8 Old Wives’ Tales About Food That We’re Glad Are True(ish)

We go beyond the bizarre to present food myths that actually have merit.

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Old Wives’ Tale No. 1: Eat a Tomato to Help Prevent Sunburn

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While there is truth to this statement, you can’t scarf down a bowl of spaghetti in lieu of applying sunscreen. Still, studies show that the lycopene in tomatoes serves as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from pollution, sun damage, and premature aging. According to Michigan Medicine at The University of Michigan, taking 6 milligrams daily of a lycopene supplement from a tomato extract will protect the skin from prolonged exposure to the sun. Eating fresh tomatoes is also good for you. But for the biggest skin and health boost, cook tomatoes in pasta sauce, pizza or in any of these Taste of Home recipes. Heating and processing increase lycopene’s benefits by 400 percent. And always wear sunscreen. You also need to stop believing these food poisoning myths.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 2: Oats Help Soothe Bug Bites

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Walk through the skin-care aisle of any drugstore and you’ll find a slew of moisturizers that list oatmeal as the main ingredient. That’s because oats contain phenols and other antioxidants that help calm irritation, lower inflammation and relieve itching. So, yes, this old wives’ tale is true. You can rub oats on your bites with abandon, either using a store-bought cream or by creating your own easy home remedy. Just mix oatmeal with water to create a thick paste, slather it on those mosquito bites and relax. And while you’re at it, bake up a batch of Oatmeal Jam Squares or Fudgy Oat Brownies, because oats are healthy in foods, as well as…um…on your skin.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 3: Chicken Soup Will Cure Your Cold

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While a bit of an exaggeration (there’s no “cure” for this common ailment), chicken soup will help you ride out a cold more comfortably. Studies show that chicken soup may help reduce inflammation in the lungs by slowing down the activity of white blood cells that cause the problem. On a purely psychological level, slurping from a bowl of steamy, delicious chicken soup is a cozy, comforting experience. So we recommend always having a fresh batch on hand from October through May—primary cold and flu season.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 4: Chocolate Helps Ease Pre-menstrual Cramps

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We’re taking some liberties here. While there’s no medical science behind this claim, we suspect the old wives with whom this tale originated understood our monthly issues. Besides, chocolate contains magnesium, a mood-boosting chemical. So if you feel good after eating a few creamy chunks-o-chocolate or a tasty slice of cake, give yourself a break. And next time you go shopping for your chocolate stash, consider the dark variety. With less sugar and fat than milk chocolate, dark chocolate is a healthier alternative. And that makes for a great excuse to indulge.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 5: Fish Is Brain Food

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Yes. Yes. Emphatically, yes. And the reason this old wives’ tale is true is because of fats—the healthy kind found in fish oils. Called omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs), they’re critical for the normal growth and development of the brain. We hear a lot about the importance of taking fish oil supplements as you get older. But humans of all ages benefit from EFAs. In an Oxford University study, 120 primary-school children with coordination difficulties were given a mix of omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs over three months. One of the notable outcomes? The research found that the kids demonstrated significant improvement in school performance.

Psst! We’ve got more superfoods for your brain, here.

Fish oils, proven to have anti-inflammatory properties that protect blood vessels and help reduce joint stiffness and tenderness, also help prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. According to U.S. News, the healthiest and most eco-friendly sources of omega 3- and omega-6 essential fatty acids are wild salmon from Alaska, arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, sardines and black cod. A more comprehensive listing of fish and their health benefits is available on the Michigan Medicine website.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 6: An Apple a Day Will Keep the Doctor Away

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We can’t promise that you’ll never find yourself sitting on the cold, paper-sheathed bed of a physician’s exam room. But studies have shown that the phenols in apples protect against DNA damage (and cancer). They’re also heavy on fiber, which helps prevent heart disease and is useful when trying to maintain a healthy weight. Eat them sliced, or indulge in a double whammy of benefits by serving them up in the form of this dark-chocolate dipped candy apple.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 7: Cod Liver Oil Is Good for You

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Dang, we were hoping this was a bold-faced lie. But it’s true. A spoonful of cod liver oil contains healthy vitamins A and D, as well as EFAs. Fortunately, if you can’t stomach the liquid form, you can get it from oily, cold-water fish like tuna and salmon. If you have any ideas for sneaking it into recipes, by all means, let us know.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 8: Turkey Makes You Sleepy

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This old wives’ tale comes up every year around Thanksgiving and Christmas. That a heaping plateful of the juicy poultry requires an after-dinner nap is a belief that’s been handed down through generations. The claim is that turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that increases the brain’s chemical serotonin levels. Serotonin is used to create melatonin; both aid in sleep. But for tryptophan to be a nap-inducer, it needs to be paired with carbohydrates. Lots of them. So if you also load up your plate with mashed potatoes, stuffing, piping hot biscuits and pumpkin pie, the effects might kick in. Then again, it’s quite possible that you simply ate too much. Stuffing yourself any time of day diverts blood flow to your digestive tract, which is the real energy suck. So everything in moderation, including turkey dishes and holiday carbs, if you want to remain alert enough to enjoy the party.

Now that we’ve uncovered the hard facts behind these old wives’ tales and myths, we hope you think twice about what you put on your plate—and feel confident passing these adages along to your family and friends.

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