Monday, March 20, 2017

Time To Look It Up

There are so many urban myths and other falsehoods arising out of social media and other sources.  As has always been the case, falsehoods spread quickly while the truth struggles to catch up.  Today with the Internet, the speed and range of these myths just increase, while people, even intelligent people, seldom take time to verify facts.  Generally, again with the accessibility of the Internet, it’s an easy lookup.

This came to mind earlier in the month when Chelsea Clinton posted pictures on Twitter of spinach pancakes for National Pancake Day.  The response was swift, as followers commented negatively both on their appearance and their imagined taste.  They certainly didn’t look very appetizing.

In response to the mild uproar she posted another Tweet:  “Dear internet, my daughter needs +iron so we put spinach in everything we can.”  After that the commotion died down.

But wait!  That belief that spinach is super-loaded with iron is a myth.  Look up on Google spinach-iron-myth and it comes up immediately.  Look up spinach-iron and the myth information is first or second on the listing of sources.  Here is a sample:

“For a hundred years or more spinach has been (and clearly still is) renowned for its high iron content compared with that of other vegetables, but to the joy of those who dislike the stuff this is quite untrue. In 1870 Dr E. von Wolff published the analyses of a number of foods, including spinach which was shown to be exceptionally rich in iron. The figures were repeated in succeeding generations of textbooks – after all one does not always verify the findings of others – including the ‘Handbook of Food Sciences’ (Handbuch der Ernahrungslehre) by von Noorden and Saloman[1] 1920.

“In 1937 Professor Schupan eventually repeated the analyses of spinach and found that it contained no more iron than did any other leafy vegetable, only one-tenth of the amount previously reported. The fame of spinach appears to have been based on a misplaced decimal point.”

That’s right.  Due to a typographical error made almost 150 years ago and initially corrected 80 years ago, many people still credit spinach with an exceptional amount of iron.

But it gets better.  Another source points out:  “The problem, however, is that the iron from plant-based foods, including spinach, is not absorbed as well as iron from meat and poultry.”  Liver pancakes, anyone?

This phenomenon is not limited to iron and spinach.  Several times I’ve heard people tell me they don’t like to use the microwave because they believe all that zapping with radiation make the food not taste as good and destroys the nutrition.  The fact is that “nuking” food cooks it faster with less water, so it is usually more nutritious. 

Likewise cranberries have earned a reputation for being friendly to your urinary system.  But the latest information, reflected in this long quote from a WebMD posting, and confirmed by other sources, tells a different story:  “Cranberry juice is high in salts called oxalates, which can make kidney stones more likely, especially if you already tend to get these types of stones.

“If you take the blood-thinning medication warfarin, you should avoid cranberry products, because cranberries can interact with warfarin and cause bleeding.

“But the weight of evidence, especially those from larger and better-designed trials, points towards the likelihood that cranberry products are ineffective for preventing UTIs” (urinary tract infections).

The lesson for all is to take the time to look it up, even if it’s considered common knowledge.  It’s usually easy to find a reputable source or two.  It saves time and money, and is sometimes safer.  I hope Chelsea Clinton’s defense that her baby needs extra iron is based on a doctor’s testing and recommendation and not just a common belief that babies need extra iron.

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