I’m used to the shaming look I get from my peers when I crack open a can of sugar-free Red Bull. The questions – and judgment – never end. “That stuff’ll kill you,” someone said to me the other day, shaking his head. “So many chemicals!” was what I heard last week.
Truth be told, Red Bull (at least the sugar-free kind) isn’t all that terrible for you. Besides having only 10 calories and no sugar, it has only 80 milligrams of caffeine, about a third of the amount in a tall Starbucks drip coffee. As far as its other ingredients – namely B vitamins and taurine – go, scientific studies have found both to be safe.
But my favorite source of caffeine isn’t the only harmless food or drink that gets a bad rap. Here are some of the rest, along with the science behind their safety.
The myth: As more and more of your friends go gluten-free, you may be wondering: Is there something to this latest diet craze? Is gluten intolerance a thing? Is it getting more common?
Why it’s bogus: Only about 1% of people worldwide actually have celiac disease, the rare genetic disorder that makes people intolerant to gluten, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. For the rest of us, this doughy, chewy ingredient is simply how it tastes: delicious!
The myth: The massive amounts of cholesterol in eggs will translate to a massive amount of cholesterol in your veins.
Why it’s bogus: Even though eggs are very high in cholesterol (a single egg packs roughly 186mg), eating them will most likely not translate into higher blood cholesterol for you. The first studies that suggested it would were done in rabbits, as my colleague Kevin Loria reported, and as we all know, rabbits are not people. So go ahead, pop a perfectly poached egg on that avocado toast. You know you want to.
The myth: Caffeine stunts your growth and messes with your health.
Why it’s bogus: According the the Mayo Clinic, the average adult can safely consume up to 400mg of caffeine each day. Most standard cups of coffee contain somewhere between 90 to 120 mg. So as long as you’re limiting yourself to under 4 cups of Joe a day, you should be relatively in the clear. Still, some java packs more of a punch than others. A single 12-ounce “tall” cup of Starbucks drip, for example, has about 260 mg of caffeine – putting you well over the daily dose after just 2 cups.
The myth: Fizzy water is all the rage these days, showing up in grocery store isles in flavors ranging from coconut to watermelon. But many people worry the bubbles cause kidney stones, leach calcium from your bones, and even strip the enamel from your teeth.
Why it’s bogus: The bubbly stuff is just as good for you as plain old water, Jennifer McDaniel, a registered dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics, told my colleague Dina Spector.
“Carbonated or sparkling water is made by dissolving carbon dioxide in water, creating carbonic acid. This process just adds bubbles – it does not add sugar, calories, or caffeine. Tonic water, club soda, and mineral water are all types of carbonated water, but these have added sodium, vitamins, or sweeteners, so it’s important to read the label,” Spector writes.
Myth: Fatty foods like avocados and olive oil will make you fat.
Why it’s bogus: Although it makes intuitive sense, this myth is not borne out by the scientific research. A recent look at the studies behind the dietary guidelines that suggested we cut back on fat found that there wasn’t evidence to support those rules in the first place. In the book “Eat Fat: Get Thin,” Dr. Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, talks about how he Incorporated healthy fats from foods like fish and nuts into his diet to lose weight.
Why it’s bogus: We tracked down the actual study that appears to lie at the root of these nonsensical claims, and it found no such thing. In actuality, several University of Michigan researchers asked people to report which foods on a list they had the hardest time cutting out or eating moderately. Cheese ranked toward the middle. Nevertheless, since pizza (a very cheesy food) ranked highly on both lists, people speculated that cheese was the culprit, going as far to suggest something about the way one of its proteins breaks down in the body is addictive. There’s little to no evidence to back this up.
Myth: Artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Equal have been found to give you cancer.
Why it’s bogus: The Food and Drug Administration has evaluated hundreds of studies on sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet N’ Low) and more. So far, it has deemed all of them safe. That said, some preliminary research suggests artificial sweeteners may not satisfy your craving for sweets, and therefore may not be effective at curbing your overall sugar intake.
The myth: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cause cancer and wreak havoc on the environment.
Why it’s bogus: GMO crops, which have been around since the 1980s, have been studied at length, and a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that they aren’t posing any greater risk to the environment than regular crops. It also found “no evidence” that they “are less safe to eat than conventional food,” my colleague Lydia Ramsey reported.
The myth: Salt will cause heart problems and weight gain.
Why it’s bogus: The science on whether or not eating salt in moderation has a net negative or net positive effect on our health remains somewhat unclear. However, a 2011 meta-analysis of 7 studies involving more than 6,000 people published in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that reducing salt brought down their risk of heart attacks, strokes, or death – even in those who had high blood pressure.
“If the US does conquer salt, what will we gain? Bland french fries, for sure. But a healthy nation? Not necessarily,” wrote Melinda Wenner Moyer for Scientific American.
The myth: Carbohydrates including rice, bread, cereal, and potatoes contribute to weight gain.
Why it’s bogus: While it’s true that limiting your intake of white, processed carbs like white bread, white rice, and white pasta is a good idea, not all carbs are bad for you. Some of them are healthy and a great source of energy. Take potatoes, for example. “White potatoes are actually very good for you,” Christian Henderson, a registered dietitian, told Health. Potatoes pack everything from potassium to vitamin C and they have almost 4 grams of fiber – just cook them with the skins on!
Myth: Fish is high in mercury and will make you sick.
Why it’s bogus: While mercury can build up in large, long-lived predator fish like marlin and shark, it’s not generally a big problem in smaller fish. If you’re still concerned, the FDA maintains a helpful list of guidelines for mercury in seafood. Salmon, trout, oysters, herring, sardines, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel are all considered “good” or “best” choices, according to the agency.