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Dragon Dept: When Food Myths Attack!

July 9, 2012

Impact Magazine asked me to illustrate an article about food myths. An interesting challenge because the article mentioned nine myths, and the illustration had to span the top of a 2-page spread. Here’s the final:cartoon illustration showing dragon representing food myths involving brown sugar, sea salt, superfood blueberries, caffeine and energy drinks, vitamin supplements, need to drink 8 glasses of water, and gladiator is fighting dragon with good food represented by apple shield and fish and spinach sword

One of the myths: energy drinks are the best way to get energized. Not true. The effects of energy drinks are short-term. Worse, they usually contain a lot of sugar and caffeine.

The best way to boost your energy level is based on old-fashioned common sense: eat well, be active, stay hydrated, get enough sleep. Sounds familiar, right?

Here’s a detail image:detail image of cartoon illustration showing dragon representing food myths involving brown sugar, sea salt, superfood blueberries, caffeine and energy drinks, vitamin supplements, need to drink 8 glasses of water, and gladiator is fighting dragon with good food represented by apple shield and fish and spinach sword

Other myths:

  • You need to drink 8 glasses of water a day (depends on your physical size, activity level, etc, and other liquids count, including coffee and tea)
  • Honey and brown sugar are better for you than white sugar (nutritionally, they’re all similar: concentrated calories, few nutrients)
  • “Superfoods” will make you super-healthy (“superfood” is a marketing gimmick: a made-up term attached to trendy foods like acai berries)
  • Sea salt is better for you than table salt (they both contain about the same amount of sodium)
  • You need vitamin and mineral supplements to be healthy (most people can meet these requirements through a balanced diet)

Here’s a detail image showing how I tried to capture the above myths:

cartoon illustration showing dragon representing food myths involving brown sugar, sea salt, superfood blueberries, caffeine and energy drinks, vitamin supplements, need to drink 8 glasses of water, and gladiator is fighting dragon with good food represented by apple shield and fish and spinach sword

After seeing my rough sketch, the editor asked that I include a fish somewhere in the illustration to emphasize the importance of protein.

I was scratching my head over this for awhile. Then it occurred to me that a fish and a spinach leaf have roughly the same shape. Easy solution. Whew!  comparison of rough sketch showing gladiator with spinach leaf sword and revision showing a fish added to the spinach leaves because editor wanted to include fish as a symbol of good healthy food

What do you think? Had any experience with dragons? Why are we all such suckers when it comes to food myths and fad diets? Hope you’ll leave a comment.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2012 9:20 PM

    Great illustration, Mark. Really cool.

    Excellent points. The only one I’d adjust is the salt one (and perhaps the honey one); the sodium issue is complicated. Salt does not cause high blood pressure; no one knows what really causes it. However, the human body needs salt (it’s the only mineral that we’d die without) to maintain blood pressure and retain water. If someone has high BP, they can artificially lower it by depriving themselves of salt.

    Sea salt has more minerals than table salt, which is industrially processed. Now, it does depend on how we define “sea salt”. Artesinal salt, hand-collected instead of industrially collected, may be less nasty and higher in minerals.

    Honey does have quercitin, an antioxidant that’s being studied for all sorts of medical benefits. However you can also get the compound from onions and apples.

    Dead on about all the others. I’ll post the study if you want, but it’s been discovered that people who take supplements live shorter lives (more cancer and heart disease) than people who don’t. Now, correllation does not equal causation. But if doses especially toxic ones like beta carotene are too high, people may be blowing out their livers and such. Bottom line? Get it from food. Right on.

    Why people are fatigued depends on what’s wrong with them. Sleep disorder? Anemia? Low blood pressure? Dehydration? Superfoods could help these disorders but no more than good old fashioned nonsuper foods with the same nutritional value.

    And don’t forget the 3 components of nutrition: 1. Nutrients, 2. Absorption, 3. Bioavailability. Misunderstand just one, and it won’t matter what you eat.

    So not feeling good? Just fix it, Dear Henry! 😀

    Brilliant post!


    • July 10, 2012 9:53 AM

      Whoa. I can see this post struck a chord with a very knowledgeable person! : )

      Thanks for all the great feedback, Amelie. I’m sure readers will appreciate having that information.

