Food Superstitions and Myths

You are having a cold. But you had bought a bunch of bananas yesterday. As you reach out to have one, your bananaroom 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’twhite_chicken_egg_square 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, food-mythsbut 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.

For more information on milk myths, check out this link and this link. So I don’t think its a big deal if I don’t drink milk!


My feelings exactly!

36 thoughts on “Food Superstitions and Myths

  1. I agree with you about bananas, rice & milk. But most of them come up with long-winded, almost belivable explanations about it. And its supposedly scientific. Nowadays since everyone is an expert in everything, there is no saying what is science and what is myth. Even among the supposedly scientific research results, they get twisted around and soon turn up to be no less then oral traditional myths.

    Reema: Well I still have faith in the nutrition researchers 🙂

  2. Phew…if all u said abt milk is true then I am relieved…I hate milk and milk products and never touched curd in my life now….would not possibly touch in future….everyone says that my bones wud become weak etc etc….I do have all vegetables and fruits without any reservations…I quite like almost all that are available 😀
    Ohh nice post…but some myths may be made based on repeatitive experience but not all are true 🙂

    Reema: Oh I m ok with milk products. Its only milk that I hate. Thanks!

  3. That was an awesome article ..

    I laughed rally hard after reading that egg=zero=0 incident .. that was an hell of a superstition ..

    Well, as far as I’m concerned, I hate any one who is fasting .. Abstaining from food will never take you closer to GOD .. It’s your actions, your attitude and your kindness to help others will take you inch closer to GOD .. Why people fast, i dont know..

    Reema: Thanks! I agree with you on the fast thing.

  4. lol 😛 i like milk 🙂

    The only things which i care about are numbers 🙂 For eg,if i have to choose something i will count seven and take that 🙂 And if you had noticed i usually try to use numbers which add upto 7 🙂

    Reema: Numbers in food?? thats a quirk!

  5. superstitions are integral part of any society, be it ours or others!! 🙂

    and about milk, i really don’t agree to what you have written.. evidence not withstanding! I will just say about our society.. where females are hardly having complete meal anytime a day. and so most of the nutrition is incomplete. This is the condition where milk or other dairy product will help in compensation the calcium. You can instead have banana or any other source of calcium and of course excercise is a must for the proper development of the bone! (weight bearing exercises, to be precise!!)

    I can really go on, on this topic…

    would like to see nomad’s view also! 🙂

    Reema: Ah! yes milk can be a nutritious source for malnourished women but not who get to eat 4 times a day!

  6. Reema:

    With all this evidence against milk, I presume you are spending at least an hour a day doing weight-bearing exercises to strengthen your bones and equivalent exercise to enhance flexibility and balance 😉

    The problem lies in interpreting evidence selectively and then not acting on even the beneficial bits. I know so many Indians just in their 30s and 40s with creaky, immobile bodies it is not funny any more. Add lack of exercise to the mix of rich, fried, overcooked foods and our love of sweets, and the picture is complete.

    I agree there is much PR around milk and eggs, but not around broccoli or carrots. But then I am sure someone will find evidence to suggest vegetables are not as great to eat after all. 🙂

    PS: I do not drink milk because of a serious intolerance. But since I have a lot of children and teenagers in my family, I keep my counsel on milk.

    Reema: Hehehe 🙂 But u know the milk we get nowadays! While asking for more money,our milkman even said that he mixes good water whereas others mix bad water!! 😮

  7. These superstitions are really sad because they prevent people from having a nutritious diet. During pregnancy the taboos increase. I have seen poor people suffering from these taboos and as it is they cannot buy alternative stuff or expensive fruits. It’s their health that suffers the most. And when it comes to osteoporosis, there are other factors besides calcium intake which matter and physical exercise is one of them. Also eating certain foods (read meat) tends to affect calcium absorption in the body. And there are other things regarding absorption of calcium.

    Reema: Yes poor people follow all sorts of wrong beliefs regarding food and end up being malnourished. Like some believe no food or liquid should be given to diarrhoea patients whereas its just the opposite!! Patients just die due to these beliefs!

