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Old Wives' Tales about Health - The True and Not So True

Old wives’ tales are familiar expressions we have all heard and may have even said ourselves. Usually, these ideas are passed down through generations and center around health, nutrition, and relationships. Have you ever wondered if there is any truth to these passed down beliefs? We broke down 15 different old wives’ tales to see if they are myth or fact. You may be surprised how some of them have some research behind them supporting their claims, while others don’t hold up.

Chicken soup helps with a cold.

Science supports that chicken soup may actually make you feel better. Chicken soup contains protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and fluids. Research shows that it may help reduce inflammation in the lungs by slowing down the activity of white blood cells. Plus, the steam may help ease congestion. Hot beverages and soups can thin mucous secretions helping them to drain faster which may provide some welcome relief. It will not cure your cold but may help you feel better.

Feed a cold, starve a fever.

This old wives’ tale is one that is not true. High fevers and colds can cause fluid losses, so drinking plenty of liquids is important and help prevent dehydration. With any type of sickness, it is important to provide your body with a variety of nutrients to help support your immune system and give your body energy. To fight an infection, your body needs a supply of nutrients, extra rest, and plenty of fluids. If you don’t have much of an appetite try small, bland meals more often throughout the day. Starving yourself when you are feeling sick or overeating the wrong foods will not help relieve your symptoms or lead to a quicker recovery, focus on a balanced, healthy diet.

Take a spoonful of honey to relieve a cough.

Honey is full of anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial substances and has shown promising results in relieving a cough. One study looked at 100 children with upper respiratory tract infections and gave them either a honey-flavored cough suppressant, up to 2 teaspoons of honey, or nothing. The study found that pure honey helped reduce nighttime cough more and improved sleep more than the cough medicine. Mixing tea or hot lemon water with honey can also soothe a sore throat. Remember, honey is also considered an added sugar and may impact blood sugars in diabetics. If you choose to use honey to help with a cough, stick with a small amount.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

There are many health benefits associated with eating apples. They are rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, potassium, and fiber. The type of fiber in apple is a soluble fiber, pectin, which has been shown to lower cholesterol. Foods with high fiber and water content also help to fill us up on little calories, helping to maintain a healthy weight and protecting us from weight-related health issues. When choosing apples for a snack or addition to a meal it is best to eat the skin, that is where you will find the fiber and a variety of phytochemicals. While it is no guarantee that eating apples will keep you out of the doctor’s office, this old wives’ tale may still offer some great health benefits.

Cranberry juice will prevent a bladder infection.

Cranberries are an excellent source of antioxidants, which have been linked to improved urinary health and the prevention of urinary tract infections. There have been numerous studies indicating that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements may reduce the risk of UTIs in both children and adults. It is important to point out that these studies support cranberries’ role in preventing infection, not treating an infection! Substances found in cranberries may help prevent certain infection-causing bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract wall. Blueberries are from the same family as cranberries and may have the same effect. Keeping yourself hydrated is important for urinary health as well, so the extra fluids from the juice may also be beneficial.

Coffee stunts growth.

This myth still floats around a lot. Coffee doesn’t affect growth, but young children need to avoid too much caffeine. Coffee, energy drinks, or sodas may replace other nutritious foods and beverages from their diet. Excess caffeine also prevents the absorption of calcium and other important nutrients for kids’ growth and development. Too much caffeine may impact sleep and result in feeling sleepy which could affect their learning and more. While drinking coffee won’t necessarily cause your child to grow up being short, it may have other negative impacts.

Turkey makes you sleepy.

This myth comes from the fact that turkey contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that increases the amount of serotonin in the body which helps to control sleep patterns. Tryptophan is also high in milk and other types of meats. Oftentimes, the sleepiness that comes from eating turkey on Thanksgiving is due to overeating in general, not specifically from the turkey. The excess carbohydrates often eating along with turkey, are thought to increase that drowsy feeling. Overeating, in general, causes blood to flow to the digestive tract, which can lead to dips in energy levels and that naptime feeling.

A nightcap will help you sleep.

