The novel coronavirus has the world tightly cocooned in a climate of fear, unease, and misinformation. Especially food myths that are supposed “miracle cures” for fending off the deadly virus.
Thanks to the convenience of social media — mass-messaging on WhatsApp, re-sharing of Facebook posts, and retweeting “health hacks” on Twitter — much of this misinformation is perpetuated to greater heights.
While information-sharing stems from the desire to protect your family and friends from COVID-19, the dissemination of inaccurate information actually does more harm than good.
In this post, we’ll look at 18 food myths that have gone viral and determine the accuracy of each claim.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Using apple cider vinegar (ACV) to fight the coronavirus is an old wives’ tale if you’ve ever heard of one.
Despite that, ACV is one of the most popular myths that’s been widely circulated on social media and in face-to-face chats with Grab drivers — tips range from using ACV as a mouthwash to drinking diluted ACV every morning.
But it should be noted that due to the bacteria-killing acetic acid in ACV, the sour-smelling liquid targets bacteria and not viruses. As such, it’s ineffective against the novel coronavirus.
While a glass of wine is greatly welcomed after a hectic day of WFH, the alcohol content in it won’t make you impervious to COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that for alcohol to kill bacteria, viruses, and germs, the alcoholic content needs to be between 60% and 90%. So, how does this relate to your G&T?
Well, most liquors and spirits are below the optimal threshold needed to destroy viruses, which makes alcoholic beverages powerless against the coronavirus.
This particular misconception may also lure people into thinking that it’s okay, or even wise, to drink more alcohol than usual, which can lead to health complications like alcoholism and liver failure.
Before you pester your doctor for antibiotics, do note that antibiotics target bacteria, not viruses, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has succinctly pointed out. Since COVID-19 is actually a virus and not a type of bacteria, taking antibiotics won’t help you much.
4. Black Pepper
Notable for spicing up dishes, black pepper is a common staple in most kitchens. Besides its smoky (and slightly fiery) taste, black pepper also has several health benefits — anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting, and antioxidant-rich. But does black pepper actually help your body repel COVID-19?
Not directly. Instead, black pepper promotes gut health which is essential to a strong, properly functioning immune system. This may lower the likelihood of being infected with the coronavirus, which targets your body’s immune cells.
Recently, a bleach product known as Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) was widely circulated on Telegram, advocating its function as a “miracle cure” for a range of health ailments, including COVID-19 infections.
Unfortunately, using bleach as a form of health supplement is not only untrue but also dangerous for your health. When too much bleach is ingested, it can cause nausea, vomiting, and even permanent organ damage.
6. Colloidal Silver
Another controversial dietary supplement is colloidal silver — tiny silver flakes suspended in liquid form. Its purported benefits include anti-cancer properties and enhanced immunity, triggering a surge in its popularity recently.
But, it should be noted that these colloidal silver health claims are largely unsupported. In fact, consuming colloidal silver can incur argyria, a health condition that turns your skin bluish-grey. Not exactly a pretty picture, which is why it’s best to restrict silver to your jewelry rather than introduce it to your diet.
7. Curry Powder
A hotbed of spices, curry powder not only delights your taste buds but also contains anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting properties.
Turmeric, a spice commonly found in curry powder, contains curcumin which is known to fight inflammation and treat chronic health conditions like arthritis and diabetes. Chilli powder, another mainstay of curry powder, features capsaicin which also packs a punch in defeating inflammation.
When you add ginger and pepper to this fiery mix, it’s no wonder that curry powder has earned quite a reputation for bolstering your immunity. Nevertheless, current research has not confirmed the use of curry powder in preventing the common cold, let alone COVID-19.
As lovely as elderberry tea tastes, drinking large amounts of it won’t miraculously grant you immunity from the coronavirus.
It’s true that the juice and fruits of the elderberry have been traditionally used in folk medicine to treat flu-related illnesses like influenza. But, if you look at the scientific literature closely, you’ll realize that elderberry is used to reduce the severity of flu symptoms, not prevent colds entirely.
This also means that while elderberry is rich in vitamin C (a potent immunity booster), it isn’t foolproof against the coronavirus.
Fresh garlic contains allicin, which is alleged to thwart the common cold. Yet, there’s insufficient evidence that garlic is indeed effective against the average flu virus, much less the deadlier COVID-19.
Still, increasing your garlic consumption may shore up your body’s defenses against flu viruses in general.
From ginger tea to ginger ale, this versatile spice is also a cult favorite for tackling viruses.
Based on a 2013 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, fresh ginger was discovered to be effective against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This virus strain infects your lungs and the lower respiratory tract, symptoms that are eerily similar to that of the coronavirus. But do note that dried ginger, on the other hand, wasn’t effective in fighting off said RSV.
