Considering how much we humans love shoveling food into our mouths (over the sink, late at night, struggling to see through the tears), you'd think we had a good grasp on what it is we're eating and what it does to our bodies. However, as it turns out, most of the things you probably believe about your favorite foods are about as scientifically accurate as Timecop. To wit ...
Thanksgiving is the official holiday of three things: football, genocide, and naps. You're already tuckered out after a long day of making hand turkeys and fighting with your uncle about what the word "socialist" means, and then you load yourself up with a competitive eater's portion of hot, steamy bird meat. Your fragile body is no match for the turkey's almighty tryptophan, a sedative so powerful that they could probably use it in the blow darts they use to tag wild animals. You wind up falling asleep before halftime of the Detroit Lions game.
National Football League
Which, to be fair, is the body's natural defense mechanism when confronted with Detroit Lions football.
But Actually ...
According to nutritionists, food science researchers, and people who aren't your grandparents, turkey and warm milk are not sedatives. It's true that turkey has tryptophan (an amino acid that eventually becomes serotonin and melatonin, neurochemicals which do play a role in getting your brain to fall asleep). However, turkey doesn't contain enough tryptophan to have any noticeable effect on your state of consciousness. In fact, it has exactly as much tryptophan as plenty of other dairy, nut, and meat products do (cheddar cheese has more).
The main reason you pass out on the couch after the last round of pumpkin pie is the fact that you ate (on average) 4,500 calories, like a goddamned marauding Visigoth. You're passing out because your body is working overtime struggling to digest all the meat and bread you crammed into it like spackle in busted drywall.
"Throw ... chunks ... in my mouth ... between ... snores ..."
And when it comes to drinking that warm glass of milk, there are no natural sedatives at play either. It's simply very soothing to slowly drink a warm liquid ... particularly since you drank the stuff in your first several months of life. You're just pining for your pre-solid-food days, producing a completely psychosomatic reaction. Would it work even better if you had a giant person feeding it to you while you wore a diaper? Only one way to find out!
"It's $20 extra if you want it from a baby bottle."
When trying to figure out whether your dinner will send you to an early grave, usually you can put everything on your plate on a spectrum from "processed junk" to "canned or frozen fruits and vegetables" all the way up to the holy grail: fresh produce, eaten the way nature intended. This is why all the healthy people have piles of leaves sticking out of their carts -- even when getting their veggies, they don't want to eat a bunch of freezer-burned bullshit.
But Actually ...
Unless you live in an area with a ton of farms, your produce probably came from a place that's far, far away. From the moment that broccoli was plucked from the earth, it's been slowly decaying and losing its nutrients during its long journey to the grocery shelf. And it's not like it went directly from a produce truck to the vegetable showroom. No, it got tossed into a refrigerated storage room for a bit, then hung out in the produce section for a while hoping to get selected (this is on top of however long you leave it in your fridge at home after you buy it). If you do somehow manage to eat at least most of it before it rots, you're probably in the minority, which is part of the reason America has a huge problem with food waste.
"Eat these when they've clearly gone from reddish-purple to maroonish-violet? Like a common hobo?!"
That's why when it comes to nutrition, frozen produce will probably always be better than fresh. It's flash frozen right after it's picked, so it loses fewer nutrients between being harvested and landing on your plate. The same goes for some canned foods. For instance, canned tomatoes are higher in the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene than their naked brethren, due to how they're preserved.
Plus, frozen or canned food often allows you to buy higher-quality produce that was picked in-season at a better price than if it were fresh. But sure, go ahead and enjoy that sad off-white tomato from Trader Joe's in February.
So you're at the supermarket, staring at the ten brands of eggs available. They fall into roughly two groups: cheaper, factory-produced white eggs versus pricier, all-natural brown eggs. Sure, those cage-free eggs in the hippie packaging are a bit more expensive, but they have those dark yolks that are clearly packed with more nutrition. You also make sure to select a carton labeled "omega-3," because even if you don't know exactly what that means, you know it sounds healthy.
Oh, and if you're an athlete preparing for the big fight, you know you can maximize the protein by downing those suckers raw. Drink 'em straight out a glass like Rocky, because that's what physical fitness looks like.
Nature's disgusting, disgusting steroids.
But Actually ...
Ultimately, there's no difference in the eggs based on whether their shells are white or brown. The color is based on the breed of the chicken that laid it. The Rhode Island Red lays brown eggs, and the uber-common Single-Comb White Leghorn lays white eggs. Much like the marshmallows in a box of Lucky Charms, the difference is purely cosmetic -- brown and white eggs taste identical, and there's no difference in nutritional value.
