Can spinach actually make you stronger? The surprising science (and stories!) behind food myths

Can carrots help you see in the dark? Are brown eggs better for you than white ones? We're talking about food myths and science, and cooking up some fun!

Eat your spinach, it'll make you big and strong. Or...will it? We're investigating some classic food myths and the science behind them. If you’ve always wondered whether milk really can make you taller, read on. 

Does spinach make you stronger?

The classic cartoon character Popeye the sailor ate spinach to make himself strong. Turns out Popeye was on the right track! While you might already know that spinach contains lots of iron, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden recently proved that there's another strength-enhancing factor in spinach. The inorganic nitrates in a single plate of spinach can actually improve your athletic performance. If this study inspires you and your kids to power up with some greens, try making our community recipes for salmon and spinach quiche; spinach and chicken pizza; or cauliflower and spinach bhaji

Can eating too many carrots turn your skin orange?

Believe it or not, this one is true. But you'd have to eat a lot of carrots. According to the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences, eating too many carrots or other foods high in beta-carotene can, in extreme cases, cause a condition called carotenemia, which turns your palms and the soles of your feet a yellowish orange. Foods high in lycopene (like tomatoes) can also cause yellowish skin discolouration if you eat a lot of them. The treatment for both? It’s as simple as changing your diet. Maybe try a dish of a different colour for a while—a kuku omelet will give you a delightful boost of green (plus, it’s fun to say). 

Can bananas help stop muscle cramps? 

Bananas contain magnesium, potassium and calcium—three nutrients that can help to stop muscle cramps. Potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, melons and milk are also excellent sources of these nutrients. If you’re intrigued, try this strawberry-banana smoothie recipe—it’s easy for kids to make by themselves as a post-sport refresher, and it just might help soothe sore muscles. 

Can carrots help you see in the dark? 

The answer to this one is a bit complicated. First, the facts: carrots have beta-carotene in them, the precursor to vitamin A. Folks with a vitamin A deficiency can develop night-blindness. If you’re deficient, taking vitamin A will bring your night vision back up to normal levels...but eating carrots won’t actually give you the power to see in the dark. So where did we get this idea? It’s possible that this story started during World War II. During the war, the British Royal Air Force didn’t want Nazi German forces to know they’d developed a technology called Airborne Interception Radar, a technology that allowed them to hit targets accurately in the dark. To create confusion, a story was spread that RAF pilots were making accurate shots because they were eating lots of carrots to improve their night vision. The Ministry of Food even published pamphlets to spread the story that eating carrots could help people see in the dark. You can see one of these wartime pamphlets and try some historic carrot recipes here—they won’t give you magical night vision, but they are fun!  

Does chocolate milk come from brown cows? 

No! Although you might be surprised by how many people believe this myth is true. This banana chocolate smoothie recipe is a delicious way to prove how chocolate milk is really made: with milk and cocoa. 

Are brown eggs more nutritious than white eggs? 

No. Brown eggs are often more expensive than white eggs, but there's no difference nutritionally between them. The price difference is because hens with red feathers (that produce brown eggs) are bigger, and so they eat more than white-feathered hens that produce white eggs. But there is no difference in nutrition or taste between the two colours. Try a simple blindfolded taste-test of some hard-boiled white and brown eggs and ask if your child can tell the difference. Or, use your taste-test as an excuse to cook together! Eggs are an easy way for even young children to help with cooking in the kitchen—to see how, watch this video and try this lovely scrambled egg recipe from our community. 

Can milk make you taller?

Research funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research suggests that drinking cow's milk does affect young children’s height. This study found that children who drank cow's milk were on average 1.5 cm taller than children who drank milk alternatives, after accounting for many factors known to influence height (including the mother's height and her ethnicity). You can read a news summary of of that study here, and the study itself here

Of course, the real magic—and science—of food is that preparing and eating a meal together helps to boost everyone's well-being. Want to see for yourself? Try these after-school activities to start cooking up happiness together. Or, if you're interested in exploring cooking and science with your child, check out this round-up of delicious experiments to try. And for more tasty recipe ideas, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram!

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