We definitely do not allow questions about long-term effects of food on your body (aka health and nutrition), for a lot of very good reasons - notably, the science is often very unclear, so they tend to solicit opinions and sketchy answers, and not a lot of expert knowledge from cooks.

However, people also sometimes ask about short-term effects, for example whether a food is edible, or will have some mild undesirable effects:

What questions in this vein, if any, should be on-topic? If any are, how do we decide where to draw the line?

The fact that we haven't closed most of those examples suggests that people aren't terribly opposed to them, but a strict reading of overall policy (no health questions) suggests they might be off-topic. Some relevant previous meta questions:

(Please feel free to edit more of those in; I haven't done a careful search.)

1 Answer 1


As an oversimplified standard, I'd suggest:

Do I need to know this in order to reasonably serve X to people without immediate, observable consequences?

The "immediate" is important - we only want to allow things that are direct enough that people could've really figured out how they work. I'd rather not quibble about a precise definition of "immediate"; minutes or even a few hours are probably okay, days are probably not.

This feels fairly consistent with how we handle questions about cooking the food; we'll certainly take questions about immediate effects of handling an ingredient (e.g. burning hands from hot peppers), while we'd be more skeptical of questions about long-term health effects.

This would allow all of the questions I mentioned (including the couple closed ones): you want to know if something is inedible, or dangerous to eat, or will cause flatulence, before you feed it to all your guests. (Some might still benefit from editing and reframing, to focus on the actual consequences, not the physiological details.)

It still excludes the usual health and nutrition sorts of things. Those consequences aren't immediate, and beyond that, we're pretty happy to serve people ice cream and decide for themselves whether it's so unhealthy they're not gonna eat it.

It also still excludes less directly relevant things; serving a food won't ever require you to know details of digestion of a compound, or how exactly alcohol affects your brain, or how mercury poisoning works.

I'd favor using our best judgment about the inevitable gray areas. If someone has some crazy conspiracy theory, we can still close it, probably as primarily opinion-based - we don't have to seriously entertain "do black olives make your feet tingle?" If a sane question attracts conspiracy theory answers, we can flag and delete them, and try to edit the question to avoid them. If we think a question is silly and close it, but it turns out to have a legitimate answer, we can reopen it.

  • If we agree on that policy, I would insist on adding "immediate, directly observable consequences" to the formulation. Else the rule would allow somebody to ask "does eating yogurt make your aura change frequency", to use a somewhat exaggerated example. And if you think this is not a problem because that question is absurd anyway, "how many mutations does eating one steak cause in the intestinal epithelium" is not absurd, asks about immediate effects, and is way out of the expertise of the voters.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Jan 6, 2017 at 16:56
  • Sure, I added that. To be fair, we don't get a ton of these questions to begin with, and far fewer (if any) of the sort you're alluding to - so yeah, the internet is crazy, but it's also not a huge problem, and if we see obviously ridiculous things defended under this rule, we can tweak it more later. Note that meeting this criterion doesn't mean a question is always okay, it means it's not off-topic in this regard. It can still be too broad, primarily opinion-based, and so on.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Jan 8, 2017 at 18:18
  • This would exclude asking how to cook a given food so it causes less flatulence or stomach upset, which I would consider in the scope of this site.
    – Joe
    Jan 9, 2017 at 12:48
  • @Joe Agreed about wanting that in scope, and this is meant to include that (it's one of the examples I said was covered). Maybe I just haven't phrased something right?
    – Cascabel Mod
    Jan 9, 2017 at 15:04
  • @Jefromi : oops, I had mis-read the paragraph mentioning flatulence. Stomach upset is a tricky one, though ... if I consume dairy, it usually doesn't affect me 'til the next meal. (which made it really hard to figure out).
    – Joe
    Jan 9, 2017 at 23:27

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