Carrots improve your eyesight. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A bedtime snack will pile on the pounds. These are a few of the many maxims we hear from friends, family or media, often from childhood on. If we followed all the advice, would we really be healthier and happier? Let’s take a closer look at a few of the most popular food fables.
• Carrots improve your eyesight
The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that this adage is false: “Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which is essential for sight, but many other foods also contain this vitamin. A well-balanced diet, with or without carrots, provides all the vitamin A necessary for good vision.” And for the record, the AAO also debunks the myths that reading in dim light is harmful to the eyes, sitting too close to the television can damage children’s eyes, and people with weak eyes should avoid reading fine print.
• Apple a day keeps the doctor away
We wish it were that simple. A healthy diet is one key to health maintenance, but the National Institutes of Health points out that “not just an apple but five or more servings of fruits and vegetables may help keep the doctor, and cancer or other disorders, away.” The phrase may have originated in Wales, where it is recorded as early as 1866: “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” Apples do have a number of nutritionally useful compounds that have made them a choice fruit for centuries. Even Hippocrates, the Greek physician considered the father of medicine, promoted apples, dates and barley mush as building blocks of good health.
• Bedtime snacks pile on pounds
A calorie is a calorie, no matter when it’s consumed. According to the Weight-control Information Network (WIN), an information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “It does not matter what time of day you eat. It is what and how much you eat, and how much physical activity you do during the whole day, that determine whether you gain, lose or maintain your weight. No matter when you eat, your body will store extra calories as fat.” WIN does suggest that you stop and think about your daily calorie consumption before noshing on an evening snack, especially because people tend to overeat while watching television.
• The ‘five-second rule’
When that meatball rolls off the spaghetti and onto the floor, you scoop it up quickly and invoke the ‘five-second rule:’ If it’s been on the floor for only five seconds or less, then it’s OK to eat. Scientists tested this theory and found that bacteria can hop aboard dropped food almost immediately upon contact. Whether or not you get sick depends on what type of bacteria happens to catch a ride into your digestive tract. Nemours, one of the nation’s largest pediatric health systems, advises that any food dropped on the floor be discarded. “Or let the dog have it. (And there’s another thing to consider, even the five-second rule can’t get around the fact that your food may have landed right in a spot where Fido parked his butt.)”
• Eight glasses of water a day
Water is good for us, and it’s a much better alternative than drinks that contain sugar and chemical additives. However, individual requirements for proper hydration vary. According to the Mayo Clinic, the eight-glasses-a-day rule isn’t bad, but “you may need to modify your total fluid intake depending on how active you are, the climate you live in, your health status, and whether you’re pregnant or breast-feeding.” People generally need more hydration during vigorous exercise, in hot climates, if they are losing fluids due to illness, and during pregnancy and lactation. And while you can stay hydrated by drinking other types of beverages, remember that “water is one of your best bets because it’s calorie-free, inexpensive and readily available.”