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Asian Food Myths

Common old wives’ tales explained

18 October, 2010 by

Sure most Singaporeans will laugh at the suggestion that chicken feet will deteriorate your handwriting or eating pig brains might make you smarter. But the truth is that many still fall prey to other traditional conventions, despite the government’s efforts in providing a first class educational system. After all, thousands of years of ancestral knowledge can’t be wrong, right? Well this article ain’t about mythical dishes, it’s about some of the hogwash that manages to pass off as science this side of the world.

Oh no.

Never Mix Hot And Cold

Not too long ago, I met a researcher from the neighboring pharmaceutical company at my office in an encountered that inspired the rest of this post. The man was horrified to see me concoct a mixture of tap water with that from the boiler. He even felt the need to instruct me on the health dangers of mixing hot and cold water together. So much for 4 years of med school. But when asking around my colleagues, I found out that they too had been taught this wisdom by their parents.

The belief stems from the basic Taoist philosophy of Yin and Yang, the backbone of Chinese medical science. Yet there is nothing in Chinese teachings that would suggest that mixing hot and cold together would give you anything more sinister than warm water (liquid water falls under the category of Yin, regardless of temperature). Quite the opposite in fact, as most practicing sensei would recommend the consumption of warm water. The confusion comes about when normal family members start likening themselves experts in traditional Chinese medicine.

Cold Water During Meals Causes Cancer

Another myth suggests that drinking cold water after a meal would actually solidify the oils and clog your arteries, which might inhibit blood flow or in some cases dry up to become cancer. It was derived from 19th century Westerners observing that the Chinese and Japanese, who drank warm tea with their meals, experienced less accounts of heart disease.

There is of course, no basis for the belief and it should be common sense considering that food goes to your stomach first and not directly into your blood stream. Modern re-emergence of the lie can be attributed to marketers of herbal tea products. Shamefully, I was one of them.

Statistically, the Chinese suffer from as much cancer and heart attacks as anyone else (if not more) and we known now that the improved health of the Japanese was due to the Omega 3 acids from their diet of fish. Our Asian ancestors still had good reason as to why they drank tea with meals though, it’s a comforting low calorie beverage doesn’t interfere with the taste of the meal.

Dangerous.

Avoid Soy Sauce During Chicken pox

It’s a prevalent belief, that consuming dark soy sauce while suffering from chicken pox will result in dark spots or scars. Many even extend this to belief to recovery after cosmetic surgery (or in some cases, any surgery) and incorporate more forbidden food in the list like light soy sauce, seafood or even chicken. Suspiciously the foods on the list are some of the most common foods in any Chinese diet.

The idea is that the dark pigmentation will somehow seep into one’s skin while healing, or in the case of seafood and chicken, toxins in the food will deter healing and cause scarring.

What most fail to realize, is that scars are an unavoidable part of the healing process, regardless of what you do (or do not) eat. Most would rather blame food they’ve eaten, rather than accept their evolutionary limitations.

If you happen to be Chinese, count yourself fortunate as you are one of the few races eligible to have scars removed completely by new treatments.

The truth, is that eating soy sauce, seafood or chicken will cause complications only if you have some sort of allergy toward any of the mentioned items to begin with. Sadly, medical practices like the Changi General Hospital have to go so far as to put up notices telling people not to avoid particular foods, as doing so might reduce important protein in your diet, truly hindering recovery.

Too Much Sugar Causes Diabetes

This one’s not just a local thing, it is mistaken everywhere. However, diabetes is a particularly serious problem in Singapore where 10% of the population are diabetics (Singaporeans love being first at stuff).

Most people know that diabetes has something to do with sugar, insulin or something. And since food products advertise stuff like “low sugar” and “no sugar”, everybody seems to agree that it is a bad thing. Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes though, ignorance does.

The disease is really caused by having a lousy diet. Local hawker food, with its high sodium content and lack of fiber, ensures that Singaporeans get their daily diabetes cocktail. The obese and those with a family history of the disease are particularly at risk.

Also, all those sugar free foods are actually contributing to the problem, as artificial sweeteners have been proven to cause both weight gain and cancer. They were really meant more for people already with diabetes to control their glucose levels.

Microwaving Food Is Unhealthy

Again, many of these myths extend far beyond Asia, but Singaporeans are particularly susceptible, especially considering that almost half of the population never completed high-school.

When mentioning microwave ovens, “radiation” comes to mind. I personally know families that refuse to own a microwave out of this fear, though these people are guilty of most of the stupidity on this list.

