to me. I think I first heard it in early 2009, when someone sent me an email like this:
We all think eating fruits means just buying fruits, cutting it and just popping it into our mouths. It’s not as easy as you think. It’s important to know how and when to eat. What is the correct way of eating fruits?
IT MEANS NOT EATING FRUITS AFTER YOUR MEALS! * FRUITS SHOULD BE EATEN ON AN EMPTY STOMACH.
If you eat fruit like that, it will play a major role to detoxify your system, supplying you with a great deal of energy for weight loss and other life activities.
FRUIT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FOOD. Let’s say you eat two slices of bread and then a slice of fruit. The slice of fruit is ready to go straight through the stomach into the intestines, but it is prevented from doing so.
In the meantime the whole meal rots and ferments and turns to acid. The minute the fruit comes into contact with the food in the stomach and digestive juices, the entire mass of food begins to spoil.
So please eat your fruits on an empty stomach or before your meals! You have heard people complaining — every time I eat watermelon I burp, when I eat during my stomach bloats up, when I eat a banana I feel like running to the toilet, etc — actually all this will not arise if you eat the fruit on an empty stomach. The fruit mixes with the putrefying other food and produces gas and hence you will bloat!
The truth is, the nutritional value of a piece of fruit does not change whether you eat it before or after a meal. The claims made above, as proven by Snopes, are mainly a collection of tips from dietitians dressed up to look like research. They do not have any basis in fact, and are what we consider to be ‘Food beliefs’.
By the way, bloating is actually due to a lack of fibre, which is what comprises most fruit and vegetables, so if you do experience bloating, it has more to do with a lack of fruit than eating it at the wrong time.
While it is true that fruit will digest faster if it is the only thing in the stomach, the short time spent in there will not cause it to ferment, nor will it cause any other food item to rot within the organ. If so, then humans would have failed the evolution test eons ago.
Please check out the article here for the full explanation, if you’re keen. It is pretty long.
Now that this is cleared up, here’s the rest of the email, just for a little laugh.
Greying hair, balding, nervous outburst, and dark circles under the eyes all these will NOT happen if you take fruits on an empty stomach.
There is no such thing as some fruits, like orange and lemon are acidic, because all fruits become alkaline in our body, according to Dr. Herbert Shelton who did research on this matter. If you have mastered the correct way of eating fruits, you have the Secret of beauty, longevity, health, energy, happiness and normal weight. (By the way, Dr Herbert Shelton was an American alternative medicine advocate who passed away in 1985. He was arrested multiple times for practicing medicine without a license, so…)
When you need to drink fruit juice – drink only fresh fruit juice, NOT from the cans. Don’t even drink juice that has been heated up. Don’t eat cooked fruits because you don’t get the nutrients at all. You only get to taste. Cooking destroys all the vitamins.
But eating a whole fruit is better than drinking the juice. If you should drink the juice, drink it mouthful by mouthful slowly, because you must let it mix with your saliva before swallowing it. You can go on a 3-day fruit fast to cleanse your body. Just eat fruits and drink fruit juice throughout the 3 days and you will be surprised when your friends tell you how radiant you look!
5) Eating Fat Makes You Fat
You can eat all the grapes you want, but...
Surprise! Yes, this is, in a way, kind of a myth. In 2 ways.
Obviously, eating fat such as potato chips, chicken skin and fried, greasy food will lead directly to weight gain.
However, firstly, Fat that goes into your mouth does not transform magically into the fat around your waistline. This is a process I’ve tried to explain to people time and again (with varying degrees of success…). When you eat, the food is first broken down into its most basic components. For the sake of ease of comprehension, lets just say its broken down into energy. This energy is distributed to the muscles in your body as well as your brain. If you do not use it, the body decides to store it for later use. There, we have fat.
This means that if you eat a very small quantity of fat, your body is likely to finish using the calories from that little bit of indulgence before it is stored as fat. Such as a single scoop of ice cream.
I said a single scoop. Now put that tub down.
Secondly, I would like to draw your attention to the existence of ‘Healthy fat’. Ever heard of Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oils? Yep, that’s the one.
“Eating healthy fats does not make you fat, and in fact, it can help with weight loss. Many experts believe that healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids from fish are essential for weight loss. Weight gain in developed nations occurs predominately because of increased sugar intake in the form of sweets, soft drinks and extra pastas and breads. If the extra sugars (carbohydrates) are not completely burned off through exercise, they get stored in the body as fat. Be suspicious of cookies, crackers, or other refined foods that say “low fat,” as many have extra sugars to make up for the taste.”
In addition, plant-based fats, such as those found in olive oil, have powerful cancer-fighting properties. (Antioxidants)
A fascinating new study published shows that dietary fat is necessary for the absorption of nutrients from fruits and vegetables. In the study, people who consumed salads with fat-free salad dressing absorbed far less of the helpful phytonutrients and vitamins from spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots than those who consumed their salads with a salad dressing containing fat.
The fact is we all need fats. Fats helps nutrient absorption, nerve transmission, maintaining cell membrane integrity etc. However, when consumed in excess amount, fats contribute to weight gain, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Fats are not created equal. Some fats promote our health positively while other increases our risks of heart disease. The key is to replace bad fats with good fats in our diet.
So while you probably won’t need to make any huge lifestyle tweaks, those who are dieting should now know not to stray too far from ALL types of fats. You might find yourself conversely gaining weight instead.