Debunking the myths: We separate food fact, from food fiction

Compiled by Francesca Emms

Featured in Capital #78.
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Do carrots help you see in the dark? Does eating crusts makes your hair curl? Are super foods actually a thing?

What we’re told we should and shouldn’t be eating seems to change with the tides. We took some widely held ideas about food and asked academics from Massey University’s School of Exercise, Sport and Nutrition in the College of Health to give it to us straight.

1. Raw veges are healthier than cooked ones

Not always. Studies have shown that certain nutrients can be enhanced by cooking whereas others might be degraded by it. For example, the vitamin C found in most vegetables is water soluble; so cooking, especially in water, will result in a loss of vitamin C. On the other hand, beta-carotene, an important nutrient found in orange vegetables such as carrots, is much more available for absorption from cooked rather than raw vegetables.

Often we cook vegetables because that’s how we like them. Eat both if you can – but regardless of whether they are raw or cooked, eat plenty.

Associate Professor Cath Conlon, School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, Massey University

2. Sourdough bread is gluten free

While the fermentation process involved in the production of wheat-based sourdough bread may decrease its gluten content, sourdough bread isn’t gluten free. Therefore, it is not suitable for those with coeliac disease.

Alice Towgood, NZRD, Professional Clinician, School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition – College of Health, Massey University

3. Yoghurt is good for thrush

Thrush, or candidiasis, is an irritating vulvovaginal fungal infection that often occurs in women following antibiotic use. It is usually treated effectively with an anti-fungal medication, but a commonly recommended alternative treatment is lactobacillus, the bacteria found in milk and yoghurt. Yoghurt can either be applied locally or taken orally, according to various sources. However, there is actually no scientific evidence that yoghurt, regardless of the method of administration, has any impact on the infection. It is possible that the cooling effect of direct application provides some temporary relief.

Dr Pamela von Hurst, Professor of Human Nutrition, Massey University

4. If you swallow chewing gum, it stays in your digestive system for seven years

This is a very old myth, and not at all true. Although chewing gum is designed to be chewed and then spat out, it causes no harm if swallowed. The few nutrients in the gum, such as sugar, are absorbed by the body and the undigested part is egested via the normal process, taking less than one day.

Dr Pamela von Hurst, Professor of Human Nutrition, Massey University

5. MSG is bad for you

There is ongoing controversy about the safety of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the wide range of symptoms, generally referred to as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” Anecdotally reported symptoms are extensive and include weight gain, asthma, rashes, dermatitis, neuropathy, irregular heartbeat, and abdominal discomfort. Much misinformation about the alleged effects of MSG originates from studies using very high doses, often administered by injection (in animals), and not given with food. Research among the general population, using both surveys and rigorous clinical challenges, do not provide evidence of any of the reactions in question when normal doses were used. Much larger doses, especially without food, have been shown to elicit acute responses such as headache, flushing, sweating, and muscle tightness. There is no evidence that MSG as a food additive is carcinogenic, and it is approved by the FDA as generally food safe.

Dr Pamela von Hurst, Professor of Human Nutrition, Massey University


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