Using this line of reasoning, ginger has to be fresh to have effective antiviral properties. This also means that drinking more ginger ale than usual will not prevent a COVID-19 infection since these drinks are usually high in sugar and low on fresh ginger extract. In fact, gulping down the ale will just heighten your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
11. Hot Beverages
Drinking hot water, or any type of hot beverage, is also rumored to kill the coronavirus.
However, a respiratory disease expert at Cardiff University in the UK pointed out that the coronavirus targets the respiratory tract, i.e. the nose and the lungs, and not your digestive system.
That’s why regularly drinking hot drinks will not “wash away” the coronavirus if it’s already in your body.
Also, it should be noted that only a temperature equal to 65°C or higher is enough to kill viruses like the COVID-19. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to put this tip into reality, since the human body is not made to withstand anything hotter than 50°C. Seriously, burns in your mouth and throat are not cool.
Normally a staple of the Korean diet, the international demand for kimchi has skyrocketed in recent times.
As a fermented food, kimchi is rich in probiotics that promote a healthy gut microbiome. Since a healthy gut promotes a healthy body, kimchi is rumored to be the reason behind the slowdown of COVID-19 infections in South Korea.
But, remember that correlation is not causation — a kimchi-based diet is not necessarily a direct reason for the drop in Korea’s infection rate. On top of that, Koreans have been consuming kimchi their whole life, not just in recent times.
A more accurate assumption would be to look at kimchi as an immune-supporting food. Eating kimchi at every meal probably strengthened the average Korean’s immune system, which may or may not play a role in the country’s falling infection rate.
Chock full of vitamin C, lemons are often synonymous with everyone’s favorite vitamin. Also, some say that lemons’ low acidity is an effective antidote against COVID-19.
Yet, this claim isn’t true as “the virus can, indeed, survive in acidic environments”, an infectious disease expert explained. “So no, gargling with or drinking lemon juice or water is not going to be useful in killing coronavirus.”
Onions have also been dubbed as a coronavirus-killer. How it works: Placing a raw, cut onion in a room will supposedly absorb all the germs and viruses from the surrounding air.
But a nutritional sciences senior lecturer and Council Member of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia, Dr. Wong Jyh Eiin, disputes this claim, “Onions do not absorb bacteria or viruses when left in a room.” This goes to show that not all centuries-old practices are legit.
Gargling or rinsing your nose with saltwater is also part of the legion of gone-viral health myths. But are these methods truly effective?
According to a 2019 study in the Journal of Scientific Reports, the combination of gargling and nose-rinsing with saline boosted participants’ recovery rate from the common cold.
But it’s important to note that the common cold is much milder than the coronavirus. It still remains to be seen if saltwater will actually protect you against COVID-19.
Similar to kimchi, sauerkraut is a fermented-based dish, albeit popular in Germany rather than in East Asia.
Being an acidic dish, eating sauerkraut is said to beat the odds of getting coronavirus. Germany’s relatively low rate of coronavirus infections compared to other parts of the world further encourages this perception.
Alas, a recent study published in The Lancet Microbe this year, showed that the coronavirus survives even in environments as acidic as pH 3. We hate to bust your bubble, but loading up on sauerkraut is not exactly a get-out-of-jail-free card, COVID-19-edition.
17. Sesame Oil
Another trending food myth consists of applying sesame oil on your skin to block the coronavirus from entering your body.
Aside from sounding dubious and icky, WHO has laid rest to this claim:
Image by WHO from Twitter
After all, washing sesame oil off your body is one challenge you can do without in the current pandemic.
18. Vitamin C
According to Bloomberg, vitamin C products are flying off the shelves like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, there’s a serious shortage of said products right now in countries such as Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Nevertheless, while vitamin C does help fortify your immune defenses, there’s no scientific evidence that the antioxidant is potent enough to stop the coronavirus in its tracks. In other words, bulk-buying vitamin C isn’t the much-anticipated solution.
Don’t Spread Misinformation
In the current pandemic, it’s best to refrain from spreading misinformation. For one, they are wholly inaccurate and does nothing to help the status quo. For another, some of these myths are actually damaging to your (and everyone’s) health. Case in point: Drinking bleach and scalding your mouth with hot water.
On top of that, healthcare systems around the world are already overburdened as it is. The last thing you want to do is add to their already full plates with injuries caused by following said food myths.
What you can do instead, is stay at home and focus on boosting your immune system with a healthy diet.
Most of the foods covered earlier are natural immune-boosters — think ginger, lemons, and curries. Eating them in the right proportions may help you maintain good health.
Of course, complementing a healthy diet with exercise will further help your cause. It also goes without saying that you should definitely wear a mask when you venture out. Stay safe, folks!