5 Foods Scientists Claimed Cause Cancer, But Don’t

These days, it seems like even smiling causes cancer. Fortunately, there’s no conclusive evidence on that, but so many of our favorite things have been linked to cancer in one way or another, it couldn’t hurt to be cautious.

But science is also quick to revise their analysis, if you take any solace in that. Studies are often conducted to achieve a certain result, or sponsored by someone with a biased agenda. For instance, if I owned Splenda, it would benefit me to sponsor a test on the effects of Nutrasweet — especially if I chose rats that were genetically predisposed to cancer.

As you’ll see examples like the one above aren’t rare… in fact, that’s one of the literal examples below. Including that example, here are six things that the greatest scientific minds (or sometimes, just the uninformed masses) assumed to cause cancer, which were later dispelled as hokum.

1. Aspartame


You might know aspartame by a number of names: Nutrasweet, Equal, or simply just “that stuff that ruins my coffee.” But, according to an article written by JW Olney and published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology in 1996, it was also the cause for the rising number of brain tumors between 1975 and 1992. Which is a funny coincidence, because aspartame only became a popular sweetener in diet colas and sugar-free gums starting in 1982.

In case you’re not a scientist or a mathematician, let me break it down for you: aspartame could not have caused tumors before it was commercially available. Also of note is that the rats in the study were exposed to the human equivalent of anywhere between 8 and 2,000 cans of soda daily. If that sounds like your diet, you might have bigger problems than cancer. Yet rumors have persisted, and the American Cancer Society even has a page dedicated to debunking the myth.

2. Genetically Modified Foods


Photo Credit: Lindsay Eyink

“Genetically Modified” is a very loaded term for a lot of political groups. But, strictly speaking, all food is genetically modified in one way or another—be it through natural selection, horticulture, or the heavy duty gene splicing happening on the mysterious island of Dr. Moreau. But it’s the latter that usually rankles people the most, as genes are inserted into a developing plant to enhance certain traits, creating a Genetically Modified Organism. Which, by the way, I’m still waiting for my freaking dragon.

These GMOs are perceived as unnatural and therefore unhealthy, but so far any link between GMOs and cancer is inconclusive. Molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Séralini even used rats that were genetically predisposed to cancer to try and sway popular opinion before a public vote to include GMO labeling on all non-organic foods. The Séralini Affair, as it’s since been dubbed, is one of the most notorious cases of abused scientific data and poorly constructed research in recent memory.

3. Drinking Cold Water After Meals

cold water

When it comes to linking things to cancer, the motto should be “the more innocuous, the better!” Even something as essential as water could turn into dreaded cancer. It’s like 80% of our cellular composition is out to get us. Fortunately, these people are incompetent boobs and the only time water can cause cancer is when you’re stirring it with a rod of Plutonium-239.

At any rate, this ode to pseudoscience began circulating on the internet in 2006, just in time to terrify your grandmother whose dialup modem you installed a week earlier. It still gets a little play now and then, its proponents arguing that cold water makes fats congeal in your intestines, which, you know, totally causes cancer somehow. Well, rest assured that your insides are better for drinking water at any temperature below scalding.

4. Fluoridated Water


Water fluoridation is one of the few times that a social service actually did some real freaking, undeniable good for the greater population. By adding a little fluoride to our drinking water, we cut down on the number of cavities in the population by decreasing the wearing away of natural enamel—and all without changing the water’s flavor. But anytime you add anything to anything, people are sure that cancer is lurking just around the corner. Fears were confirmed with a study conducted by the National Toxicology Program in 1990, which found increased incidents of bone tumors in fluoridated rats. Since then, however, the test has been repeated over 50 times and found no link between cancer and fluoridated water. What caused the increase in 1990 study, then? Statistical anomaly. And the fact that the study was conducted in Chernobyl. (That last part is not true.)

5. Cooking with a Microwave


I mean, if you can’t see it, it’s probably cancer… right? That’s the basic logic underlying this urban legend, either claiming that the microwaves give off excess radiation or add a little nuclear flavor to your microwave burritos. Scientist Hans Hertel tested the theory by locking a bunch of his buddies in a hotel room to eat nothing but vegetables and milk heated in a microwave. Two weeks later he popped his head out of that fart barrel and released the damning info: the men’s blood work exhibited signs of early cancer activity. But this study was done in an unsupervised manner, not published in a scholarly journal, and didn’t prove any conclusive link between their activity and cancer.