Obviously, microwaves have nothing to do with the radiation that we fear. And food cooked in a microwave oven is completely safe for consumption. Technically, cooking with a microwave isn’t very much different from cooking by any other method, except that it is more energy efficient.

In fact, microwaving certain foods can be even better than cooking by primitive methods. Since microwaves don’t break down nutrients as much as cooking on a stove does, microwaved food are often more nutritious. Just not as tasty.

Beware.

Canned Food Is Less Nutritious

You can’t blame anyone for thinking that any food left on the shelf for months is at least less nutritious, if not outright harmful to consume. But canned food really isn’t as bad as some seem to belief. Some are even fresher than the “fresh” counterparts found in local supermarkets (if they haven’t been hanging around for too long that is).

Produce that find its way into canned food make their way into the cans soon after ripening. Some of the flavor would be lost in the canning process, but most of the nutrients at time of harvest would be preserved.

On the other hand, “fresh” fruits and vegetables are pluck before they are ripe and made to endure the long journey overseas. The additional time spent at supermarkets and in your fridge, means even more nutrients are going to be lost.

This doesn’t mean that canned food is necessarily better. Fruits and vegetables are mostly fine, but preserved meats often have an extraordinary amount of salt or worse MSG!

MSG Is Bad For You

With “No MSG” plastered across the food items in the supermarket these days Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) must be some sort of global threat.

Locally, MSG better known simply as Ajinomoto, the name of the company that makes it (because anything that sounds Japanese is more likely to kill you). While Japan was responsible for marketing it, most seem to forget that it was the Chinese who first discovered glutamates some 2,500 years ago.

Glutamates are a natural occurring salt, found in almost all protein rich food such as meat, wheat and the most classical source, soybeans. MSG probably wouldn’t be as feared a thing if it was just called soy salt instead.

Over the years, the United States government has pumped funds into MSG research, citing claims of people suffering from strange symptoms after eating Chinese food. Yet each test only served to prove that monosodium glutamate is completely safe. In fact, the only time people suffered from any ill effects was when the MSG was replaced with a placebo.

Killing me softly.

Cup Noodles Contain Wax

Another staple Japanese food item out to poison its people? It might come as a surprise to most that just like conventional noodles, instant noodles were actually a Chinese invention.

Thanks to a fake internet chain letter, many people think that the Styrofoam cups used to contain cup noodles contains a layer of wax to protect the foam. It’s not just limited to the uneducated people too, as I know of a few friends who believe this to be true.

Obviously, it makes no sense for noodle companies to coat Styrofoam with wax. Styrofoam melts at beyond boiling point, while wax has an extremely low melting point for a solid, a property which gives it its use in making candles. But how do you explain the shiny surface of the cups then?

Well, it actually takes more effort for Styrofoam to be not shiny, considering that it is a plastic and all.

Another prevalent belief is that all instant noodles of both the cup and packet variety, are coated with wax to preserve the noodle or prevent sticking. How else do you explain the starchy residue when boiling noodles?

Well the Chinese really do wax some food to preserve them but noodles is not one of them. Instant noodles actually work in an identical way to the traditional longevity noodles. The noodles are deep fried in oil and dried to become their packaged form. The so called “wax” residue is nothing but the oil used to fry the noodles.



Chad

Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.
  • Des

    I like some.of the opinions but you should improve on your grammar and spelling really.

  • abcde

    Regarding having hot oily food with cold drink,i’ll have to differ with u.thinking logically it seems probable that when u have oily food with cold drink it’ll solidify the fat particles which inturn may stick to stomach and intestine walls which over time turns carcinogenic.

    • Jono

      what you said makes no sense. It is “logic” like yours which propagates these myths.

      Fat and oil is first emulsified and then enzymatically broken down by the body in order to be absorbed.

      By your “logic” if I ate a solid piece of meat or vegetable, it would clog up my stomach and intestine and turn carcinogenic.

  • Robin

    Great article. I came here while googling for chickenpox diet. I was really blown away by the fact on diabetes. My mother has diabetes and so did my grandmother. So I make an effort not to eat too much sugary stuff. But I realise that its the weight gain accompanying the sugar that the real killer.
    Anyway well penned article. Thanks.

    • Thanks for visiting. I too never knew about the diabetes one growing up most were lead to believe that sugar is the cause. But I attended a great talk once by someone suffering from the disease. Just sharing what I learned.

  • jojosan

    Chinese Invention?! I hope you mean Taiwanese!

  • @guguji_bad

    Thank you.
    After reading this post, I realized how stupid I am actually to believe all these nonsense.
    The society should really change their thought and stop affecting others to believe all these.