Food Folklore Today

While some food folk beliefs continue to be passed down from generation to generation, others have been discarded over the years, and new ones have been introduced. Today, food folklore is spread not only by word of mouth from person to person, but also to large numbers of people simultaneously via the mass media and the Internet. The growing popularity of alternative therapies, organic products, and functional foods has led to the development of new food folklore and increased the popularity of some traditional notions. Several examples of commonly held food folk beliefs of both the past and present are provided in Table 2.

Food and nutrition-science concepts that have developed over the past two centuries are newcomers to human thinking about the relationships between food and health. Although some food beliefs, such as the association of carrots with eyesight, have some scientific basis, many others remain unsupported by, or in opposition to, recent scientific findings. Pseudoscience, rather than sound evidence, provides the basis for much of today's food folklore. It is important for food and nutrition professionals to be knowledgeable about current food folk beliefs, because these ideas influence popular views about diet-health relationships. In order to identify beliefs that are of major health significance, it is useful to consider the strength of the belief in folklore and the strength of the scientific evidence surrounding it, as shown in Table 3.

When folkloric belief and scientific evidence are both strong and in agreement with each other, the folklore is unlikely to pose a major health threat. Similarly, when food folklore and the scientific evidence surrounding it are both weak, few practical problems exist. However, when scientific findings refute, or fail to support, popular food folk beliefs, public health may be threatened. For example, despite folklore that ephedra promotes rapid weight loss, a recent evidence-based review suggests that it does not and that it may even be harmful. Often, though, it is not that the scientific evidence regarding food folklore is weak but that it is unpro-ven or undetermined, indicating that more research needs to be done.

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