This one is true and false. Alcohol can help you fell asleep faster. However, it has been found to disrupt overall sleep. In particular, drinking alcohol before bed interrupts REM sleep which is the mentally restorative sleep stage. This leads to lower sleep quality with less overall sleep and more sleep disruptions. The more alcohol you drink the worst it will impact your sleep. If you’d like a drink, have it with dinner rather than right before bed. Drinking earlier, such as with dinner, will most likely not affect your sleep as your body will have time to metabolize the alcohol before you fall asleep.

Fish is brain food.

This old wives’ tale is true! DHA, the omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish is found in the brain and throughout the body. DHA plays an important role in the functioning of the brain. This type of fat has also been found to help lower total and LDL cholesterol when replacing saturated and trans fats in the diet. It is thought that by helping lower cholesterol, omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce the risk for blocked blood vessels, heart attacks, and strokes.

Drinking milk will give you kidney stones.

There is no need to avoid milk if you are prone to kidney stones. Kidney stones form from substances, such as oxalate, uric acid, and calcium found in urine. When there is more waste than the fluid in urine can dilute, crystals begin to form. Getting enough calcium, including from dairy sources, may reduce the risk of kidney stones. In the right amounts, calcium can block other substances in the digestive tract that may lead to stones. To help reduce the likelihood of kidney stones, drink plenty of fluids, include a variety of fruits and vegetables, and get calcium and potassium from foods, not supplements. For people with oxalate-based kidney stones, it is best to limit foods high in oxalates, such as almonds and spinach.

A glass of water before meals can help with weight loss.

Making sure you are well-hydrated is very important for overall health and well-being. Many people do not drink enough water and end up feeling low on energy, constipated, and dealing with dull, dry skin. Water helps us to digest our foods and also fills up our stomach. If you aren’t drinking enough fluids, you could be reaching for food when you are actually hungry. The fatigue that comes along with dehydration may also lead you to feel less motivated to keep up with prepping fresh meals and hitting the gym. Multiple research studies have found that people who drink 1-2 glasses of water before eating a meal end up eating fewer calories at a meal. One study tracked 84 adults where half of the participants drank 16 ounces of fluids a half an hour before eating and the other did not. The group that had a large glass of water before eating lost almost 3 pounds more over two weeks than the group that did not.

Eating after dinnertime will cause weight gain.

While this is most definitely a myth, there may be some truth in it. If you are staying within your calorie limit for the day, it shouldn’t matter if you have a snack in the morning or after dinner for maintaining your weight. However, if you are eating after dinner when you aren’t really hungry and having large portions it may lead to weight gain. Many people get in the habit of eating in front of the TV or struggle with emotional eating at night. This often comes along with large portions and unhealthy, nutrient-poor choices. Before reaching for an evening snack, make sure you are actually hungry and portion out the portion you will eat rather than eating out of a bag, box, or carton.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Many people think that skipping breakfast is an easy way to save calories throughout the day. Or they choose to forgo breakfast due to a busy schedule. Others feel that breakfast is full of refined, sugary carbs and feel it is better to avoid it. But breakfast foods are not just sugary foods, there are many nutritious breakfast items such as oats, low-fat dairy, fresh fruits, and eggs. Choosing a nutritious, balanced breakfast may help you manage your hunger better throughout the day and set you up for making healthier choices throughout the day. Eating a morning meal full of fiber, protein, and healthy fats will not only add a variety of nutrients to your day but will also help you by not entering lunchtime starving, setting you up for poor food choices and overeating.

Eating carrots helps you see better.

Carrots are high in beta carotene which the body turns into vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for overall eye health, but it doesn’t improve eyesight. If you eat an overall balanced diet, eating extra carrots will not effect your vision. Our bodies only need a small amount of vitamin A to maintain good vision. If you are deficient in vitamin A though, correcting this deficiency by increasing foods like carrots can improve your vision.

Five-second rule.

This one may be more of an urban myth than an old wives’ tale but regardless it should be avoided. Believe it or not, scientists have actually tested this rule. The idea that food is safe to eat if it’s only been on the floor for less than 5 seconds is not a good rule to live by. They have found that bacteria can attach itself to food the instant it touches the ground. The longer the food sits on the floor the more bacteria it will collect. If something falls on the floor it is best to throw it out. If you decide to keep it, make sure to at least give it a good wash before eating it.

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