Common Food and Health Myths, Busted

Health Writer
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Call them old wives’ tales or “mom knows best” tidbits — there are so many pieces of food and health advice that have gained notoriety over the years. Some are embraced as vetted health doctrines — but they may not be based on science or research. Let’s find the truth about just a few.

Always take vitamin E with food

Fact: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin (like vitamins A, D, and K) which means it requires a bit of fat in order to have maximal absorption. As most meals contain some fat, popping this vitamin during a meal is your best bet. Some experts also suggest a gap of 10 to 15 minutes after coffee (caffeine) before taking your other vitamins.


Nut milks are better than dairy-based milk

Myth: Many nut milks lack calcium and vitamin D, are sweetened, and have low protein profiles. Cow’s milk also has more protein than most other milks (rice, coconut). If you are looking for dairy-free milk with a similar nutrition profile to cow’s milk, then look at some of the fortified soy milks, and a milk made from pea protein.

A regular fish habit is a surefire way to improve cognition

Fact, but: A serving of fish the night before an exam won’t guarantee a top score. Making fish and fish oil supplements a regular part of your diet has been shown to support optimal cognition. Choose oily fishes: sardines, salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and herring and nix the fried options. Most experts support taking a daily fish oil supplement.

Dairy products, chocolate, and fried foods make acne worse

Myth, except for one: Currently there are still no studies to suggest this acne-prevention advice. Experts suggest that refined sugars may be a culprit (they increase inflammation). Hormone imbalances, excess oil production (which clogs follicles), and bacteria are the main culprits. Non-organic dairy foods may contain growth hormones, which could nudge acne risk.

Alcohol, spicy foods, and stress can all cause ulcers

Myth: Peptic ulcers are caused by long-term use of NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen) the bacteria H. pylori, or in rare cases cancerous and non-cancerous tumors can cause an ulcer. Eating spicy foods, especially at night, and stress, can exacerbate discomfort, but will not cause the ulcers. Limit alcohol and stop smoking to also limit risk and symptoms.

Going out in the winter with a wet head = catching a cold

Myth until recently, but may be fact: Recent research suggests that the rhinoviruses, most commonly associated with causing the common cold, may better reproduce at temperatures just below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (our normal body temperature). A wet head, in cold weather, may lower body temperature and let that virus “rip.” Keep your head warm!

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Sort of: It’s clear that the more servings of fruits and vegetables you eat, the greater exposure you have to vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Ten servings daily is the new goal. Having TWO apples daily is associated with better heart health and has been shown to limit cancer risk. Apples rank among the highest fruit when it comes to antioxidants.

Always take probiotics with a course of antibiotics

Fact: Gut microbe balance is important for your health, and antibiotics kill off the “culprit” bacteria, and beneficial gut bacteria. Start probiotics on day one of the antibiotic course of treatment and continue for two weeks after the last antibiotic dose. If you eat a refined diet, you would likely benefit from taking a regular daily probiotic.

A daily carrot habit improves vision

Not really: Foods rich in vitamin A, like carrots, can support eye health and healthy vision, but will not change your vision. Foods high in vitamin A include: sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, sweet red peppers, mangoes, black eyed peas, apricots, and broccoli. Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the U.S. but too much can impair health.