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OLD WIVES' TALES? YOU'D BETTER BELIEVE IT
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OLD WIVES' TALES? YOU'D BETTER BELIEVE IT

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Thank goodness we can hold to certain truths, certain pearls of wisdom passed on by our parents, that while cliched, taught and deeply inspired us:

What goes up must come down.A penny saved is a penny earned.

Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.

But something happened with the food truths. A little stirring of the pot. A pinch of half-truth. And suddenly, a crock of old wives' tales. Someone along the food and eating front told a few whoppers. And we believed 'em.

So it only seems right that we should lift the veil of mystery from a few ``truths' that might be a trifle false. (And really, we mean no ill intent if your bubble happens to burst.)

Here then, are the myths:

HOW TO KEEP FROM CRYING WHEN CUTTING AN ONION To keep from crying when cutting an onion, bite down on two matches.

Or stick a piece of toast between your teeth.

Or hold a lemon peel under your nose (how will you hold the onion and cut at the same time?).

Or cut the onion under water. (Good luck.)

Oh, there seem to be as many methods as there are cooks to stop the sobbing, but few methods have any basis in fact.

``My mentor and good friend, (food writer) Bert Greene, swore a wooden spoon clenched between his teeth helped,' says food writer Sharon Tyler Herbst, whose book ``The Food Lover's Tiptionary' (Hearst Books, $15) offers some tear-stopping tactics.

``But it's really subjective. I just chop the onion fast. I hold my breath. Or one of my favorite ways is to throw those suckers in a food processor ... and have a pan ready.'

As anyone knows, cutting into an onion can be hazardous to your tear ducts; a knife ruptures an onion's cells, throwing together sulfur compounds and enzymes, which waft straight to the eyeball. About the only sure-fire method to keep from crying is to avoid cutting the onion, which is hard to do if your recipe calls for chopped onion.

To lessen the offensive vapors, though, you could try chopping the onion on top of the stove with the exhaust fan running so most of the vapors will be sucked away from your face.

You also can try freezing the onion for 30 minutes first; enzymes are slowed by cold.

And if nothing else works, don goggles to shield your eyes. Just remember to take them off when serving the guests.

CHOCOLATE CAUSES ACNE You know you still believe it. You hear the words coming out of your mouth even now when chiding the kids. Chances are, that's all this statement ever was: a way to tell kids to cut the junk food.

``For the most part, acne is caused by a hormonal change in adolescence,' says Mark Meskin, a dietitian and professor. Few, if any, studies exist showing links between diet and acne.

French fries and sugary foods often get lumped in with chocolate as something to avoid, perhaps for good reason.

``Maybe it's the greasy nature of foods that makes us think of the greasy nature of skin,' Meskin says. ``And there probably are some good reasons not to be eating those foods.'

A PREGNANT WOMAN MUST EAT FOR TWO ``Boy, I made that mistake,' says Nancy Rommelmann, author of ``Everything You Pretend to Know About Food and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask' (Penguin Books, $10.95).

``I read those books,' she says referring to guides on maternity, ``but you really need 300 calories a day extra. That's basically 1 yogurts, ladies.'

Expectant mothers should focus on their intake of iron and calcium, the most important nutrients for a growing fetus, dietitian Meskin says.

Some expectant mothers don't eat enough, says Meskin, so the advice could have been a way to get a woman to eat more.

Or a woman might figure she needs to make up for not having eaten much during the first few months of pregnancy when she's nauseated, says Dr. Dean Edell. He sometimes dispels myths as part of his national call-in radio show.

FISH IS BRAIN FOOD Maybe it is fish's serious look that promotes this idea.

But recent studies in the nation's leading health journals confirm that fish is good heart food.

The omega-3 fatty acids, found almost exclusively in fish, help keep arteries open by discouraging the buildup of artery-clogging plaque. They may also discourage high blood pressure. Eating a couple of servings of fish a week may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Fish also is fairly low in calories and fat compared with other sources of protein.

