You are having a cold. But you had bought a bunch of bananas yesterday. As you reach out to have one, your room mate or mother or grandmother says “You shouldn’t eat banana when you are having cold.” Why? Because banana is supposed to be a “cold” food and so it might increase the severity of the illness. This is just another example of a food superstition. I have had similar advice from hostel mates to not eat rice, another “cold” food, when one is having fever. I love rice and I hardly eat rotis. Needless to say I didn’t heed my friends’ advice but I never suffered more because of it. There are many such examples of “hot” and “cold” food and similar restrictions. My room mates didn’t use to eat eggs in dinner if there was an exam next day!! You know egg = zero = 0 . Another classic example of food superstition. Here are some more examples from all over the world :-
# Don’t eat chicken feet because it will give you bad handwriting.- Thailand
# Keeping an onion in pocket protects oneself from heatstroke – India
# Eating curd before exam or any work brings good luck – India
# Eating corners of a bread will ensure good relationship with mother -in- law. – Romania
# Noodles should not be cut before serving, otherwise one’s life gets cut short. – Chinese
# You should never hand hot peppers directly to someone – it will cause discord between you. – Nepal
# After eating a boiled egg, push the spoon through the bottom of the empty shell to let out the devil. – England
Sometimes food superstitions are related to religious beliefs. For example many non vegetarian Hindus don’t eat non veg food on Tuesday and Saturdays. There are some other auspicious days when one should not eat non veg items. The looks and the preaching I heard from my friends if I did something on the contrary to the popular belief!!! I find the whole belief to be a convenient way to get rid of guilt or sin. Either you eat it or you don’t eat it if you think its a sin in the first place! Abstaining for few days is not going to do any good.
I’m sure there are some food superstitions which can be traced to be based on some scientific reasoning, but most of them are really absurd. I have found it very hard to rationalize with such people and to convince them against their superstitious beliefs. I expect better logical reasoning and scientific approach in my generation and generations after that. But I see many of my friends and colleagues still holding on to these age old food superstitions and actively practising them. In that case I just want them to follow live and let live. Let such beliefs NOT be a basis to judge me, to preach me and most importantly, to force me.
Finally, there are some food items which are just over hyped to be the healthy food and as must – haves. For example milk! People like I and Smita who hate milk are advised by many people to have milk. The media tries to convince us that “Doodh hai wonderful,Pi sakte hai roj glassful“. But just read these facts.
Don’t children need milk for calcium?
No, what they do need is exercise and ahealthy plant-based diet. A recent review on dairy products and bone health (Lanou et al., Pediatrics 2005) shows that there is very little evidence to support increasing the consumption of dairy products in children and young adults in order to promote bone health. This review examined the effects of dairy products and calcium on bone strength in children and young adults and found that physical exercise is the most critical factor for maintaining healthy bones, followed by improving the diet and lifestyle; this means eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and for young adults cutting down on caffeine and avoiding alcohol and smoking.
Doesn’t cow’s milk protect against osteoporosis?
No, osteoporosis occurs most commonly in countries where they drink the most milk! American women are among the biggest consumers of calcium in the world yet they suffer one of the highest levels of osteoporosis, while African Bantu women eat almost no dairy products at all and have a relatively low calcium intake from vegetable sources yet osteoporosis is virtually unknown among Bantu women. Increasing milk consumption does not protect against bone fracture, in it may be that an increased calcium intake from dairy foods increases the risk of fracture.
Milk is a natural food… isn’t it?
All mammals drink the milk of their mothers until they are weaned. Unlike all other mammals though, humans continue to drink milk after weaning and into adulthood, and not just that, we drink the milk of another species! To state the obvious (but often overlooked fact) cow’s milk has evolved to help turn a small calf into a cow in less than a year. That’s why cow’s milk contains around four times as much calcium as human milk. Calves need a huge amount of calcium to promote the massive level of skeletal growth required over the first year of life. A human infant does not require such high levels of calcium; indeed the high mineral content of cow’s milk puts a strain on the human infant kidney which is why most governments strongly recommend that children do not drink normal ‘off the shelf’ milk in the first year.