The truth behind Old Wive’s Tales: can these sayings really improve your health?

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There are many Old Wive’s Tales which advise us on how to take better care of ourselves, particularly when it comes to well-being and nutrition.  But are they fact or are they fiction?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, investigates some of the more common sayings and provides the real answers – and some of them may surprise you!

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AN APPLE A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY

Whilst it would of course be unrealistic to expect the humble apple to solve all our health problems, apples (and indeed, all other fruits) provide some amazing health benefits and should certainly feature in your diet every day.

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Firstly, apples contain pectin – a soluble fibre which helps to reduce the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (which can clog our arteries) and also helps keep our bowels regular.  Apples also contain quercetin, which is a natural anti-histamine, so is particularly effective at reducing allergic reactions such as hayfever.

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All fruits contain phytonutrients which are beneficial plant compounds that provide antioxidant protection for the whole body: antioxidants help to protect us from damaging free radicals which are partly responsible for our degenerative diseases.  Plus, all fruits are packed with the mineral potassium which is great for the heart and helps to regulate blood pressure.

So will an apple a day keep the doctor away? Maybe not, but it can only do you good if you eat one every day!

FEED A COLD, STARVE A FEVER

This saying appears to date back to the 14th century and interestingly there is still some debate about whether this is the right approach!

It goes without saying that whatever the illness, the body needs increased liquids to support it in fighting off the infection.  When there is fever present, frequent sipping of cool liquids certainly helps to reduce body temperature.

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One thing we do know is that we tend to lose our appetite when we are poorly, and maybe this is nature’s way of helping the healing process.  It would seem that starving the body may promote a particular type of immunity that can help combat bacterial infections that often result in a fever.

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However stopping eating altogether would not be advised as the body still needs optimum nutrients to keep the body in as healthy state as possible. You’ll also need energy if you’re feeling under the weather, so a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables is still key during ill health even if you don’t really feel like eating.

A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST

This saying can be applied to many areas of our lives. But in terms of what we eat, changing our diet to include different nutrients can be just as beneficial to the immune system as resting.

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It seems an obvious statement to say that we are all different. Of course we are!  And it has been shown that our health definitely benefits from eating foods that suit our metabolic type. For example, some people do much better including animal protein from meat and dairy in the diet, whereas others benefit from a more plant-based diet.  If a person is eating against their metabolic type, health can suffer.

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For example, there are many people following a vegetarian or vegan diet who are actually not suited to it, and this can lead to poor immunity, weak muscles and joints, and low energy.  Of course the reverse can also be true and if you are generally well and feeling energised it is likely that you have it just right!

If you want to find out more about your metabolic type feel free to tweet me @nutritionsuzie or speak to any nutritionist and they can advise you on dietary changes based on your own individual experience of health and well-being.

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Getting sufficient R & R (rest and relaxation) is also crucial to our health; when we are not getting enough sleep the immune system definitely suffers, making us more susceptible to infection. The body also does much of its healing and repair when we sleep, which is why we sleep so much when we are poorly.

So is a change as good as a rest? It turns out that varying your diet and ensuring you get enough sleep are both really beneficial to our health!

BREAKFAST LIKE A KING

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dine like a pauper. There is certainly some truth in this.

Much of it depends on body type, but most people definitely benefit from a good-sized and well-balanced breakfast.  The key point though is that it’s really important to eat breakfast full stop! The body has fasted for up to 10 hours overnight, which means in the morning your blood sugar levels are low.  If no food is eaten, the body’s natural adrenaline signals the release of glucose for energy which can promote anxiety and the stress response – not the best start to the day!

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As a general principle, we should always try to eat a low glycaemic breakfast so as not to promote a sugar rush and subsequent energy dip.  Oats are great to include in your cereal choice or a dish containing eggs – both hit the spot beautifully!

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Lunch is also an important meal; it’s another opportunity to get some great nutrition in and do make sure you include some protein and slow-release carbohydrates to keep energy levels in good shape.

When it comes to dinner, the key is not to eat too late in the evening.  Dining like a pauper may well have been advised because eating a large meal late at night is going to encourage weight gain, not to mention indigestion and poor sleep.

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Try to eat no later than 7 p.m. in the evening, therefore allowing time for the body to properly digest the meal. However you can apply the ‘pauper principle’ if you are eating later than 7 p.m. by reducing or cutting out your carbohydrate intake altogether (rice, pasta, potatoes etc) and focusing just on protein and vegetables.

So the outcome? There’s always some truth in what those wives had to say – it’s just that some of the reasons why they still ring true have changed over the years!

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