Some scientists believe that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in mental development at a time of rapid brain growth - childhood - but studies are still inconclusive.

PASTA STICKS TO THE WALL WHEN DONE Growing up, Rommelmann remembers, she ate spaghetti at her best friend's house. Her friend's mother threw a noodle against the wall; if it stuck, the pasta was done.

``It's a whole lot more fun that way,' she says, ``but it would be overcooked. I guess 30 years ago that would have been a good barometer, since we ate pasta that was more well-cooked. ... And what kid is going to say no?'

But today's palate likes pasta al dente: firm to the bite. Yes, well-cooked pasta might be gummy enough to cling to anything. A better way of checking (and keeping your walls clean) is to fish a piece from the cook pot and taste it. If the center is still hard and floury, it's not done. You want it tender but firm. Keep in mind that pasta still cooks a little after you pull it from the pot because of the residual heat.

EAT YOUR CARROTS, AND YOU'LL HAVE GOOD VISION No one believed you'd have Superman's X-ray vision, but many fearful of being labeled ``four eyes' probably downed their share of the crunchy orange vegetable.

Years ago, when vitamin deficiencies and poor nutrition were more common, this statement probably held some truth. Such a deficiency is uncommon in Western countries today, but the idea persists. Carrots are high in vitamin A and beta carotene, and the eyes need these nutrients to make the pigments that absorb light within the eye. A twist on the old tale is that carrots will improve night vision; loss of night vision is the first step toward vision loss.

Carrots remain the leading source of vitamin A in our diets, and some research shows that eating carrots may lower blood cholesterol levels.

WATER WILL STOP THE BURN FROM HOT CHILI PEPPERS Gulping water if your mouth is on fire is about the worst thing you can do, says Anne Gardiner, who teaches in British Columbia and co-writes a food-science column called ``The Inquisitive Cook' (also on the Web at www.inquisitivecook.com).

Much of the heat in chili peppers comes from capsaicin, the fiery compound found mostly in a chili's seeds and membranes. Drinking water or beer further disperses the heat throughout your body. Uh-oh.

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and ice cream are the answer. They seem to neutralize the chili's oils. Bread, rice and tortillas also seem to absorb the chili oils and help lessen the burn.

Believe it or not, though, you can learn to tolerate hot foods by eating them fairly often.

BROWNING MEAT SEALS IN JUICES Uh-huh. That's why you've needed that steak knife so often, right? Food scientists such as Gardiner, who delight in the chemistry and composition of what we eat, love this one. When it comes to meat, any heat causes the muscle fibers to shrink and expel moisture, making meat drier. Browning does create color and flavor, however, Gardiner says.

GIVING SUGAR TO CHILDREN MAKES THEM HYPER We want to believe it. We've seen it happen, right?

``But no one has been able to reproduce this in a scientific setting,' Meskin says. ``This is one of those old wives' tales that is so entrenched in the face of a tremendous amount of data to the contrary that you can't convince people otherwise.' Adds Edell, ``Parents will give a kid an artifically sweetened soda with a lot of caffeine, then they blame the candy bar.'

What sugar does do is amass the dental bills. All types of sugar encourage the growth of oral bacteria, the cause of cavities.

PUT THE SEED BACK IN AN AVOCADO TO KEEP IT FROM TURNING BROWN About the only thing that will do is keep the flesh beneath the pit from turning brown. The best thing to do: Drizzle a little lemon juice on the sliced avocado, according to the California Avocado Bureau, and don't wait too long to eat it.

EATING THE CRUSTS OF BREAD WILL MAKE YOUR HAIR CURLY No doubt just wishful thinking from a straight-haired mother or grandmother.

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Bio-Adhesive Alliance Inc., which makes products from swine manure that can be used as a substitute to petroleum-asphalt adhesive in the construction industry, pleaded guilty in March in U.S. District Court in Greensboro to two counts of making false statements. It was sentenced Monday to repay $562,500 to the National Science Foundation and $319,199.69 to the Environmental Protection Agency.

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