Of tales and truths
We hear these proverbs all the time - and many of us live by them - but do they hold any truth, or are they merely empty adages? Here's the experts' take on 10 of the most common health axioms.
1. An apple a day keeps the doctor away: TRUE
There is definitely truth in this one, according to Charmain Tan, registered dietitian at Seventeen Nutrition Consultants (www.my17.com). 'Apples are high in fibre, vitamin C and antioxidants, so eating them every day keeps your digestive and immune systems healthy,' she says. A high-fibre diet is strongly believed to prevent colorectal cancer and other ailments. Apples also contain phenols, which Tan says reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. A recent Cornell University study found that the flavonoid quercetin contained in apples protects brain cells from neuro-degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. So, munch away.
2. You are what you eat: TRUE
About 90 per cent of the diseases that afflict humans are diet-related, says Tan, so if you eat junk, you can expect to feel like it, too. Obesity, gout, diabetes, heart, kidney and liver disease are all directly associated with what you consume. Alcohol and processed foods are also linked to depression. So, eat for your health and stick to simply prepared, low-fat, high-fibre 'whole' foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, and avoid fatty, high-sodium and overly processed ones.
3. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper: TRUE
At breakfast, your body replenishes its glucose levels in preparation for the day ahead. So if you skip breakfast, you will be less alert, and your attention span and productivity will suffer, Tan says. Eating breakfast also helps curb hunger and stops you from binge eating later in the day. The more active your day is, the more foods you should eat that provide sustained energy - such as wholegrain toast and cereal, fresh fruit or oatmeal.
'Lunch should be medium-sized, or substantial enough to fuel you for the afternoon,' adds Tan. 'The portion should be smaller than breakfast but larger than dinner.
Keep dinner small, light and simple to avoid weight gain. 'If you eat a large dinner, your body can't use all the energy in the food and therefore stores it as fat,' she says.
4. If you go out with wet hair, you'll catch a cold: FALSE
'Technically, there is no causal link between catching a cold or the flu, both of which are due to viral infections,' says Dr Winnie Mui, a general practitioner at Dr Lauren Bramley & Partners. 'A wet head is just uncomfortable in cold weather, and the water can freeze in your hair in colder temperatures. A number of studies have been conducted on the link between wet hair and colds, and none has been able to provide any scientific proof of cause and effect for this old wives' tale.'
5. Use it or lose it: TRUE
You might have heard this one in reference to hearing. Interestingly, there is something called auditory deprivation, says Mui. 'This is a medical term that refers to loss of stimulation to hearing that weakens the nerves, muscles and areas of the brain responsible for hearing,' she explains. 'With the onset of hearing loss due to a variety of reasons, it's important to get proper hearing aids to continue stimulation of your hearing apparatuses so you don't lose the hearing you have left.'
6. He who takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skills of the physician: TRUE
This Chinese proverb recognises the importance of food in disease prevention. One cannot rely solely on medication to recover from an illness or control disease, says Tan. It is important to also adopt a healthy diet to keep your body functioning properly. For example, if you suffer from diabetes, your medication will work more effectively if you also watch your sugar, salt and fat intake and exercise regularly.
7. Eat to live, don't live to eat: TRUE
'If you can understand this concept and apply it, you will not feel guilty for not eating right,' Tan says. 'With this mindset, you will eat healthily and live a longer, happier life. Eating healthily does not mean giving up your favourite foods; you can still treat yourself, but don't go overboard. Moderation is a key so that you don't feel deprived.'
8. Feed a cold, starve a fever: FALSE
There is nothing to support this one, but medically, the following may explain why it is so widely accepted, says Mui: 'Feeding a cold helps maximise your body's nutrient levels, giving your immune system the energy to fight the viral infection. And the idea of starving a fever may stem from a loss of appetite during the illness. When the body's digestive activity is reduced, it is believed that the immune system can function more efficiently.'
9. Sitting too close to the TV will ruin your eyes: FALSE
This is nothing more than good old scaremongering. Mui insists that there's no direct correlation between a viewer's distance from the television and your vision. Sitting too close to the tube may strain your eyes and cause fatigue, but your eyesight will not be any the worse.
10. Wait an hour to swim after you've eaten: TRUE
Growing up, you might have been told to wait for your food to digest before jumping into the pool. And there might be an element of truth in this, according to Mui. The muscles in your limbs and your stomach will compete with each other for blood and oxygen, and when this happens, you risk getting cramps in your stomach and/or limbs.