7 Common Food Myths, Debunked
By Jeremy Glass
If you spend a lot of time scrolling through social media, you’ve probably grown used to the posts and stories touting the miraculous benefits or hidden dangers of various foods. While most of these claims are often overblown and downright false, there are still those somewhat harmless food myths that have been drilled into our heads for so long that we don’t even realize they’re fake. Here are seven of the most enduring myths.
1. The Myth: All animal fat is bad for you.
One of the big takeaways from the 1990s was that fat—in any form—was bad for you. While eating anything in excess is not recommended by anyone, occasionally indulging in some animal fats can be good for you.
“Especially duck fat,” Ariane Daguin, CEO of D’Artagnan and founder of the Farm to Table Movement, tells Mental Floss in an email. “Duck fat contains plenty of polyunsaturated acids ... [which] is why we think people of Gascony, South West France, have less incidence of coronary diseases and live longer than the rest of the French population. Additionally, it has been proven that our brain needs animal fat to develop properly.”
2. The Myth: There are horse hooves in Jell-O.
Whether you heard this food myth on the playground or the evening news, the fact is there are zero horse hooves in Jell-O. However, this doesn’t make the delicious and gelatinous treat vegan. The main component in Jell-O is derived from collagen, which is indeed made of animals. Commercial-grade gelatin is actually made from the heated, cured, and acid-treated bones, skins, and hides of cows and pigs. This multi-week process eventually procures an almost completely pure protein.
3. The Myth: Eggs will raise your cholesterol.
Eggs have taken a beating over the years. But a 2018 study in the journal Nutrients found that the cholesterol in eggs isn't well-absorbed and “does not acutely influence plasma total-cholesterol concentration.”
4. The Myth: All livestock is bad for the environment.
The truth is this: Well-managed livestock paired with regenerative agriculture (an approach to farming that focuses on topsoil regeneration) can be good for the environment. Factory farms that don’t follow food safety laws are, indeed, bad for everyone, but that doesn’t mean all livestock is entirely detrimental to the environment. According to Daguin, removing farm animals from our food system could actually cause more harm than good. “We can increase biodiversity, improve soil health, increase the water holding capacity of the land and raise high quality, nutrient-dense protein while preserving family farming communities,” she says.
5. The Myth: You should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
While we still don’t know the exact origins of this antiquated myth (some say the 1945 U.S. Food and Nutrition Board [PDF]), the amount of scientific evidence supporting the theory that adults need 64 ounces of water per day is lacking. The actual number varies for women and men, with the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimating a number closer to 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of water per day for women. This is actually more than eight 8-ounce glasses each day, though some doctors are skeptical of these numbers
6. The Myth: A recipe needs to be followed precisely.
Some recipes should be viewed as more of a jumping-off point than a roadmap. “A recipe is a way for the cook to get inspired,” Daguin says. “The more you substitute ingredients, or add your favorite ones yet keep the dish in the spirit of the original recipe, the more you will be comfortable with doing your own thing.” For new home chefs still not comfortable in front of an oven, substituting minor ingredients (within reason) can impart the kind of confidence needed to make a dish unique and delicious … pending you don’t switch out salt for baking soda or anything weird like that.
7. The Myth: Twinkies last forever.
It was The Simpsons’s Apu Nahasapeemapetilon who once exclaimed “silly customer, you cannot hurt a Twinkie.” Alas, Twinkies are not immortal—but they do last a lot longer than most home-baked treats. Because these delightful little snacks are packed full of ingredients like monoglycerides, diglycerides, and sodium stearoyl lactylate, Twinkies are shelf-stable for about 45 days. Be warned, though, they can grow some pretty gnarly fungus.