  8. egg = zero = 0
    never heard of that before . 😛
    infact never heard most of them u have mentioned 😛

    as far as milk is concerned calcium is needed for strong bones .doesn’t matter what the source is …milk is the easilest source available so people say drink milk its good for health 😛

    Reema: Maybe that is one of the reasons though other sources are easily available too!

  9. @Sakhi: 🙂
    @ Reema: interesting and amusing post.
    About the milk controversy- my thoughts:

    Well, it is extremely beneficial for a baby to be breastfed by the mother. It is unanimously recommended by all the organizations. Breastfeeding a baby for at least six months is considered the best way to prevent early-childhood malnutrition.
    However, even in a situation where a baby is unable to be breastfed or is lactose-intolerant, it is certainly possible for them to survive and thrive well. Without any animal’s milk, in fact. (e.g., with Soy-based formula). So milk is not really the super-food people think it is.

    And a baby if gradually introduced to other foods (except milk) while weaning off milk, is just as healthy.

    Rural people worship cows, and would never take kindly to the idea of cow milk allergy, which is an important and serious condition.

    If a person is fond of milk or milk products and can digest it well, they certainly should take them. But it is wrong to force children saying it is good for their health, especially in the face of the pesticides and synthetic milk problems. (I have faced synthetic milk first hand in U.P.) And if some vegans don’t accept milk, then it is OK too.
    It certainly is a cheap and easily available wholesome food, but certainly not without equally good or better alternatives.
    And many children in the world do not have access to milk, along with any nutritious food. In such conditions, a variety of high protein and high calorie powders/ biscuits are used and are under investigation and development. It is only mother’s milk that is highly recommended.

    Reema: Thanks! U know recently my Hod discovered that he has been having asthma and mucus problem due to allergy from milk. He established this by not drinking milk for 6 days and found himself much healthier. He has been drinking milk since 40 yrs and suffering from constant nose congestion!!

  10. Reema:
    A lot of the hot-cold concepts stem from ancient Galenic teachings. As for me, I am a sucker for milk. No pun intended. Somehow, I don’t know why, even if I put in something innocently, it sounds so wicked even to myself. What should I do? Stop commenting?!

    Reema: Oh no! don’t stop commenting 🙂 We know u mean no harm 😛

  11. PS: I would like to add that in any case, the daily requirement of the macro and micro nutrients should be fulfilled, with or without milk. Fruits (and vegetables) are rather more irreplaceable than cow or buffalo milk, as many of their useful contents are not known or duplicable.

    Reema: Thanks for supporting my case 😛

  12. Ohh, and I forgot to share that our operated patients don’t eat aubergine and tomatoes, and many other things- as they will “delay healing”.
    When I was a resident, I had one patient who ate nothing but dalia for a month or two after his operation.
    When my post-op patients used to ask me, “What can I eat?”, I used to reply in a very serious and conspiratorial way, “Everything, including baingan.” (Patient becomes Goggle eyed ) I would continue, “You see, nowadays, we have really good medicines that can take care of the problems created by tomatoes and baingans, and I have prescribed you these medicines, they will prevent pus formation.” (pus: what we all fear, docs just call it infection)
    JE Park recommended such tactics for food myths. 🙂

    Reema: Funny incident!!

  13. You have made so many people happy today by telling them that milk is not all that good! 🙂 Somehow, I never had any problems with milk, even though I am way beyond the milk drinking age. I am supposed to drink tea or coffee but I guess I have to drink milk till I get married and my mom stops thinking that I am still a kid! 😦

    Reema: Now as much as I hate milk, still I would say drinking it has nothing to do with age. Even adults should have milk (if they believe in its advantages). U don’t drink tea or coffee?? 😮

  14. Good post. While several of the ones that you mentioned really don’t have an explanation, I feel that skipping non veg for a few days means your giving your body enough time to digest off the ones you ate before. But it doesn’t need to be a particular day. They probably had to make this religious so that it was the only way people would follow it back then.
    Also Banana is not good for cold. It can cause more mucus in the chest causing congestion.
    Milk is good indeed. Milk is a good source of Whey protein, besides calcium. You can drink it for that, not just for calcium.