Other (respected, less flatulent) scientists maintain that the low-level, non-ionizing power emitted by microwaves just doesn’t have the power to alter anyone’s DNA. Again, the helpful folks at the American Cancer Society has an entire page dedicated to quelling your fears on this non-threatening appliance. The page also covers cell phones, radio waves and full-body security scanners, so crackpots beware.


Here Are 7 Facts You Never Knew About Microwaves

Photo Credit: Chris Kelly Photo Credit: Chris Kelly

There’s a reason more than 90 percent of American households have a microwave: why, it’s a wizard’s tool of the dank tasty! Oh, microwave — beloved television of the kitchen, blessed temple of the warm snacks, fruitful god who protects the wanting—you are the truest of cooks.

But the microwave, even though it gives and gives and gives, still racks up a bad rep at times because of myths and college-student dependency (and, okay, a few facts). The prized 20th century invention can be as dangerous as it is fascinating. Let’s talk about what makes the microwave the alluring little enigma it is.

1. The microwave was invented by accident.

Standing in front of an active radar set while working on magnetrons, Percy Spencer noticed the candy bar in his pocket had melted. Intrigued, Spencer, a leading expert in radar tube design, decided to experiment, ultimately creating a high-density electromagnetic field within a metal box that would go on to live in infamy as how we heat up burritos.

2. Popcorn was the first food tested in a microwave.

Once that magical box of microwaves was built, Spencer naturally had to test it out, and his first choice could not have been more perfect: popcorn. It went beautifully, bouncing everywhere. The next day, he tried his second selection of food: an egg. It obviously exploded, but not be before a stunned engineer put his face a little too close to behold the new machine’s wondrous power. Actually, that one might’ve just been a hilarious prank.

3. The first microwave sold for $5,000.

Called the “RadaRange,” the machine was unsurprisingly a bigger robotic beast than the cutesy cozy little kitchen pets we know today. Weighing 750 pounds and standing just under 6 feet, the first commercial microwave sold for $5,000 ($52,628 today). It was also waaaaaay more powerful than today’s microwave, cooking a full potato in 30 seconds.

4. Nobody wanted to buy a microwave when it came out.

According to Spencer’s grandson, Rod, also an inventor, “The microwave oven eventually became known as Raytheon’s largest commercial failure, and the reason why was that, like so many other failures, they saw the cool technology but they didn’t understand the market.”

5. Microwaving plastic-covered food can give you cancer; standing next to it won’t.

Putting plastics in a microwave is rarely a good idea, since chemicals will leach into your food when the containers break down. In a 2011 Environmental Health Perspectives study it was revealed that even “BPA-free” plastics leach estrogenic chemicals that could cause cancer. However, keep in mind that microwaves are not filled with cancer-causing radiation, nor does it spill out into the air when you open the door. Feel free to stand in front of it while it zaps your leftovers back to life.

6. Nutrients can change in a microwave, but they don’t decrease. They might actually make your food more healthy.

“There is no specific harm of microwaving with regard to nutrient levels,” says David Katz, MD, director of Yale University Prevention Research Center.

Some food particles, such as vitamins and omega-3 fats, can shift in their sensitive reaction to heat. In cooking, veggie nutrients sometimes leach into the water being used, but since you typically use much less water in a microwave, the food might actually stay healthier than if you had cooked it another way.

7. Metal can be okay inside a microwave, as long as it’s not thin or sharp.

At times, it seems like everyone’s under the impression that if you so much as think about having any metal in a microwave, your house explodes. That’s not the case. Instead, it comes down to what kind of metals you put in there.

See, the appliance’s microwave radiation bounces around, attracting all the metal’s electrons. If they get caught in a dead end (like a fork) or a kink (aluminum foil), it creates a concentrated area of negative charge, which goes haywire once it hits air. Thicker, flat pieces of metal heat up slowly, so they aren’t really too dangerous, as they work much like the walls of microwaves themselves. Things made of materials, such as ceramics and glass, won’t absorb radio waves at that frequency, so while they heat up, it’s not enough to go bizerk.



Video of the Day: Microwaves Playing 'Jingle Bells'