When you were growing up, you probably saw health posters posted in your school cafeteria advising you to eat your vegetables. Maybe a few compared the sugar in soda with the calcium in milk. But if you grew up in Myanmar, it’s likely you were sternly warned every day that certain combinations of foods —rabbit meat and mushrooms, for instance —could kill you if they ended up on the same plate.
The “Food That Shouldn’t Eat Together” poster is tacked all over Myanmar. Mass-produced and widely circulated, the poster details the gruesome and gory suspected effects of consuming certain foods at the same time. For example, the poster claims that if you eat Chinese potatoes and candy, you may vomit; if you eat chicken egg and neem leaf, you’ll get a stiff neck; if you eat crab and eggplant, they’ll poison you.
Some food combinations could allegedly kill you — milk and lemons, for instance. While that certainly sounds sour, we doubted it’d be deadly.
If you have ventured to eat one or all of these oddball combinations, don’t fret. The poster appears to be based entirely on superstition, not science.
“Many homes have it hanging in the kitchen. They believe it out of fear without [any] proof,” Myanmar food writer Ma Thanegi told Vice.
Another Myanmar resident, Kyaw Soe Htet, told his daring tale: “One time I ordered a chicken and bitter gourd curry for lunch. The storekeeper warned me that these two dishes would bring death. I ate them both. I’m still alive.”
We asked registered dietitian Jennifer Markowitz whether there was even a shred of validity to these food-related dangers. Would eating these combinations result in a stomachache or some discomfort, perhaps?
After reviewing the poster’s examples, she concluded, “It’s unlikely that most of these food combinations are based on scientific evidence.”
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to understanding the poster’s claims. “Food is such a fundamental part of a culture,” she explained to The Daily Meal. “It’s common to pass superstitions and beliefs from one generation to the next and food definitely has its part in this. I’m thinking chicken soup as ‘Jewish penicillin’ and the association of eggs with fertility in the Chinese culture.”
Markowitz did note that there are food combinations that are beneficial to human health — it’s not much of a stretch to assume based on a past experience that some could be harmful, as well.
“Beneficial food combinations are usually beneficial for enhancing nutrient absorption.” Markowitz explained.
Some food pairings, such as beans and rice from South American culture, have stuck around in part because of their healthfulness. Together, rice and beans create a complementary set of amino acids — it’s essential to have both for your body to effectively create proteins. Scientists now know that you can eat them separately at any time of day and your body’s smart enough to pair them later. But it’s still kind of cool that they’ve been prepared together for so long.
Markowitz added that other foods have benefits from pairing, as well. “Black pepper enhances the absorption of turmeric. Eating pre- and probiotics together can optimize gut bacteria, so you might try pairing banana and yogurt,” she explained. “There’s also evidence to show that lemon juice enhances the absorption of antioxidants found in green tea.”
No matter if there’s validity to the poster’s claims or not, you definitely won’t see rabbit meat and mushrooms in a Myanmar school cafeteria. Click here to view some other interesting school lunches served around the world.