If you are at all interested in health or nutrition, you probably know some basic facts about the healthfulness of common foods. For example, you’ve probably heard that omega 3 fats found in fish and nuts are good for your brain, and that eating a lot of saturated fat from animal products is bad for your heart. But did you know that an ingredient found in many common foods might cause you to be quick to anger? Or that another everyday food can possibly lower your IQ? While you don’t necessarily need to know the following weird food facts, as they say, forewarned is forearmed: you should probably know that certain fruits and vegetables are poisonous when consumed raw if you’re thinking about jumping on the “raw food” bandwagon, for example. Read on to learn some surprising and strange facts about food, and I’ll bet that you won’t look at a lima bean in the same way ever again.
1. Cake can make you angry
… and not just because someone else took the last slice before you got yours. Spreads, fast food, deep-fried food, and processed/packaged foods, including soups, cake mixes, and frozen pizza, might also just shorten your fuse. The potentially ire-inducing ingredient all these foods have in common is trans fat, a type of fat formed by the process of hydrogenation or by frying food in polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
According to the results of a study conducted at the University of California San Diego and published in the medical journal “PLoS One” in March 2012, consumption of foods with trans fats is associated increased impatience, irritability, and aggression. UCSD researchers arrived at this conclusion after studying the dietary habits and moods of close to a thousand women and men.
Although it will take more research to turn these alarming findings into commonly known facts, as you may already know, trans fats are already strongly linked to numerous health problems, including high cholesterol, stroke, and heart disease. Fortunately, you can have your cake to eat it, too, i.e., you can buy tasty food that does not contain these unhealthy fats. To do this, check food labels for words like “partially hydrogenated oil” and “vegetable shortening.” Total trans fat content should also be listed on the nutrition label.
2. Lima beans can give you cyanide poisoning
That is, if you eat them raw. Unfortunately, this weird food fact can’t get you out of eating your lima beans, as they are rendered harmless – and highly nutritious – if they are cooked for ten minutes. However, potentially deadly cyanide also lurks in other raw foods, including cassava root (also called yucca) and bitter almonds. The seeds/pits of apples, cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches contain cyanide as well. Although the body can tolerate a small amount of cyanide, larger amounts can make you sick and even cause death; people have reportedly died of cyanide poisoning from consuming too many fruit pits.
Other foods that contain potentially deadly toxins when consumed raw include potatoes (if the skins are sprouting or the potato has turned green), kidney beans, and cashews. Note that “raw almonds” and “raw cashews” sold in stores are not entirely raw – they are treated with heat to remove traces of poison. Individuals who grow their own gardens should beware that rhubarb leaves, tomato leaves and vines, and the berries/fruit that grows on asparagus plants are all poisonous. The main takeaway here: cook your beans and ‘taters, and don’t chew on fruit pits or on random bits of your garden!
3. Starvation may slow the aging process
Don’t try this one at home. So-called “starvation diets” and severely calorie-restricted diets can cause reduced muscle mass, reduced bone density, and hormonal imbalances. If extreme, as in the form of fasting, such diets can cause electrolyte imbalances, hair loss, cardiac arrhythmia, and death. However, there is also evidence that calorie restriction, or CR, a diet that restricts caloric intake by approximately 30 percent but contains the same essential vitamins and minerals as a normal diet, may prolong life.
Proponents of CR cite various animal studies demonstrating that animals fed lifelong CR diets live significantly longer than those on non-CR diets. One group of scientists found that they were able to almost double the lifespan of rats and mice by feeding them a CR diet. Based on findings related to the effects of starvation on microorganisms like yeast, some researchers have theorized that calorie restriction prolongs the life of an organism by giving it improved resistance to oxidative stress – one of the primary causes of aging and related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
While there are no long-term studies showing that CR provides the same life-extending benefits for humans, some studies have demonstrated that humans on CR diets have reduced cardiovascular disease risk factors and improve memory. However, doctors warn that a CR diet can be dangerous for young people, the elderly, and women who are pregnant or trying to conceive.
4. Soda makes you stupider
If you have to take a test or write a report today, you might want to think twice before you grab for that bag of Skittles or can of Mountain Dew. Mounting evidence, including a 2012 study conducted by researchers at UCLA and published in “The Journal of Physiology,” links the consumption of added sugars with cognitive impairment.
The recent UCLA study found that rats that drank a fructose (sugar) solution instead of their regular water for six weeks were much slower at completing a maze than rats that drank water. Researchers theorized that fructose might upset the brain’s insulin metabolism, which, rather ironically, deprives the brain of the sugar it requires to function properly.
Other research has linked human diets high in added sugar with reduced production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a chemical the brain needs to form new memories. BDNF levels are especially low in people with diabetes and other diseases related to glucose metabolism impairment.
Another recent study, led by Mayo Clinic researchers, concluded that older people who eat a high-sugar or high-carbohydrate diet are more prone to developing mild cognitive impairments, including problems with thinking, judgment, memory, and language.
Fortunately, there may be a way for you to balance out the negative neuro-effects of that sugary soda you just drank: eat something with healthy fats or protein. The UCLA rat study found that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation partially counteracted the rats’ sugar-related brain deficits, while the Mayo Clinic study found that adults who ate more protein and fat relative to sugar/carbohydrates were less likely to experience cognitive impairment.
5. Half of all food is wasted
Perhaps this one is more sad than it is “weird.” It is, nevertheless, true. A report issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 2008 stated that nearly half of all food produced worldwide is wasted. This waste occurs throughout the supply chain, from farms and warehouses, to restaurants and grocery stores, to households. A report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2012 found that in America, where approximately 40 percent of all food is wasted, families actually throw away 25 percent of the food they buy.
Not only is this extremely sad, considering that nearly one billion people worldwide face malnourishment and starvation, but wasting food also wastes the fresh water, arable land, and other resources that go into making and transporting the food. The wasting of food also contributes to climate change due to the carbon dioxide emissions generated in order to produce the food, as well as those produced by all the uneaten food rotting in landfills.
While a lot of food is wasted before it ever gets to your plate or pantry, there is a very simple thing you can do to avoid contributing to food waste: avoid buying more food than you are likely eat before it goes bad or becomes stale. This includes resisting buying products in bulk or purchasing food items that you don’t really like just because you can get a good deal on them. In other words, you have to realize that while buying a 12-box pack of Nilla Wafer cookies at Costco may seem like the normal thing to do because everybody else you see at the store is doing it, in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually pretty weird.