Friday, July 22, 2011

Truthiness is hot in the media

Going jogging? Have a cup of coffee first.
Nothing brings out truthiness like extreme weather. As hot weather records in Ontario tumbled Thursday, at least three hot weather myths were repeated in the media ad nauseam.

The Weather Network online forecast it would feel like 49°C.
Linda Stobo, of the Middlesex London Health Unit, talking with The London Free Press, managed to repeat two of the most common myths in one interview.

She told the paper: One should drink plenty of water . . . even if one doesn't feel thirsty and one should avoid caffeinated drinks because they will make you more thirsty.

False and false. Both are myths that have been repeated so often they have entered the realm of truthiness.

Stephen Colbert, the host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, had this to say about truthiness.

I'm sure the word-police, the "wordanistas" at Websters, are gonna say: Hey, truthiness is not a word! Well, anybody who knows me knows that I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true, what did or didn't happen . . .

Cobert doesn't trust books. They're all fact, no heart, he says . . . we are divided into those who think with their heads, and those who know with their hearts . . .

According to some folk who think with their heads at the University of California, Berkeley, and publish the university's Wellness Letter: "You don’t end up with a net loss of water from drinking moderate amounts of caffeinated beverages. In other words, they don’t dehydrate you."

In a study from the University of Nebraska Medical Center a decade ago, healthy adults showed the same "hydration status" (as determined from urine analysis and other tests) when they drank caffeinated colas and/or coffee as when they drank only water and/or fruit drinks.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM), which advises the government about health issues, including dietary intakes, concluded "caffeinated beverages appear to contribute to the daily total water intake similar to that contributed by non-caffeinated beverages."

One report, by a scientist at the University of Connecticut who reviewed 10 previous studies, discovered fluid retention was essentially the same for both water or a caffeinated beverage.

So, feeling thirsty? Have a Tim's, if you like. Many authorities agree that the average person can enjoy from three to four cups of coffees over the course of a day — even a day that's a scorcher.

And have that Tim's when you're feeling thirsty, unless you're an old geezer like me, then drink early. Again, from the Wellness Letter: People normally get enough fluids by drinking when they’re thirsty — only older people should drink water before they get thirsty. Thirst is a less reliable indicator as we age.

This may seem like nitpicking and unimportant but if you're ever in Africa and in need of a drink, coffee made from boiled water is a healthier choice than cold water. Even bottled water can be suspect in some regions of the world.

I know a fellow who, while traveling in the Sahara Desert, drank so much bottled water at the encouragement of his guide that he made himself quite ill. That night he had a severe headache, suffered from fatigue, nausea, vomiting and had to urinate frequently. He was up all night. He munched on potato chips in an attempt to boost his low levels of sodium. Come morning he ate a couple of bananas for the potassium. The water, consumed despite not being thirsty, appeared to have seriously diluted his body's electrolyte.

Long distance runners have been known to force themselves to drink despite not feeling thirsty and a very small number have died as a result. It's rare but it happens.

Yes, it can get hot enough to fry an egg!
Oh, and about the phrase "hot-enough-to-fry-and-egg", it is often reported that this is a myth — an impossible feat. Can't be done, we're told.

Well, it can be done but it is a bit of a magic trick. You've got to know how to pull this one off. It is not as easy as simply breaking an egg on a hot surface. The hot surface will quickly cool and the egg itself will supply the insulation needed to keep the surface from regaining its original temperature.

The Alberta Egg Producers say that egg whites begins to ease into an opaque state at 62°C (144°F). Yolks needs a bit higher temperature: 65°C.

If you want to pull this off, have a chat with a high school physics teacher to get pointed in the right direction.

Once, I fried an egg in a frying pan placed on the hood of a black car. My neighbours were amazed. One hint: you've got to keep the performer's spiel going and keep attention diverted. It's only magic if no one can see the science behind the trick.

There is one group of folk who can't rehydrate with a Tim's. And these folk cannot tell you if they are feeling thirsty, either. I'm talking about babies.

Well-meaning caregivers may believe a baby needs plain water on a hot day; They don't. With such small bodies babies can quickly ingest too much water. Water poisoning is one of the leading causes of seizures in otherwise healthy babies, according to Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Keep babies lightly dressed, keep them in air conditioned environments, if they are drinking formula, do not over dilute the mix. If they must go outside to play, encourage them to splash about in a small pool set up in the shade.

The advice — drink plenty of water . . . even if you don't feel thirsty — is poor advice in many cases. Who knows, maybe even Stephen Colbert would agree.


  1. Nice job, Ken. I'd add one more commonly repeated myth: "Let your lawn go dormant." It will. Permanently dormant that is, as in dead. I learned that lesson the hard way years ago.
    And by the way, my, my, your granddaughter is simply perfect and adorable.
    Larry Cornies

  2. Larry is right about the let-your-lawn-go-dormant myth. It is very difficult to tell a dormant lawn from a dead one. A little regular, measured watering is important for a healthy lawn.