Most of our childhoods were permeated with food-related fibs we were told by our parents.
As we’ve grown older, we’ve wised up and seen the truth – no, eating your crusts won’t actually make your hair curly. We might feel smug about this, but we’re not exactly in the clear. In fact, there’s a whole host of food myths we still cling onto. Why else would so many of us avoid cheese before bed?
Well, it’s high time we put these old wives’ tales under the microscope. We took a closer look at the ‘facts’ behind some common food and drink myths, and here’s what we learned…
Tapping on a can before opening means it won’t fizz over
When handed a can of beer or a fizzy drink, for most of us, it’s habit to give it a tap before cracking it open. It might be satisfying to do, but it probably won’t stop an explosion if you’ve dropped your soda.
Carbonated drinks contain carbon-dioxide that is pressurised to hold it in the can. The bubbles when you open the can are the pressure releasing and the gas escaping. When the can is shaken, more liquid blocks the path of the escaping gas, and so more of your drink spurts out. So really, your best bet is to open the can as slowly and carefully as possible – tapping won’t change much.
Back in 2007, Chowhound.com reported representatives from both Coca-Cola and Pepsi as saying they didn’t think tapping would make any difference. Even worse, Chowhound then spoke to Karl J Siebert, a biochemistry professor and foam expert at Cornell University’s Food Science & Technology Department, who said: “If you were tapping rigorously enough to dislodge bubbles from the bottom and the side, you risk creating more bubbles.”
It might be a nice ritual before settling into your drink, but it could actually make the fizzing situation worse instead of better.
Eating cheese before bed will give you nightmares
Although this is one of the most common food myths around, very little research has been done into the matter. One of the biggest studies (back in 2005) was done by none other than the British Cheese Board, which perhaps unsurprisingly found none of the volunteers had any nightmares whatsoever after eating cheese late in the evening. Instead, they had different types of dreams depending on what type of cheese they ate. This study should be taken with a pinch of salt (or Parmesan) – it only included a small amount of people, plus there was no control group to match results against.
One thing we do know is that if you have a big chunk of Cheddar before going to sleep, you’re more likely to remember your dreams the next day. This is because your sleep is more likely to be disturbed as your body digests the dairy, waking you up in the middle of your REM cycle. However, this isn’t specifically as a result of the cheese and can be applied to eating any kind of food right before bed – and it doesn’t necessarily mean these dreams will be nightmares.
Eating carrots will improve your eyesight
This particular myth was pushed by the UK government during World War Two in a bid to get people to eat local veg, so they could ‘see better in blackouts’. But did it actually work?
Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to see in the dark after a few bowls of carrot and coriander soup. However, carrots can help your overall vision and eye health because they’re rich in beta-carotene, which in turn boosts vitamin A, which is essential for eye health (serious deficiencies in this it can even lead to blindness).
The bottom line? If you want to keep your vision in tip-top shape, carrots may help. However, it’s worth noting they can’t fix any problems in your eyes, nor are they the only source of vitamin A – you can also easily get it in veg like spinach and sweet potatoes too.
It will take years to digest chewing gum if you swallow it
Seven years is often the number we’re given for how long it will take for swallowed gum to pass through your system. Luckily, it really won’t take that long – although we’re not advocating gulping down your gum any time soon.
It’s true that the base of gum, a synthetic polymer, is indigestible – but that doesn’t mean it sits in the bottom of your stomach for ages. Instead, the sugars are absorbed by your small intestine, and then the synthetic base passes through your body and leaves with your bowel movements. This shouldn’t take more than seven days, let alone seven years.
You shouldn’t be too worried if you do accidentally swallow a piece, but don’t make a habit of it – a build up of gum could cause painful blockages in your system.
Drinking coffee will stunt your growth
When you were a child or teen, your parents probably didn’t let you drink much coffee, threatening it would stop you growing. This was allegedly due to the caffeine in the drink, which was thought to impact bone health.
This isn’t quite true. Various studies have been done into the subject, and have found that caffeine has no significant impact on a young person’s bone mineral density, which means it’s unlikely to stop you growing to your full height. Not only this, but if you take your coffee with milk, the calcium in it can contribute towards improved bone health.
Who knows, maybe your parents just couldn’t be bothered to brew an extra cup when you were growing up? Although, kids and caffeine aren’t a sensible mix.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away
There’s no denying that apples are good for you. They’re high in fibre, have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and contain polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. These are just some of the benefits, but are they really needed every day to keep you healthy?
Well, no. If you ate an apple every day, but the rest of your diet was full of junk food, you won’t magically be spared a trip to the doctors. And even though the fruit is full of good stuff, it’s hardly like you can’t find these benefits in other foods.
As a phrase, it’s a good way to remind you to eat more fruit and get a bit more goodness into your life, but it’s not a ‘rule’ you really need to live by.