    Reema: Thanks! I love bananas and I never had any problem even when I ate them while having a cold! There are other sources of calcium too 🙂

  15. i love this post….reminds me of the endless advices i used to get in college….

    there was one that we cant have curd and lime together because probably it will burst in your tummy 🙂

    i still cant figure out these things though…

    i totally love ur blog…



    Reema: Thanks!! I have subscribed to your blog too.

  16. 😀 Interesting one! Egg = Zero = 0…LOL
    I remember another one related to exams which some of my hostel mates used to follow: No non-veg before exams as immediate aftereffect of sin can be bad papers. And same ppl after exams will attack on chicken kababs and tandoori fish!!! 😀

    Reema: Welcome to my blog! That sounds more like such people abstaining from non veg during Navratri. Keep visiting!

  17. Sometimes certain food restrictions were placed in the name of religion. In certain families women were not allowed to eat non-vegetarian food. The reason given was that it is a Tamsik food and would corrupt the women. You should know it better than me but a few Bengali friends of mine told me that in Bengal widows were not allowed to eat non-vegetarian food, I am sure the reason could not be religious. There are people who wouldn’t eat bananas on Thursdays, I tried hard but couldn’t find any logic.

    Reema: Not only Bengali but other widows too are not allowed to eat non veg, onions, garlic etc etc, Its less do with religion and more to do with male dominated society! Its like your husband is dead so u have to give up pleasures of world which includes good food. And of course it doesnt apply to widowers.

  18. i hate milk and Im not a great fan of food either 😉 I have food as it is part of our routine ! (pls dont include icre creams in that)

    Reema: U dont like food in general? Weirdo 😛

  19. Pretty informative one :).. I too get a daily does of cold and hot items that too with the rains around. No to pupkin, no to spinach, no to snakguard..the list is simple huge.

    I am takign a print of that milk facts convince folks back home that milk is for calves and not humans 🙂

    Reema: Welcome to my blog! Thanks and do take the print out 😀 Let us all unite against milk! 🙂 Keep visiting!

  20. Interesting post..

    Some very funny,absurd and unbelievable myths.. 🙂

    I love milk and milk products 🙂 🙂

    I have one more..

    Dont eat tomato seeds…sperm counts get reduced.

    Reema: Thanks! Oh u r from the other side 😉 Funny myth!

  21. Hey I thought I had commented on this entry!

    Reema: I rescued all the ones that had gone into moderation. Your comment wasnt there. Would love to read your comment.

  22. i hate the smell of hot milk but love to drink cold one… no other concerns or thoughts about it occur to me…
    and regarding superstition, i’m not rested until there is a logical reasoning…
    not eating non-veg on a few days a week is enforced coz of the longer time meat takes to digest in the body… so eating nonveg on more than 2 days a week is not advisable, but is left to the whims and fancies of eaters…
    as for other beliefs, i’m as repulsive to them as u are…

    Reema: Not many people eat non veg daily!! And non veg doesn’t only mean meat…its also means egg and fish which one can eat daily.

  23. licking curd before the exams ….. my mom made sure I never missed that one before exams ……. some other of exams superstitions included seeing ur image in the mirror before departing , dropping a coin in the tumbler at the entrance of ur home , etc …….. don’t know whether they made any difference …. I always screwed in the papers … lol ….

    Reema: I am too nervous to eat anything before exams!

  24. Good post Reema ….
    I guess I am too late to add comments here….
    Another completely different way to look at food is, get into a serious exercise and weight loss regime. That way you will start researching food and you will exactly know what the contents are of everything you put in your mouth. I believe you will automatically forget those superstitions and look at food more logically and scientifically.

    Another twist is, if your parents are one of those (Extremely strict and probably Egoist) and if you try and oppose to what they suggest about hot/cold properties of food you might just upset them and you may also get a response “You new generation guys are over smart!” LoL 🙂

  25. dear who it may concern i am a student at saint marthas and i am currntly doing a project that is part of my GCSE DiDA i was hoping that you would grant me permission to use your images. thanks regards chiara civelluzzi

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