Monday was April Fool's Day and you might have fallen prey to a few practical jokes. Considering my gullible nature, I am usually on the receiving end of these annual pranks.
Each year I try to turn the tables and come up with clever ways to fool a few of my friends, but typically fail since I can never be sneaky without being obvious.
So when it comes to truth versus fiction in food, what do you believe? How many popular food myths do you take as fact?
I did some research on some of the most prevalent misconceptions in food, cooking and nutrition and was surprised by a few of the facts I discovered. All fooling aside, each of the following statements is false.
If you're craving a certain food you are lacking in the nutrients it contains: I heard this one often as a child. But actually when we think about what we crave it's probably not something our body needs. It's simply something we want to eat – cookies, Mexican food, chips, French fries, cheese.
Research shows that human food cravings tend to be more about satisfying emotional needs. However, one nutrient deficiency that's associated with cravings in humans is iron. But instead of wanting an iron-rich steak, people severely deficient in iron crave things like ice cubes.
Anyone can benefit from a gluten-free diet: With all of the gluten-free products in the grocery stores, gluten-free menu items and general buzz over all things gluten-free, it's easy to think the benefits can stretch beyond the people they are intended for – those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.
"If you don't have a medical reason for following a gluten-free diet, there's probably no benefit," says Tricia Thompson, R.D. and founder of glutenfreedietitian.com.
"When people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance go gluten-free they do feel better and more energetic," Thompson said, "but that's only because they were feeling so sick before. Those without a medical need to avoid gluten shouldn't expect such results."
It is also advised that if you suspect you have trouble with gluten, you should not self-diagnose.
If food falls on the floor and you pick it up within five seconds it is safe to eat: Sometimes you can get lucky, but generally it's not advised. Considering how dirty the floor is and where our feet have been, it's probably not a good idea to eat something that has fallen on the floor.
Research has also shown that foods that were high in moisture picked up bacteria instantly upon contact with the surface.
Low-fat foods are better for you: As a general statement this is not true. Processed foods that are labeled low-fat usually have added sugar and sodium to compensate for the flavor the product looses when the fat is taken out.
Chocolate causes acne: An extensive review in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that diet plays no role in acne treatment and studies have shown that large amounts of chocolate have not made individuals acne cases worse.
Eggs are bad for your heart: An egg contains 211 milligrams of cholesterol and cholesterol is the substance in our blood that contributes to clogged arteries and heart attacks. But labeling eggs as bad for your heart is a correlation that experts say is untrue.
"Studies show that most healthy people can eat an egg a day without problems," says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State University.
Research has shown that the cholesterol we eat—in eggs or any other food—doesn't have a huge impact on raising our blood cholesterol. The body compensates by manufacturing less cholesterol of its own. Instead, discoveries have been made that the primary culprits in heart disease are saturated and trans fats.
The advised limit on cholesterol is less than 300 milligrams a day, and less than 200 milligrams if you have a history of heart problems or diabetes or are a woman over the age of 55 or a man over the age of 45.
Fresh produce is always better than frozen produce: Fresh produce is often picked before its peak of ripeness so it can be shipped with minimal damage and arrive at its peak of ripeness. Because of early picking and over-ripening or damage that occurs during transport, some nutrients may diminish.
Frozen produce is generally picked at its peak of ripeness and frozen immediately. Typically it is blanched for sterilization before freezing. Certain water-soluble vitamins can be partially lost during this process but they tend to keep the majority of their nutrition value.
In 1998, the Federal Drug Administration published a report on the nutrition difference between fresh and frozen produce. They found that there is no difference in nutrition between fresh produce and frozen produce. Because of the nutrients that are lost in the transport of fresh produce, as well as the nutrients lost during the blanching processes of frozen food, the nutrient profiles of each are relatively the same.
Searing meat seals in the juices: Searing improves flavor, but does nothing for the moisture of the meat. In actuality, many studies have shown a slight decrease in moisture content in meat that was seared.
Searing is based on browning the surface of the meat or in culinary terms – the Maillard reaction. This reaction takes place rapidly when the proteins in meat are heated to around 300 degrees and cause the surface to brown. It improves texture and flavor, but is of no consequence to moisture or subsequent juiciness.
Calories eaten at night are more fattening than those in the day: Research has shown that calories are calories no matter what time of day they are consumed. It's about sticking to the recommended intake of calories as to whether or not weight is gained. Consuming high calorie food or excess calories – morning or at night – has the same result.