      It’s funny how the keys to health and happiness remain fixed, simple, traditional: eat right, get enough exercise and sleep, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, respect yourself and others, etc, etc. Simple, but it requires real effort and commitment. I guess that’s why so many people, sadly, go looking for something else… : (

      Thanks again for your time, support, and generous feedback! : )


      • July 10, 2012 11:08 AM

        So right, Mark. Reason #50 why I always listened to Grandma. She was right, eat your broccoli!

        People get all hopped up over the “changes” made by scientists and the USDA. The fact is, the USDA has *always* contended that frutis and veggies should be consumed in plentiful amounts. The difference is, we’re just beginning to understand why.

        Foods with cruciferous compounds for example (broccoli, cabbage, horseradish) are now thought to contain chemotheraputic agents; that’s right, they may be cancer cell killers. And despite the vilification of fat (as you said, it’s sugar that’s the bad stuff) many fats are not only good but essential in salads as they aid in absorption of certain nutrients.


        • July 10, 2012 2:17 PM

          Grandma’s always right.

          Well, perhaps except for the time she told me to rob that bank… : )


  2. July 9, 2012 9:21 PM

    Oh, and salt is needed for the sodium-potassium transport pump. Duh, Amelie. Without that no heartbeat or muscle activity, nothin’.


  3. July 9, 2012 9:26 PM

    Wonderful Mark..! It speaks volumes about the gimmicks some manufacturers use to sell their products… I am a person who loves ‘good wholesome food’ (with an occasional ‘treat’ 😉 ).

    It’s sad that so many are fooled into believing such nonsense; no wonder we have so many suffering unhealthy effects from profit making scoundrels’.

    Now I shall get down from my soap box and say – Well done; I’m sure that your client must have been very pleased with the result..! 🙂


    • July 10, 2012 10:14 AM

      I agree: Nothing better than good wholesome treats and some occasional food… : P

      Just kidding. You’ve summed it up very well: there’s no substitute for good food and good sense. I wish I had more of the latter, of course… : (

      Many thanks, Carolyn, always a pleasure to welcome you and your soapbox! : )


  4. July 9, 2012 10:01 PM

    I love your entertaining and educational cartoons. This is one many struggle with. Middle schoolers at my school (7th and 8th grades) often bring those energy drinks – or some super-caffeinated coffee – to school. They don’t get that while they might get energized, they will crash and burn when the sugar wears off. One student was really super antsy. She told me she ate sugar for breakfast and was, obviously, having a sugar rush. Scary.

    Keep up the great work, Mark.


    • July 10, 2012 10:37 AM

      Thanks, Judy. It saddened me to read your comment about the middle schoolers. I’m sure I had (unknowingly) more than a few sugar rushes myself as a kid, after eating sugar-frosted flakes, etc. But the idea of kids chugging down these pseudo-energy drinks to get through the day– man, that is a worrisome thing. One shudders to think what these drinks are compensating for.

      Today, we have more nutritional knowledge than you can shake a popsicle stick at. And more obesity and addictive behaviors. I’m afraid knowledge is no substitute for the emotional security of a stable family life. Still the search goes on for some magic solution to things like obesity and bullying. Sigh.

      I am, however, very happy to know your good influence is being felt in a school. Sincerely. And thanks so much for your support. : )


  5. July 10, 2012 12:55 AM

    Well done! I can’t even image how challenging this assignment would have been! And adding in the fish and spinach really made it pop! I think it’s fun to follow along with your thought processes! And the final result really turned out great! You have the most interesting job, Mark! : )


    • July 10, 2012 2:03 PM

      Aw shucks, ’tweren’t nuthin’, as I said about my zero contribution to the Reform School Alumni Association… : P

      As for fish and spinach, I add them to everything, even my peanut butter sandwiches… : P

      My thought processes? Well, they do seem to exist in retrospect, but it seems odd that they could be created in a vacuum… : P

      My most interesting job is reading your blog. Er, I mean it’s a pleasure, is what it is… : )

      Thanks, Linda, for your delightful support!! : )


  6. Robpixaday permalink
    July 10, 2012 8:39 AM


    This is so great! It’s fun to look at and tasty, too!

    LOVE your drawings!

    The spinach-to-fish transformation rocks… totally.

    And you really make the myths come alive… having a dragon be the big concept works brilliantly.