So why do brown eggs cost more? Well, because chickens that lay brown eggs eat more than the ones that lay white ones. That's it. A darker yolk has the same amount of fat and protein as a lighter one. Free-range chickens and chickens that eat alfalfa and yellow corn ingest xanthophyll, a form of chlorophyll that's orange, which transfers to the yolks. A chicken that can walk about and graze freely is a much happier chicken (presumably), but that doesn't mean its eggs are going to get you in shape any faster than those from their more depressed brethren.
"Didn't you pay attention to Dr. Seuss?"
As for eggs that are sold as "omega 3", they come from hens that are fed fish oil or flax seed oil. They might be more beneficial for your body, but that's according to a study that used only 19 participants. To put that number in perspective, more people have given Jaws: The Revenge a positive rating on IMDb. The only thing that affects nutritional value in a measurable way is how much thick albumen an egg has, which is the non-watery part of the egg white. But that's not as visible, so it's not as easy to charge people more money for it (you know, like they do for brown eggs with dark yolks). Farmers have even started adding marigold flowers to chicken feed in order to imitate the darker orange color; that's how much of a difference it makes in marketability.
"Eat light yellow yolk? Like a common maroonish-violet-grape-eating hobo?!"
Now let's cover why Rocky was in fact worse off nutritionally by drinking his eggs raw instead of getting an omelet at Denny's. Much like cooking vegetables, consuming cooked eggs gets you more bang for your bite. In 1998, researchers studied five adults with ileostomies (which is where your intestine is rerouted out the front of your body) to see how that key part of the digestive tract was able to process egg proteins. As it turned out, raw egg proteins were less digestible than the cooked eggs. Another study had similar results.
The only reason a hypothetical boxer or bodybuilder would drink them raw would be to save on cooking time -- or, more likely, they assumed Rocky was based on meticulous scientific research. ("What, do I have to stop punching this side of beef, too? What if I like it?")
If you've spent any amount of time researching diets on the web, you've undoubtedly read countless articles extolling the wonders of "miracle foods" that are filled with "negative calories" -- foods that have such a low caloric count that the stomach expends more calories digesting them than they contain. It's like a perpetual motion machine for your stomach!
Besides these negative-calorie foods, you can also find lists of other healthy foods that even burn fat (and some that magically target belly fat). Huzzah for oranges, celery, mushrooms, and cauliflower! Plus, there's the grapefruit diet, which has been around since the 1930s on the strength of grapefruit's supposed fat-murdering enzymes, and then there are various diets that insist spicy foods will burn fat by ... heating up your metabolism, somehow.
Or sweat out your weight from how terrifying these look.
People also swear by the cabbage soup diet for jump-starting weight loss, and don't even get people started on the Master Cleanse, that all-powerful maple syrup / lemonade liquid diet that banishes fat to the fucking chaos dimension. If all of this sounds too good to be true, that's because it absolutely is.
But Actually ...
There's no such thing as a diet that burns more calories than it provides. There are only diets that help you deteriorate your body in ways that specifically cause you to lose weight.
Foods that are called "negative calorie" tend to be some sort of fruit or vegetable. And when it comes to subsisting solely on these foods, one should remember that they don't have all the nutrients you need to continue existing. Most of the weight loss you experience eating these foods is water weight, which returns the instant you start eating like a human again. The deal is the same for the cabbage soup diet, the grapefruit diet, and the Master Cleanse (which causes muscle loss).
This bullshit will diminish your weight and your IQ!
And no, food can't zap fat on its own. Fat reserves are worked off when your caloric intake goes down, not because a spicy or acidic food goes in and boils it away. Now, it's true that capsaicin, the chemical substance that makes chili peppers hot, can slow down your eating speed ... because, you know, it's burning your goddamned tongue. So there's that.
Otherwise, the only reason you lose weight by eating "fat-zapping" foods is that the diet plan they come with requires you to eat less in general. Those fat-burning supplements in the snake oil aisle of your supermarket or pharmacy work on the same principle. ("This miracle pill will make you lose five pounds a week, as long as you follow the instructions that also require you to drastically cut calories!") You're losing weight because you're starving yourself, and the only miracle performed by so-called "miracle foods" is that they allow you to trick yourself into thinking otherwise.
If a woman craves red meat during her period, it must be a sign that she wants to replace the iron lost during menstruation. If a guy is craving chocolate, it must mean his meat and potatoes diet is lacking in magnesium. Our cravings are our bodies telling us what it is they need, if we would but listen to their song.
But Actually ...
