Columns

Food myths

by: Chef Tim Tibbits

Food For Thought


The world is full of myths. The food world is no exception. As science and technology offer us new facts and research data, we systematically abandon myth.  The world, at one point, was believed to be flat and that sailors risked falling off the edge if they sailed too far.  As silly as that sounds now, then it was believed to be the truth..  As technology progresses, so does our ability to understand food science. 

Here are some food myths that have been scientifically proven to be false:

1. “Eggs are bad for your heart.”

Eggs do contain a substantial amount of cholesterol in their yolks—about 211 milligrams (mg) per large egg. And yes, cholesterol is the fatty stuff in our blood that contributes to clogged arteries and heart attacks. But labeling eggs as “bad for your heart” is connecting the wrong dots, experts say. “Epidemiologic studies show that most healthy people can eat an egg a day without problems,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University.

How? For most of us the cholesterol we eat—in eggs or any other food—doesn’t have a huge impact on raising our blood cholesterol; the body simply compensates by manufacturing less cholesterol itself. The chief heart-disease culprits are “saturated and trans fats, which have much greater impact on raising blood cholesterol,” notes Kris-Etherton. Seen through that lens, eggs look more benign: a large egg contains 2 grams of saturated fat (10 percent of the Daily Value) and no trans fats.

2. “High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is worse for you than sugar.”

Though consumers who fill their shopping carts with products labeled “No HFCS” might feel otherwise, the idea that high-fructose corn syrup is any more harmful to your health than sugar is “one of those urban myths that sounds right but is basically wrong,” according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based nutrition and health advocacy group. 

High-fructose corn syrup was created to mimic sucrose (table sugar), so its composition is almost identical to sucrose’s (55% fructose, 45% glucose; with sucrose the ratio is 50:50). Calorie-wise, it’s a dead ringer for sucrose. And in studies that compare the effects of HFCS with other sweeteners, HFCS and sucrose have very similar effects on blood levels of insulin, glucose, triglycerides and satiety hormones. In short, it seems to be no worse—but also no better—than sucrose, or table sugar. “The debate about HFCS and sucrose [table sugar] is taking the focus off the more important question,” says Kimber Stanhope, Ph.D., R.D., a researcher at the University of California, Davis, who has studied the sweetener extensively. “What we should be asking is ‘What are the effects of all sugars (HFCS and sucrose) in the diet?’”

3. “Carbohydrates make you fat.”

Contrary to the theories of the low-carb/no carb manifesto, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, first published in 1972 (and the similar books that followed), there’s nothing inherently fattening about carbohydrates, says Jean Harvey-Berino, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the department of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Vermont and co-author of The EatingWell Diet (Countryman, 2007). “It’s eating too many calories, period, that makes you fat.”

There’s no question that loading up on sugary and refined-carbohydrate-rich foods, such as white bread, pasta and doughnuts, can raise your risk of developing health problems like heart disease and diabetes. But if you cut out so-called “good-carb” foods, such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, you’re missing out on your body’s main source of fuel as well as vital nutrients and fiber. What’s more, for many people, a low-carb diet may be harder to stick with in the long run.

4. “A raw-food diet provides enzymes that are essential to healthy digestion.” 

“Raw foods are unprocessed so nothing’s taken away; you don’t get the nutrient losses that come with cooking,” says Brenda Davis, R.D., co-author of Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets (Book Publishing, 2010). But the claim by some raw-food advocates that eating raw boosts digestion by preserving “vital” plant enzymes, Davis explains, just doesn’t hold water. “Those enzymes are made for the survival of plants; for human health, they are not essential.” 

It’s true that heating a food above 118°F inactivates plant enzymes, “since enzymes are proteins and proteins denature [break down] with heat,” explains Andrea Giancoli, R.D., a Los Angeles-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “But those enzymes are denatured—and thus inactivated—when they reach our stomachs. Our stomach acids are designed to break down proteins very efficiently.” If associated with living micro¬organisms (such as those in fermented foods like sauerkraut), plant enzymes might reach the small intestine intact, adds Davis, “but their overall contribution to human digestion appears minimal.” 

What about the claim by some raw-foodistas that our bodies have a limited lifetime supply of enzymes—and that by eating more foods with their enzymes intact, we’ll be able to spare our bodies from using up their supply? “The reality is that you don’t really have a finite number of enzymes; you’ll continue to make enzymes as long as you live,” says Davis. Enzymes are so vital to life, she adds, “the human body is actually quite efficient at producing them.” 

5. “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.

6. “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.

7. “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. 

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

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

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

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. 

As we rely on technology to prove myths wrong and help us to live a better life through what we eat, we can also rely on technology to enhance what we have chosen to eat.  This coming Monday, February 10, be sure to join us for our Educational Series’ interactive cooking demo on some of the modernist techniques we use at Flying Fish to enhance our food and dining experience.  Because, there is much more to food than cooking and eating!  

If you would like any information on this topic or to make reservations call us at 242.373.4363 or email chef@flyingfishbahamas.com

Published Friday, February 5, 2014

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