    ::grabs the brown sugar and runs home to bake butterscotch brownies::


    • July 10, 2012 2:13 PM

      Aw, gosh whiskers! What a lovely comment. Sweeter’n frosted spinach bars with chocolate sprinkles– yum!! : )

      The Dragon Concept– yes! I think it’s because I’ve often fantasized about fighting dragons. It’s something I’d do full-time, if it didn’t require, you know, courage and bravery and shining underwear… : P

      Brown sugar–! Brownies–! Now we’re getting down to wise choices and essential nutrients!!

      ::grabs tray of brownies, runs, locks self in bathroom, makes crumbs, eats crumbs, licks plate, passes out::


  7. July 11, 2012 9:42 AM

    Mark, how you manage to combine it all just amazes me! I concur that energy drinks are the devil. So are carbs and sugar. Bad, bad, bad. We should eat more proteins and plants, like the old days before we had all this processed, preserved junk. I personally use the Atkins diet and have for years for weight control as well as energy level. Works wonders for me.

    One question though: is that blueberries at the top of the dragon? Blueberries are literally like “crack” for me (I’m guessing since I’ve never done crack). They send me to the moon and I’ve had co-workers come at take them away from me at my desk…. literally 🙂


    • July 12, 2012 2:12 PM

      Hi Tracey, always so nice to see you, and thanks so much for your lovely comment.

      I’ve seen many references to the Atkins Diet, but didn’t know anything about it. Just took a look. A very intriguing approach, and it’s good to have your first-hand testimony to its effectiveness.

      Glad you asked about the “blueberries.” No, they aren’t blueberries!! That was supposed to be a bowl of acai berries, which, as mentioned in the post, are frequently sited as a mythical “superfood”– hence the Superman symbol on the side of the bowl. The fruit is often described as having a deep purple color, but in all the reference photos I could find, they looked exactly like your beloved blueberries– so that’s why I went with that color scheme. Acai berries actually come from a type of palm tree. Research indicates they have no particular superpowers… : )

      Hope that clears up the confusion, and thanks so much for your cheerful support!


      • July 12, 2012 4:05 PM

        It sure does, thanks for clarifying! I think I got hungry viewing your drawing and my brain stopped reading. I’ve tried Acai berries and found them to be of no super human use 🙂 Just keep the blueberries coming my way 🙂


  8. July 11, 2012 4:01 PM

    LOVE the myth monster! Esp the cans in the tail….wouldn’t want to get swopped by it!

    It seems like everyday we hear conflicting information on food. Great job on the illustration.


    • July 12, 2012 9:36 PM

      Cans in the tail… that happened to me once when I bought 5 cans of beans, get 1 free at the supermarket, and they ran outta bags and I hadda walk home with ’em in my back pockets… : P

      Conflicting information is right– and I, for one, am easily confused! Thanks, Christine!! : )


  9. July 11, 2012 10:18 PM

    Is bulky bee honey from bulky bees? 😉

    Great cartoon, good choice – changing the leaf to a fish.


    • July 12, 2012 10:10 PM

      Ha! Yes, the image of a buff bee buzzed into my brain at a crucial juncture. How do they get those big muscles? They pump ironweed, that’s what I heard… : )

      Great to see you, Val– many thanks for your good-humored support!


  10. July 12, 2012 2:38 PM

    Glad to see your St George is a strong, muscular big guy with a great six-pack and very determined expression – must be a self portrait!

    Great illustration for the article and with a very strong MA stamp.


    • July 13, 2012 9:21 AM

      Ha! If it were a self-portrait, there’d be a skinny guy in an armchair, eatin’ a bowl of ice cream, saying: “Shoo, shoo! Go away, boy, ya bother me…” : P

      “A very strong MA stamp…” I must remember that. It’s the sort of thing that covers a multitude of sins… : )

      Your kind and supportive comments always make me laugh– many thanks!!


  11. July 14, 2012 10:39 PM

    Congrats, Mark, for landing this assignment! By sheer coincidence, I read this magazine on a monthly basis! Ok, it’s true that some people truly get sucked into some super food myths for health and fitness. For past few months, I’ve been tired of reading threads among some cycling guys who overfocus on specific vitamin supplements. It’s just ridiculous since none of these folks compete at the national/international level.

    I like that apple that seems to tease the bodybuilder, but it’s there for the taking by the athlete. Sea salt… is just salt. Those minerals in sea salt are trace minerals… because any sane person only needs to have a tiny amount of salt in their food on a daily basis. So those amounts of sea salt minerals are just too tiny to make significant difference to a person. Most of our food in restaurants, grocery freezers and maybe some at home, is oversalted. Take that table salt shaker right off the table to remove temptation and to stop insulting the cook.

