10 Urban Food Myths

Monday, May 23, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Joe Wilkes

There have always been rumors about food. Remember the one about the Kentucky Fried rat or Mikey, the kid from the Life® cereal commercials, who allegedly expired after washing down his Pop Rocks® with Coca-Cola®? These, like so many, turned out to be apocryphal, but in the age of the Internet, it seems like there's always some story making the rounds about a grocery item that will poison you or a food that will miraculously cure what ails you. Here are some myths we were able to dismiss.

  1. Eating carrots improves night vision. This rumor was apparently started by the British during World War II, after a new British radar device began greatly assisting in the shooting down of German bombers at night. Not wanting to alert the Germans of the new technology, the government spread a disinformation campaign about how the British pilots' love of carrots was the cause of their keen night vision. It spread like wildfire, and it has become a staple in parents' arsenals for getting kids to eat their veggies. Carrots are generally good for your eyes, though—studies are beginning to show a link between increased consumption of beta-carotene (carrots are loaded with it) and a decrease in macular degeneration.
  2. Turkey makes you sleepy. It's true that turkey contains tryptophan, the amino acid credited for the poultry's alleged soporific effects, but beef, chicken, meat, milk, and beans also contain tryptophan, and they don't seem to make you pass out on the couch after dinner. Turkey's bad rap probably comes from the famous post-Thanksgiving food coma, which is most likely induced by consuming not trace amounts of an amino acid, but vast quantities of carbohydrates, like potatoes and stuffing. Washing them down with a couple of glasses of wine probably doesn't hurt, either.
  3. Caesar salad was created by or for Julius Caesar. Actually, despite what they might tell you at the Olive Garden®, the Caesar salad is not Italian food. It was created in Tijuana, Mexico, less than a hundred years ago by restaurant owner Caesar Cardini, not in ancient Rome. The recipe includes romaine lettuce, olive oil, garlic, coddled eggs, and Parmesan cheese, among other ingredients, but the original recipe does not contain anchovies—another myth debunked!
  4. Combining Mentos® and Diet Coke® will make your stomach explode. As any YouTube® connoisseur can attest to, dropping a Mentos candy into a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke can create an effect that will give the fountains at the Bellagio a run for their money. However, despite rumors of Brazilian youths dying of burst abdomens, this myth seems to be another of the endless variations on Mikey and the Pop Rocks. There seems to be little evidence that eating any combination of anything generally considered edible will make you explode. (Although that Chinese food I had for dinner came pretty close around midnight.)
  5. Beware of flesh-eating bananas! Many well-intentioned people forwarded around an email not too long ago asserting that the FDA was covering up the fact that thousands of bananas bearing germs that cause necrotizing fasciitis (aka "flesh-eating bacteria") had entered the country. This turned out not to be true. A reverse rumor, that humans were killing bananas, has also circulated. This one says that due to varying explanations, like climate change or genetic modification, bananas will be extinct in less than a decade. This is also false. So eat your bananas. They're full of potassium, they won't make your skin fall off, and there are plenty more where they came from.
  6. McDonald's® uses kangaroo meat in their burgers. This is one that's been around since I was a kid, and common sense can answer it. While some people wouldn't put it past the Golden Arches® to put anything in their food, kangaroo meat seems an unlikely beef substitute, because it costs much more per pound than beef does. Actually, adventurous eaters might consider adding 'roo meat to their diet, as it has more protein and only about half the fat of beef.
  7. Chocolate milk is tainted with cow's blood. This is a popular playground myth that milk too contaminated with blood to sell as plain white milk is colored brown, flavored, and sold as chocolate milk. Chocolate milk and all dairy products go through the same rigorous FDA testing process that regular moo juice does. However, the added sugar isn't doing you any favors.
  8. Aspartame causes multiple sclerosis and lupus. Aspartame, often branded as NutraSweet®, has been rumored to cause many serious diseases. While we consider the jury to be out on whether aspartame is completely safe, there have been no reputable scientific studies linking the sweetener to MS, lupus, cancer, or any other life-threatening illnesses. However, since aspartame still hasn't been on the market long enough for definitive long-term studies to have concluded, it's best to use moderation.
  9. Canola oil is toxic. It's been rumored that canola oil contains the same toxins found in mustard gas. Canola oil is made from oil pressed from the seeds of the rape plant, a member of the mustard family. There's actually no such plant as the canola, but it's easy to see the marketing problems that would result in calling it "rape oil." This may have been one of the reasons scurrilous rumors have circulated about this noble oil, which is perfectly safe and rich in monounsaturated fat (a beneficial fat also found in olive oil and avocados). As for the mustard gas claim, while it's true that canola oil is made from mustard plants, mustard gas is not. It's called that because of its acrid smell, not its ingredient list.
  10. Red Bull® causes brain tumors. Because Red Bull is a favorite beverage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, it's easy to make a case for this rumor based on anecdotal evidence, but there is actually nothing in Red Bull that has been linked to brain tumors. The beverage has been banned in some European countries because of its high caffeine content (an 8.3-fluid-ounce can has 76.5 milligrams of caffeine, or about 80 percent of the caffeine present in an 8-ounce cup of traditionally brewed coffee), but aside from the typical health concerns regarding any sugary caffeinated beverage, Red Bull appears safe. Claims that it will "give you wings®" seem unfounded, however, and when mixed with vodka, it reportedly makes underpants disappear.