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Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? Doctors break down old wives’ tales

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, carrots help you see in the dark and chocolate causes spots. 

But just how true are the old wives’ tales?

MailOnline has spoken to doctors to separate fact from fiction in some of the most commonly dished out health ‘advice’.

The phrase may be ‘feed a cold, starve a fever’ but staying hydrated is key

Feed a cold, starve a fever

When the sniffle season comes, many pile up their plates to help them beat the infection. 

Dr Sarah Brewer, GP and medical director of Healthspan, told MailOnline: ‘This old wives’ tale is based on the belief eating will generate warmth when you have a cold.

‘Avoiding food may help you cool the body when you have a fever.’

However, Dr Brewer was quick to point out there is no ‘firm evidence’ to support either theory.

‘Listen to your body,’ she said. ‘If you feel hungry, have something nutritious to fuel the body as your immune system fights an infection.’   

Dr Kathryn Basford, a GP at Zava, also argued it is more important to stay hydrated when battling a cold than to overindulge in food. 

She told MailOnline: ‘Water, juice, and hot liquids, like soups, along with food,  will help fight cold infections by keeping the body well-hydrated and nourished.’ 

When it comes to the advice to ‘starve a fever’, Dr Basford stresses this is ‘not a good idea’.

‘It’s not uncommon to lose your appetite when you’ve got a fever, but starving yourself is not a good idea, as it can deprive your body of the necessary energy needed to fight a virus,’ she said.

‘Particularly in the early days of infection, the body needs as much strength as it can get to overcome a fever, so if you feel up to eating, it is advisable.’ 

An apple a day may keep you healthy but will unlikely protect against 'all medical conditions'

An apple a day may keep you healthy but will unlikely protect against ‘all medical conditions’

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

An apple a day keeps the doctor away is a rhyme many of us can recall from our childhoods – and it may hold some truth.

Apples are rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, which have been shown to lower the risk of a premature death, particularly from heart disease.

The popular fruit has also been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

To reap the benefits, it may be best to enjoy apples whole, rather than opting for juice.

‘Apple peel also has blood-pressure lowering actions similar to those of ACE inhibitor drugs,’ Dr Brewer said. 

ACE inhibitors slow the activity of the enzyme ACE, which in turn reduces the production of the hormone angiotensin II. 

Angiotensin II narrows veins and arteries, which causes a person’s blood pressure to rise. 

‘While there are no guarantees, eating an apple a day is healthy choice’, Dr Brewer said.  

Dr Basford stresses it is important to eat a varied diet and not rely on just one fruit or vegetable to keep you healthy.

‘It’s unlikely apples alone will be able to protect you from all medical conditions,’ she said.

‘It’s important to maintain a balanced diet, by getting a good amount of other food groups like protein and carbohydrates, to be healthy.’

Carrots support good eye health, but don't expect perfect vision come nightfall

Carrots support good eye health, but don’t expect perfect vision come nightfall

Carrots help you see in the dark

The old wives’ tale that carrots help people see in the dark is thought to have come about in World War II.  

Britain was using radar to intercept bombers on night raids. To prevent the Germans discovering this, the Air Ministry released press releases stating its pilots had exceptional vision due to carrots. 

‘This old wives’ tale does have some basis in fact,’ Dr Brewer said. 

‘Carrots are a source of the pigment beta-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A in the body when needed. 

‘Vitamin A is needed to make an eye pigment called visual purple, which is extremely sensitive to light and allows vision in low-light conditions.

‘Lack of vitamin A can lead to night blindness. So, if you are deficient in dietary vitamin A, eating carrots might help.’

Dr Basford agrees, but warns carrot eaters not to expect perfect nighttime vision.

‘The idea that eating carrots can help you see in complete darkness is unfortunately a myth,’ she said.

‘Making sure you have a balanced diet, including vitamin-A rich foods, like carrots, can help you to maintain normal healthy vision.’

The 'myth' of eating before drinking to soak up the alcohol may only be partially true

The ‘myth’ of eating before drinking to soak up the alcohol may only be partially true

Eating before drinking soaks up alcohol

Many prepare for a heavy night with a hearty meal to ‘line their stomach’, however, this old wives’ tell is only partially true.

‘If you drink on an empty stomach, alcohol is rapidly absorbed through the stomach lining,’ Dr Brewer said. 

‘If you eat on a full stomach, this effect is reduced and alcohol absorption is slowed, as more alcohol is “escorted” through to the small intestine.’

Foods that are broken down slowly, and therefore have less of an impact on blood sugar, may be particularly beneficial, Dr Basford added. 

‘To ward off the effects of excessive drinking go for slow-release foods like bananas and yoghurts, or things with a high-protein content like hummus, meat or nuts,’ she said. 

Although this sounds promising, studies have shown blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits tend to be reached after less than 45 minutes of drinking, regardless of whether someone ate beforehand.

BAC refers to the percentage of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. A BAC of 0.1 per cent mean an individual’s blood contains one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts blood.

According to the United Kingdom Road Safety Act 2006, drivers are prohibited from getting behind the wheel in England, Wales and Northern Ireland if their BAC reaches 0.8. Scotland sets the limit at 0.5. 

Studies have also shown it takes the same time for a drinker’s BAC to reach zero if they ate before their night out or not. 

Acne is 'unlikely' caused by chocolate but too much of the sweet stuff may make it worse

Acne is ‘unlikely’ caused by chocolate but too much of the sweet stuff may make it worse

Chocolate gives you spots

Acne occurs when the tiny holes in the skin become blocked due to excessive production of the oily substance sebum.

This is known to be triggered by hormones, pregnancy and certain medications, however, the role of our diet is less clear.

‘Chocolate’s impact on skin is heavily debated,’ Dr Basford said. ‘It’s unlikely those with clear skin will experience spots as a result of indulging in chocolate.

‘But if you have existing issues it might be a good idea to keep an eye on factors that might be causing flare-ups.’ 

A study of male acne sufferers had them eat 25g of 99 per cent cocoa chocolate every day for four weeks.

After a fortnight, the men’s spots, including black and whiteheads, had significantly increased.

A similar study found taking 100 per cent cocoa supplements worsened acne sufferers’ skin in just four days.

Exactly why this occurs is unclear. Evidence suggests the antioxidants polyphenols, which are found in high amounts in dark chocolate, may be to blame. 

Cocoa polyphenols may trigger an increased immune response against the bacteria that cause acne, leading to inflammation. 

Chicken soup is 'comforting' when under the weather but may not be a 'magical cure' for colds

Chicken soup is ‘comforting’ when under the weather but may not be a ‘magical cure’ for colds

Chicken soup cures colds

A steaming bowl of warming soup may be ‘just what the doctor ordered’ when suffering from a cold. But the extent of its benefits may differ depending on the recipe.

‘Garlic is anti-inflammatory, which can help the immune system fight germs’, Dr Basford said.

Dr Brewer agrees chicken soup is ‘comforting’ when you feel under the weather but questions whether it really gets rid of a cold quicker. 

‘There is nothing magical about chicken soup, but it is nutritious and comforting, providing energy, fluids and warmth,’ she said.

‘Drinking any hot liquid will help soothe a sore throat, and the warm vapours will help clear a blocked nose.’