    I have cycled regularly and biked with loaded panniers on bike trips over several weeks last 20 yrs. I have never drunk an energy drink. A natural fruit juice does the trick for me to revive my energy. My partner has cycled at least 5x more than I and across North America: he has never bought/ingested energy drinks. Water and natural fruit juice work.

    You almost need a 2nd illustration of the body builder doing a pirouette on top of a balanced healthy diet pyramid.

    By the way, the dragon looks appropriately bloated… like hot air of myths. 🙂

    I’ll be letting my partner know about this assignment by you. When will the final illustration be published?


    • July 16, 2012 4:08 PM

      Hi, Jean! Always a pleasure, and I’m delighted to think you’ll be seeing my Food Myths illustration in Impact. It’s in the May/June 2012 issue. They were kind enough to send me a print copy. The article and illustration are on pages 80-81.

      Thanks for your very interesting and informative comment. I knew you were a dedicated cyclist, but it hadn’t occurred to me that, naturally, you’d also have a strong interest in nutrition and fitness. I can see you really know your stuff. I share your disdain for these so-called energy drinks.

      A bodybuilder doing a pirouette on top of a healthy diet pyramid– I like it! I hadn’t picked up on the dragon looking bloated because of myth-generated hot air– excellent! That must have been some symbolism dreamed up by my subconscious– and he forgot to tell me… : )

      Thanks again for a great comment and all your support. Ride on!! : )


    • July 17, 2012 10:12 AM

      Jean, hey, I’m a bicyclist too! (Mountain biker).

      Sea salt is interesting; there are mountain salts as well, and the trace minerals are in tiny amounts. Worth noting though that minerals are quite powerful and are essential for electrical processes in the body.

      You don’t need much of a trace mineral to get your dietary requirement. Selenium (found in salt) in fact is adequate at 1 to 3 mg per day. Much more than that and it would turn into an episode of Masterpiece Mystery.


  12. July 27, 2012 10:24 PM

    Nice.. nice.. nice… nice one! 😀

    I enjoyed your post and I enjoyed the comments here, very informative! I stopped eating meat two years ago and eat more veggies and fruits though I am not a vegetarian. Also, I started consuming brown sugar and brown rice two years ago, and put fresh garlic, chili, ginger, onion/red onion (depends on the dish that I cook), on every dish that I make. Those seasonings really help me to survive the England weather which I used to suffer from a lot! I called them ‘must-have-seasonings’ :D.

    Now I’ve also started to use ground turmeric and ground coriander on my food together with those ‘must-have-seasonings’. That’s how I treat my body to keep it fit and of course try to do more exercise though they’re not the heavy ones. 🙂

    That diet is really helping me to control my weight. 🙂

    Very nice article and cartoon, Mark! Thank you! 🙂


    • July 30, 2012 9:48 AM

      Thank you for a very interesting and informative comment, Inge– and for sharing some of your “secret ingredients”! : )

      I know from reading your blog that you are not only an excellent photographer, but a superb cook. I keep hoping that someone will invent an “app” that will allow me to download some of those delicious dishes you prepare– yum!! : )

      Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks, as always, for your cheery support!


  13. July 30, 2012 12:14 PM

    I love the illustration, Mark. The use of object in this mythical beast certainly reminds me of organs in the body : p

    As usual, you have done an excellent portrayal of the subject matter : )

    As for the whole reasons behind these concepts, most I would believe would be down to the media and their celebrity culture lifestyle of how almost every celeb is plastered on the papers of them being on a new diet every week or so, and that us norms must follow said diet.

    But nowadays it’s hard to know what is good and bad for you. For years researchers are still pondering whether it is ok to have alcohol whilst a woman is pregnant. Best response: cut it out altogether, and like you said, have a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

    Years ago I tried taking iron supplement tablets. The results was that of my hair falling out a lot more than normal o.o

    It does make you wonder though how many myths really are out there.


    • August 3, 2012 10:35 AM

      Thank you so much for that lovely comment, Sabine! As we say here at the Dragon Club, it was off the, er, scales… : P

      Yes, why do we have to do what celebrities do?? I think most of us get into enough trouble as it is!! : )

      Your iron supplement experience sounds very unpleasant. If one must shed, do it naturally, say I!

      Thanks again for your encouragement and support! : )


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