Food myths busted

Heres an interesting article

Do crusts make your hair curly? Does spinach make you strong? And will eating fish make you smarter? The experts look at the origins of some popular food myths.

* Spinach makes you strong

Nutritionist Catherine Saxelby, who has written nine books about food, blames Popeye the Sailor for this common misconception.

“Popeye used to swallow a can of spinach and his muscles would suddenly get big,” she recalls.

While spinach is high in iron, it is not very well absorbed.

Your best bet for big muscles is red meat, Saxelby says.

The reason the 1930s comic strip hero popped a can of spinach when he needed to bulk up was because of a misprint in a study on the leafy vegetable.

According to reports, an early study stated spinach had ten times the amount of iron than it actually did.

The error wasn’t widely known until it was uncovered by the British Medical Journal in 1981.

But for Saxelby one big question remains: “Why didn’t he have fresh spinach? Maybe it wasn’t as portable.”

* Eating fish make you brainy

Saxelby says the jury is out about this one, but recent research suggests it has some truth.

A Swedish study of almost 4000 15-year-old boys published last month found those who ate fish once a week had higher cognitive skills by the time they turned 18.

A weekly intake of fish increased a range of intelligence scores by an average of 6 per cent, according to the report in the journal Acta Paediatrica.

And tucking into fish more than once a week increased scores by about 11 per cent.

“For the time being it appears that including fish in a diet can make a valuable contribution to cognitive performance in male teenagers” the study’s author, Maria Aberg said.

Saxelby says the omega 3 fatty acids in fish are important for the development of cognition, concentration and memory in unborn and newborn babies.

“(But) Does it make you smarter than you would’ve been?. . . Does it make a kid go from average to super smart? I don’t know because there’s a lot more things come into it,” she says.

* Chocolate gives you pimples

Chocolate on it’s own will not make you break out in zits, but all the other stuff in your candy bars will, Melbourne dermatologist George Varigos says.

Dr Varigos, the head of dermatology at Royal Melbourne Hospital, conducted a study with researchers at RMIT university that involved lip injections however they revealed a link between diet and pimples.

“Your grandmother was partly right. . . (but) it does depend on the type of chocolate bar, so you have to be cautious,” he says.

“It’s not the chocolate bar that is fatty and hard, but it’s the chocolate candy (inside) that’s soft and juicy with sugar (that makes you break out).”

The study, involving about 75 boys aged 16 to 25, revealed High GI food fuels a peak in insulin, causing zits.

* Red wine good for your heart

Red wine is packed with antioxidants that are good for your heart, Saxelby says.

She says alcohol in all its forms has some health benefits in moderation, but red wine “has the edge”.

“It has a much higher concentration of antioxidants from the grapes.

“They keep your blood free-flowing. . . around your body, they stop it clotting and clumping. . . (and) open up the blood vessels.”

She also says red wine drinkers are more likely to have “a healthier lifestyle” than people who imbibe other types of alcohol.

But the Australian Heart Foundation (AHF) recommends getting the good stuff directly from fruit and vegies.

The AHF says over-indulgence can mean the alcoholic content of red wine cancels out any benefits.

“It is reported that drinking only a small amount. . . will provide the health benefit from alcohol,” the foundation’s nutrition manager Barbara Eden says.

* Crusts make your hair curly?

Both nutritionists like Saxelby and hairdressers like celebrity stylist Joh Bailey agree on this one, saying it’s a myth invented to get kids to eat their crusts.

Saxelby says children don’t like chewing, which is why many kids have a tendency to nibble around the crusts.

Bailey thinks the tale originated in the 1930s and 40s when it was “desirable” for girls to have curls.

“People used to set their hair and do all sorts of things to make their hair curly. . . and it was kind of torturous. . . and uncomfortable and not pleasant,” he said from his salon in Sydney’s Double Bay.

“I think it was a mother’s way of saying, if you eat your crusts you won’t have to be tortured into having your hair curled.

“There is no foundation to the fact that flour, particularly the part closer to the oven than the part in the middle, could possibly make your hair curl.”

* Carrots make you see in the dark

“Theoretically this is true”, Saxelby says.

Carrots are rich in betacaritine, better known as vitamin A, which is good for vision, in particular night vision, she says.

“That (is the) vision you get when you walk into a dark room and at first you can’t see something and then gradually objects come into view.

“So yes, carrots are meant to be very good for your eyes.”

But retina expert Dr Paul Beaumont describes this as a “complete fabrication”.

But Dr Beaumont, who has been studying human retinas since 1976, said the carrot theory evolved in World War 2.

“When the English. . . were flying at night they used radar but the Germans didn’t know that radar existed,” Dr Beaumont told AAP from his Sydney clinic.

“The English certainly didn’t want them to know so they put out a myth saying they were feeding their pilots carrots to improve their night vision and that’s why they could fly and see things at night.

“I think that is the greatest food myth”.

* An apple a day keeps the doctor away?

Eating apples will not keep you out of the doctor’s surgery, nor is the fruit any better than an orange, Saxelby says.

She says she suspects the apple is a convenient symbol for all fresh fruit and vegetables.

“You see apples used so many times to convey something healthy. . . so I think an apple is just a visual symbol of all things fresh and good,” she says.

“I don’t think apples on their own are anything more superior than oranges or mandarins.”

Saxelby says this line harks back to biblical times when Adam and Eve munched on the apple in the Garden of Eden.

In her opinion, berries and citrus fruits are much more nutritious.

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