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Most annoying urban myths debunked – part 3

29 October 2011

There are countless urban myths floating around. Some are amusing, some are terrifying and some are just plain weird. But there are also plenty of urban myths that I just find utterly annoying. Most of them are things I’ve believed in myself in the past, but when thinking about it logically realising couldn’t be true. Which is why I find them so annoying!

This is part three – read previous part 1 and part 2 here.

5. Fat free is good for you

Sugar cubes - 100% fat-free!

From cereal and yoghurt to ice cream and snack bars – where ever you look you see them advertising their healthiness by stating that they’re ‘Only 3% fat!’ or ‘Fat-free’.

Ok, I get it: a lot of people are watching their weight and want to avoid fattening food. Fair enough. But if you read the labels you will find that more often than not these fat-free products are jam-packed with sugars.

Dietary studies have shown that it’s the level of refined sugars that’s the bad guy in trying to keep your weight, not the fat content. In fact, if a food is rich in dietary fibres it will offset the fat content to a degree by binding to the fatty acids and keep them from being absorbed by our bodies. Sugar on the other hand is readily absorbed, even in the presence of dietary fibres. In addition, the absorption process start in our mouths – even before we have a chance to chew and swallow our food.

Also, free sugars have been linked to a number of health threats including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes type 2. However, and contrary to popular belief, it is not linked to hyperactivity in children – feeding your kids sugary treats on it’s own will not make them wild little monsters. But that’s another story.

So, if you’re monitoring you calorie intake, don’t be seduced by the fat-free claims – always look for the label and get the whole story. Fat-free is not always healthy.

6. Christmas tree needles kill you if you eat them

Silent harbinger of death?

I hadn’t heard this one until I moved to the UK, but it’s a good one: ‘No, we don’t use a real Christmas tree, because our toddler would eat the fallen needles and die!’ Oh. My. God. Are you serious?

First I had to get to the bottom of the reasoning behind the supposed lethality of spruce tree needles. The myth states that if you swallow tree needles they will pierce your stomach and guts. This will cause internal bleeding and you will eventually fall unconscious and die. It’s a slow, painful and horrible death.

Ok, let us debunk this myth step by step: Will swallowed tree needles pierce your stomach? No. Our stomachs are hardy thick-walled organs, adapted to deal with whatever crap we accidentally happen to swallow. Unless it’s a shard of glass, a razor blade or an epidermal needle we don’t have to worry. But wouldn’t a bunch of tree needles at least pierce our guts? No. Even though our guts are thinner and softer than our stomach linings, they are surprisingly tough. Which is probably why we’ve been using animal guts for water containers, sausage skins and instrument strings since prehistoric times. However, let us for sake of argument assume that we’ve somehow had swallowed some kind of super-needles, perhaps from some mutated evil Christmas tree. If these fictional super-needles would be able to pierce our guts, wouldn’t we then bleed to death? No. The holes made by the thin tree needles would be so small that they would be difficult to see with the naked eye. Our body would simply repair any damage automatically, and any minor bleeding would be dealt with by blood clotting.

But the real clincher is this: for more than a century people have been putting up decorated spruce trees for Christmas. Every year, thousand upon thousand of babies and toddlers would have eaten the fallen needles under the Christmas trees. Yet, if you were to visit a hospital’s emergency room at Christmas you wouldn’t stumble upon hundreds of unconscious children, their tiny fists still clenching handfuls of those deadly tree needles. Let’s face it: if this myth was true, Christmas trees would have been outlawed decades ago.

This is the third installment of the Urban myth series. You can find part 1, part 2 and part 4 here.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 October 2011 16:17

    Can you write something that will keep my mother-in-law from constantly bitching about carbs?


  2. 29 October 2011 16:18

    But we have a fake Christmas tree. What if my kid eats the fake Christmas tree? It comes with the lights already attached so there could be glass shards depending on where he bites the tree.


  3. 29 October 2011 16:19

    How ridiculous is it to have a fake tree handy to assemble and put up inside your house? I’m a loon, apparently.



  1. Most annoying urban myths debunked – part 4 «
  2. Most annoying urban myths debunked – part 2 «
  3. Most annoying urban myths debunked – part 5 «
  4. Most annoying urban myths debunked – part 6 «
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