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Busting food myths...Part II

by: Chef Tim Tibbitts

Food For Thought


A couple articles ago I started a look at some popular food myths that have no real scientific merit. I love these things as they help people make better, more informed choices about food without being mislead by popular hearsay. Here are a few more food myths for you to ponder:

Your body can’t use the protein from beans unless you eat them with rice.

This is a myth that I once believed in as it pertained to how we would design complementary ingredients when creating new dishes.  Now we know better.  Proteins - which our bodies need to make everything from new muscle to hormones - are made up of different combinations of 20 amino acids. Thing is, our bodies can make only 11 of these amino acids; we must get the other nine from food. Animal-based protein-rich foods like eggs and meat provide all nine of these “essential” amino acids, but nearly all plant foods are low in at least one. Experts used to say that to get what your body needs to make proteins, you needed to pair plant-based foods with complementary sets of amino acids - like rice and beans. Now they know that you don’t have to eat those foods at the same meal. “If you get a variety of foods throughout the day, they all go into the ‘basket’ of amino acids that are available for the body to use,” says Winston J. Craig, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition department chair at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Calories eaten at night are more fattening than those eaten early in the day.

Dr. John Foreyt: “Calories are calories are calories, and it doesn’t matter what time you eat them. What matters are the total calories you take in vs the total amount you burn.” John Foreyt, Ph.D., is the director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.  I think this one is simple common sense, but apparently common sense isn’t so common.

“I have a weight problem because I eat foods like wheat or dairy that my body can’t process.”

This theory is, in fact, “illogical,” says Marc Riedl, M.D., assistant professor of clinical immunology and allergy at UCLA. The inability to “process” foods, he notes, “would mean the foods are not metabolized and calories would not be absorbed.” This would lead to weight loss, not gain, he notes.

“This is an example of how the term ‘food allergy’ has become misused and distorted to be associated with anything unpleasant surrounding eating,” says Riedl. “There is no scientific evidence that a food allergy causes weight gain.” Of course, cutting out whole categories of foods will probably help you lose weight, simply because it takes so many choices off the table.  Again with the common sense.

Radiation from microwaves creates dangerous compounds in your food.

“Radiation” might connote images of nuclear plants, but it simply refers to energy that travels in waves and spreads out as it goes. Microwaves, radio waves and the energy waves that we perceive as visual light all are forms of radiation. So, too, are X-rays and gamma rays—which do pose health concerns. But the microwaves used to cook foods are many, many times weaker than X-rays and gamma rays, says Robert Brackett, Ph.D., director of the National Center for Food Safety and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. And the types of changes that occur in microwaved food as it cooks are “from heat generated inside the food, not the microwaves themselves,” says Brackett. “Microwave cooking is really no different from any other cooking method that applies heat to food.” That said, microwaving in some plastics may leach compounds into your food, so take care to use only microwave-safe containers.

Microwaving zaps nutrients.

This is misguided thinking, says Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Whether you’re using a microwave, a charcoal grill or a solar-heated stove, “it’s the heat and the amount of time you’re cooking that affect nutrient losses, not the cooking method,” she says. “The longer and hotter you cook a food, the more you’ll lose certain heat- and water-sensitive nutrients, especially vitamin C and thiamin (a B vitamin).” Because microwave cooking often cooks foods more quickly, it can actually help to minimize nutrient losses.  

I personally think microwaves get a bad reputation.  They are very handy cooking utensils when used for purposes they are good at.  Don’t try to cook a nice piece of meat in one as the lack of the Maillard Reaction will mean a sever lack of flavor, extraction of moisture leaving it tough and rubbery and a general lack of colour leaving the food beige looking.  Very unappetizing.  

You crave certain foods because you’re deficient in one of the nutrients they provide.

Nope - unless you’re a deer or moose. (In the spring, those animals are attracted to “salt licks”—mineral deposits that supply nutrients they need.) Human food cravings tend to be more about satisfying emotional needs, says Marcia Pelchat, Ph.D., a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “Cravings tend to occur when your diet is restricted or boring, or when you know that you can’t have something,” says Pelchat. “If it’s forbidden, you usually want it more.”

There is one nutrient deficiency that’s clearly associated with cravings in humans: iron. But instead of longing for iron-rich liver or steak, people severely deficient in iron stores tend to crave things like ice cubes, clay or even cement. Researchers don’t know what causes this strange, rare condition, called “pica,” but some suspect that a lack of iron might somehow affect the body’s appetite mechanisms.

It’s important to fast periodically, to cleanse toxins from your body.

Another of my favourites.  I’ve seen friends of mine have serious health problems and even require surgery due to too much juicing and fasting.  This is a big problem in today’s world.

The truth: Your body has its own elegantly designed system for removing toxins - namely, the liver, kidneys and spleen. There isn’t any evidence that not eating - or consuming only juice - for any period of time makes them do this job any better. Source: Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Hopefully I have shed some light on some things you may have been misled on.  I always hope to enlighten people and help to educate them about diet and food choices.  If I can make one person healthier and still feel happy about what they eat, then my work has been a success.  And that is some food for thought!

Published  Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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