10 Urban Food Myths
By Joe Wilkes
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There have always been rumors spread 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 a Coca-Cola? These, like so many, turned out to be apocryphal, but now 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
- 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 beta-carotene (carrots are loaded
with it) consumption and a decrease in macular degeneration.
- 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 likely not induced by trace amounts of an amino acid but more
likely induced by consuming vast quantities of carbohydrates, like potatoes and
stuffing, washed down with a couple of glasses of wine.
- 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 by Caesar Cardini, a
restaurant owner in Tijuana, Mexico, less than a hundred years ago, 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 anchoviesâanother myth debunked!
- Mentos and Coca-Cola, combined, 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.)
- Beware of flesh-eating bananas!
There was an email forwarded by many well-intentioned people not too long ago
that asserted that the FDA was covering up the fact that several thousand
bananas covered in germs causing necrotizing fasciitis (the flesh-eating
disease) 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, such as 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, won't make your skin
fall off, and there are plenty more where they came from.
uses kangaroo meat in their burgers. This is one
that's been around since I was a kid. Common sense can answer this one. While
we wouldn't put it past the Golden Arches to put anything in their food,
kangaroo meat seems an unlikely beef substitute as it costs much more per pound
than actual beef. Although, adventurous eaters might consider adding 'roo meat
to their diet, as it has more protein and about half the fat of
- 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.
- 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, it still can't claim
to be totally healthy.
- 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 is 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, the best fat,
also found in olive oil and avocados. As for the mustard gas claim, while it is
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
Bull causes brain tumors. As a favorite beverage of
Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, it's easy to make a case based on anecdotal
evidence, but there is actually nothing in Red Bull that has been linked to
brain tumors. It has been banned in some European countries because of its high
caffeine content (a can has about as much as a cup of 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
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