Health-Related Old Wives Tales: Fact or Fiction?

By Janene Mascarella

Can chomping on carrots really give you great vision and does an apple a day truly keep the doctor away? True? False? A little bit of both? Here, we asked experts for the facts about four common health tales we have been told.


You must wait an hour after eating to go swimming.

"False. There is no evidence that swimming right after eating is a factor in drowning, or poses any other health risk," AJ Cummings, MD1. "It takes on average six to eight hours for food to clear the stomach anyway. There is increase blood flow to the stomach during digestion but this is easily diverted to the skeletal muscles when your body requires this. Vigorous exercise may decrease blood flow to the stomach enough to cause nausea and possible vomiting. There is also the issue of a full stomach. If your belly is uncomfortably full after a meal there is a theoretical concern for irritation of the peritoneum, what can cause cramps. This however is not life threatening."

Eating carrots can improve your eyesight.

True and false says registered nurse Anthea Noel,2 an on-air health expert for Centric TV's "Culture List" based in NYC. When she was young, her mother always told her to eat my carrots because it will help her see better. "I reluctantly ate my carrots not only because it would make me as wise as Bugs Bunny, but because I did not want to wear glasses like both my mother and father," says Noel. "As a health professional I questioned some of these old wives tales vs. evidence-based practice. Carrots contain beta carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for overall eye health. But vitamin A does not improve visual acuity and eyesight. So, eating carrots will not give you 20/20 or 20/10 eyesight (which is even better). But eating carrots will improve your overall eye health. Eye health pertains to eye conditions, diseases, and disorders. So I what did I learn? Always listen to mom – it is good for your eyes."

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

"It looks like there may be truth to this wives tale," says Sharon Palmer,3 RDN. "Studies have revealed many benefits of apples. Apples are rich in vitamin C, and they also are high in fiber — especially the soluble fiber pectin, which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Apples have special phytochemicals which has been linked to slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates, thus improving blood glucose control. Apple phytochemical levels vary depending on the variety and color of the apple. Eat the skin to gain the most fiber and phytochemical content. An increasing body of research links apples to health benefits, such as weight control, digestive and immune health, cancer prevention, and cardiovascular health."

Chicken Soup Cures the Common Cold

Chicken soup is an old fashioned feel good remedy that stirs up childhood memories of comfort, but there's also science behind the notion that chicken soup makes you feel better, explains Dr. Mala Singh4. "Chicken soup provides the body with protein, vitamins and antioxidants needed to keep the immune system functioning at its best. Research shows that it can reduce inflammation in the lungs. The steam from a warm bowl of soup can also help to ease congestion of the nasal passages. Chicken soup may ease the symptoms of a cold, but it will not cure the actual illness."

Sources not cited or listed above:

1 AJ Cummings, former American Red Cross water safety instructor and medical director of DaVinci Medical in Peoria, IL

2 Anthea Noel, on-air health expert for Centric TV's "Culture List" based in NYC

3 Sharon Palmer, Los Angeles based registered dietitian nutritionist, and author of Plant-Powered for Life.

4 Dr. Mala Singh, a Florida-based physician who specializes in family medicine with Lee Memorial Health System.

This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical, legal, financial, or other professional advice or used in place of consulting a licensed professional. You should consult with an applicable licensed professional to determine what is right for you.

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