Most Westerners' everyday diet covers the broad majority of their nutritional needs. The amount of calories and the effects of processed food may be a problem, but for the most part, you should be pretty much covered, nutrient-wise. If a lack of nutrients were at the root of food cravings, we'd all be salivating over rainbow chard for its Vitamin A and getting into fistfights over beets and their sweet, sweet folate. Kale and raisins both contain high levels of iron, but you don't see women feasting on harvest salads while saying "I deserve this! It's Day 5 and there's no end in sight!"
It's a dark day for humanity when this is what you look forward to eating.
If you're craving a certain food, it's probably a matter of your culture and upbringing. In times of stress, you tend to crave food that you think of as a comforting treat or reward. There is no sign that hormones have a direct impact of making us crave certain foods -- the cravings just get released in times of stress. And if you already have a problem with binging food, over time, you begin to associate certain foods (like giant, greasy burgers or mountains of chocolate) with being stressed out or depressed as much as you associate them with being treats. So it isn't your body telling you what it needs (nutrients) so much as you telling yourself what you think you deserve (McDonald's).
Picture a guy who's drunk on tequila. Now picture a guy who is drunk on fancy red wine. Are you imagining them acting the same? Of course not; the first guy is a frat boy running pantsless from the cops in Tijuana, while the second is getting sleepy and dialing his ex. Different drinks clearly make you a different kind of drunk. The wacky sitcom character wakes up with a hangover and says, "Boy, that's the last time I drink (insert low-class liquor here)!" and the laugh track roars.
So for a fun, upbeat, sports-related buzz, grab a beer. For telling sad stories or intellectual debates, go for gin. If you're feeling loose but fancy and it's your one night off from the kids, order some red wine. And if you want to burn your whole life to the ground, order a bunch of whiskey or tequila. You'll be trying to fight a stranger in no time!
"This wouldn't have happened if we all drank strawberry daiquiris like I wanted!"
But Actually ...
There's nothing more to your liquor buzz than the amount of ethanol alcohol in it. Because when it comes down to alcohol, different boozes can't give you different buzzes. "The effects of alcohol are similar, whichever form they come in," says Dr. Guy Ratcliffe, the former head of the UK's Medical Council on Alcohol. "Any difference is dependent on the rate at which it is drunk and the amount."
Mostly, the "different buzz" phenomenon is cultural attitudes about different hooch. People shame tequila as the liquor that makes them do stupid things, as if shots of Jaeger wouldn't have given them the same terrible advice. A calm evening spent sipping a tumbler of Glenlivet 12 Year next to a roaring fire doesn't make you any more intellectual than sipping Pinnacle Whipped Cream Vodka at the same rate out of the same tumbler next to the same fire, since they both have 40 percent ABV. You'll still be buzzed the same amount. It's not the booze that affects the buzz; it's the person drinking it and whatever behavior they associate with the drink.
Raw Pixel Limited/iStock
For instance, this man associates beer with having the douchiest haircut ever.
Of course, shots go down quicker than beers. And if you have that same shot on the rocks, it will be somewhat diluted by melting ice, it'll take longer to sip because it's cold, and it has to flow past a bunch of cubes. Adding in mixers also slows down how fast the booze goes barreling down your gullet. So at the end of the night, you might wind up drinking less alcohol by volume that way, but that is all that matters.
One claim that might be true is the thing you always hear on New Year's Eve: "I can't have any more champagne; that stuff goes straight to my head!" In that case, it might be that the CO2 used to carbonate champagne and other sparkling wines is causing the alcohol to enter the bloodstream more quickly (the jury is still out on that one). Even weirder: A mixed drink made with diet soda will apparently make you physically drunk quicker, since regular soda's sugar slows down the absorption of alcohol.
But both will still give you the same booze gut.
Otherwise, you need to stop blaming specific types of liquor for your shameful behavior. That crying, pantsless maniac was inside you all along.
Zoroastrianism used to be one of the biggest religions in the world, but their idea of heaven had a slight twist on it: to get there you'd have to cross a bridge. Sometimes rickety, sometimes wide and sturdy, if you fell off you'd go to the House of Lies for eternity. Fun! Not terrifying at all! This month, Jack, Dan, and Michael along with comedians Casey Jane Ellison and Ramin Nazer as they discuss their favorite afterlife scenarios from movies, sci-fi and lesser-known religions. Get your tickets here and we'll see you on the other side of the bridge!
For more myths you believe about things you stuff in your pie hole, check out 5 B.S. Health Myths People Still Believe (Thanks To One Guy) and 5 Well-Known Tips For Healthy Eating (That Don't Work).
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