Sunday, 16 April 2017

Food Myths

A quiet Easter weekend got me thinking about some food myths which seem to persist however many times they are debunked.  I've discussed some here but please add your own or comment and take part in the debate!

"Sealing meat"

Often in recipe books prior to cooking a stew or a slow cooked dish, the recipe will as you to "seal" the meat as if you didn't, it would cause all the flavour to flood into the sauce.

Untrue.  There is a purpose to frying meat before putting it into a slow cooking process.  The browning process is called a "Maillard Reaction" which is a reaction between amino acids (from protein) and sugars which makes that lovely browning.  This makes the food look appetising and also creates flavour compounds, especially those which contribute to "umami" flavours.

You taste different flavours on different parts of your tongue

While we're on flavour, I bet you learned at school you can only taste certain flavours on certain parts of your tongue?  Nope, not true.  Do you remember the experiment working in your science lesson?  Nope it didn't for me either and it was debunked in the 70s.  Why it continued to be taught, I have no idea.

What is interesting though is increasing the flavour of one basic flavour can suppress or enhance another which is why salted caramel is so interesting and why blueberries can have more sugar than strawberries but taste less sweet.

It's bad to eat too many eggs

Eggs have had a rough ride.  In the 1980s, salmonella scares discouraged a lot of consumers (nowadays most of the UK flock are vaccinated against salmonella).  In the 1990s, official advice focused on the cholesterol in eggs and how they could be unhealthy as a result not realising blood and dietary cholesterol were very different things.  In fact, a boiled egg is only about 70-80 calories and a great source of protein.  People are finally waking up to this and how we may have swapped our "unhealthy" egg for supposedly healthy cereals packed with sugar.  Quite scary when you think about how far wrong that could be.

Celery has negative calories

It's low in calories, yes but negative calories no.

Butter is definitely worse for you than margarine

This is one the jury is still out on, partly because margarines have now improved and reduced or largely eliminated the trans fat content they used to have.  Margarines also can be made with lower overall fat content meaning 1 tsp of butter vs. a moderate fat margarine is likely to come out with a better overall nutritional rating for margarine... but... in general, there is reasonable evidence that butter in moderation is ok.  As a result, I use butter on toast and use margarine for some baking applications where I want the ability to blend quickly with other ingredients and don't feel all that guilty about either.

A nightcap helps me sleep

Initially alcohol does make you sleepy but it's also likely to make the quality of your sleep worse because you end up spending less time in deep sleep.  You may also wake to use the toilet or have a drink of water due to the diuretic effect.

You need to detox

There is a myth that modern life fills us with toxins and we need to detox or cleanse to remove them.  Unless your liver and kidneys aren't working properly, detoxes are unnecessary.  If you do a detox and reduce fatty foods, alcohol and sugar in your diet then certainly you are likely to feel better in the short term but if you made sustained, small changes to your diet, that is surely more likely to have a long term impact on your health and well-being?  I also worry about the "detox products" out there and the potential for misleading vulnerable consumers.  There's a great article here on debunking detox.

You need a posh exercise recovery drink

I drink milk.  After exercise it's a great idea to have a snack or drink to help your recovery.  There are loads of expensive nutritional drinks and snacks out there specifically for this purpose containing mixtures of water, electrolytes, fat, sugars and protein.  It was after reading an article with Laura Kenny that I considered milk as an option as basically you can't get a better mix of everything you're looking for.  Laura is an Olympic gold cycling medalist and a nutritionist suggested milk as a recovery drink.  I drink it as it is (no sugary milkshake powders added) and have about half a pint after exercise (which costs approx 13p when bought in a 4 pint bottle in most UK supermarkets right now).  Bargain.

Self diagnosed allergies and intolerances 

I believe in food allergies (my son has one) and intolerances do exist but if you think you have one, see a GP and get diagnosed.  It is very possible that you do have an intolerance you've not been diagnosed with, I have seen it happen but I also know of many more people who have self diagnosed.  Hey, it's up to you and if you prefer to avoid certain foods to prevent you putting on weight then that's up to you but that's a lifestyle choice not an intolerance.  It's not surprising that many people will lose weight when on a gluten free diet as they can't eat normal bread, cakes, breakfast cereals etc. and for sure, those foods are not the most healthy foods in the modern diet but it's always worth checking with your doctor as the symptoms you are attributing to your allergy or intolerance may be something else.

Wooden cutting boards are always less hygienic than plastic

There is some interesting research on wooden chopping board hygiene but as with everything on hygiene, cleanability  comes down to condition.  Scored plastic boards are almost impossible to clean, wooden boards are similarly difficult, however, have some natural protection against pathogens but this depends on the loading from the pathogens.  Personally I wouldn't rely on the natural antibacterial effect of the wood.  I do use wooden boards in the home but never use wooden boards for meat (if I'm cutting meat I do so with scissors to avoid cutting into a board) and tend to use a colour coded plastic system for most of my foods.  The take home message from me is that damaged boards are bad because you can't effectively get into the score marks to clean and relying on the natural ability for the wood to kill off the pathogens may work but could be hit and miss depending on loading and how long you wait between uses.  When your boards are damaged, it's best to get some new ones in whether you chose wood or plastic but overall is wood bad?  No, definitely not.

Please note, I am not a dietitian.  If you feel concerned about any nutritional issue, please see a GP or primary health practitioner.


  1. And then there's the 5 second rule.... Cheers from carole's chatter


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