Trying to keep up with the latest health advice is like trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends: One minute you’re eating tons of fish to get smarter, and the next you’re attending a business meeting wearing nothing but Zubaz and a soul patch.
Part of the problem is that it seems like science is constantly changing its mind — it seems like eggs have gone from health food to poison back to health food just in the last 20 years (and do you need to refrigerate them or not, damn it?). Well, all we can do is try to keep you apprised of the latest findings, even if they conflict with the ones we ourselves reported a few years ago. So here are some common myths that it appears, for now, have been debunked:
#6. Myth: Dark Chocolate Is A Health Food!
Sadly, while we desperately wish our indulgences were somehow good for us, that seldom turns out to be the case. Fortunately for your sweet tooth, one notable exception to that is chocolate — especially dark chocolate. Recent headlines have boasted that it’s good for your heart, it gives your skin a healthy glow, and best of all, a regular Hershey intake is like mounting a supercharger on your cerebrum, effectively transforming you into a real-life MODOK (or at the very least helping you stave off senility).
But Actually …
Shockingly, stuffing your face full of chocolate — even of the darkest variety — won’t lead to Rain Man memory or post-Photoshop quality skin … unless you’re willing to accept the tradeoff of causing your ass to swell at a rate directly proportional to any perceived benefits.
You see, the flavanols present in chocolate are indeed, to put it in scientific terms, “the shit.” In one study, older volunteers who drank a concentrated flavanol beverage for three months before taking a memory test performed as well as those half their age. Subsequent scans revealed increased blood flow to certain areas of the brain, including a region implicated in the development of CRS disease in the elderly. But here’s the catch: Most commercial chocolates are shitty sources of flavanol, because the processes that make chocolate delicious also spell genocide for the beneficial compounds therein. So to get a good flavanol buzz going, you’d need to snarf down at least seven chocolate bars every single day — which, admittedly, is not that big of a stretch from the average American diet.
But why can’t science simply make a bar packed with flavanols, much as a Snickers is packed with peanuts? Well, they could — and it would taste downright awful, because flavanols are bitter as hell. Previous testing has revealed that any attempt to make chocolate healthy also makes it butt nasty. And if we wanted to choke down something that tastes bad just because it’s good for us, we’d skip the candy isle and go pick up some … what are those things called again? Oh yeah: vegetables.
#5. Myth: Food Is Always Safer If Kept In The Fridge!
Step one in avoiding a life-ruining case of food poisoning is making sure bacteria can’t grow on anything remotely perishable in the first place, and that means keeping it cold. Considering the billions of people throughout history who literally shat themselves to death, the invention of the refrigerator would come in right behind the discovery of fire in the top 10 ways we achieved actual edibility in our food (No. 1, of course, being stuffing it into burritos).
It’s no wonder, then, that modern American refrigerators have grown to the size of European family sedans to allow us to store anything and everything in the name of keeping it from “going bad.”
But Actually …
Most commonly refrigerated foodstuffs wouldn’t be any worse off at room temperature, and some you’re actively damaging by storing them in the cold. For example, you might think your bread stays fresh longer in the fridge, but in reality refrigerating it sets off a thermally initiated cascade of molecular events called retrogradation, the culinary equivalent of choosing the wrong Holy Grail. At ordinary fridge temperatures (between 35 and 40 degrees), bread ages six times faster than it would on the counter, because the cold causes its starches to crystallize. That’s also why you never chill potatoes (they’re full of tasty starches, too).
As a matter of fact, unless you picked up an item from the refrigerated section to begin with, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t refrigerate it when you get home. Besides bread and potatoes, add most fruits (including tomatoes), onions, garlic, sauces, and most condiments to the “keep out” sign that you’re about to tape onto your refrigerator as if it’s your childhood tree house.
Hell, even some things that come from your grocer’s refrigerator are just dandy at room temperature — not only is storing butter in a butter dish not going to kill you, it’s also much less likely to tear your bread to pieces when you try to spread it.
And while we’re at it …
#4. Myth: Chicken Needs To Be Washed Thoroughly Before You Cook It!
Washing our food is perhaps the most basic form of human sanitation — even before we had running water, illiterate serfs were keen enough to flick the fly carcasses off of their rat shanks before taking a gnaw. It’s a habit that’s survived throughout the millennia: A recent survey by the UK Food Standards Agency showed that 44 percent of respondents always toss their chicken in the backyard and go at it with an industrial pressure washer before cooking it (or, you know, give it a good spray in the sink, for those who insist on doing everything the non-badass way). Even cooking shows make sure you see the hosts give their chicken a bath before getting down to business:
But Actually …
While your mind (specifically, your grandma’s voice in the back of it) is telling you that you’re sanitizing your chicken by giving it a pre-cooking rinse, what you’re really doing is spreading bacterial paratroopers all over your kitchen in the form of thousands of microscopic beads of raw-chicken water splashing around all willy-nilly — landing on your sink, your cutting board, your knives, and your forearms like a tiny, invisible army of diarrhea warriors.
Of course, the very concept of “washing” bacteria off of chicken is ludicrous to begin with. Bacterial adhesion is largely based on interacting electrical charges, and no amount of your (quite frankly, disturbing) tendency to massage your dead birds before devouring them is going to break that bond. Basically, you’re just spreading the easier-to-dislodge bacteria (like salmonella) while fruitlessly struggling against the smaller strains, both of which can only be reliably destroyed by blasting them with sufficient heat. In other words, just cook your damn chicken.