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Old Wives' Tales


Old Wives' Tales

Generations before us relied completely on the wisdom passed down through oral traditions. With the advent of modern science and medicine, this is no longer necessary.

Generations before us relied completely on the wisdom passed down through oral traditions. With the advent of modern science and medicine, this is no longer necessary.

However, we still encounter these pearls of knowledge through old wives’ tales: limericks, sayings, and poems that we may use on a daily basis but pay little attention to their validity–common sayings such as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” These may be used in our conversations without our ever acknowledging their historical beginnings. Let’s examine the validity of five well-known old wives’ tales.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

This is a phrase that many of us have used at one time or another. But is it true? While many people refrain from consuming anything when riddled with fever, it is important to provide nutrition to the body in order to boost the immune system. Fluids are especially necessary with a fever to avoid dehydration. Hot soups and teas are the best.

So, when in doubt whether it’s a cold or fever, don’t starve–feed yourself!

Eat Your Crust–It’s Good for You

When you were a child, did your mother ever tell you that? Not for one moment did you ever think your mother knew what she was talking about–but she did! One study published in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (November 2005) revealed that bread crust contains eight times more antioxidants than any other part of the bread.

How did your mom know that? Moms always know.

Eat Your Carrots and You’ll be Able to See in the Dark

This is another common saying passed through generations. Though our ancestors didn’t know it at the time, we now know that carrots are high in vitamin A. This vitamin is essential for vision, and a deficiency of vitamin A can lead to night blindness.

Though this old wives’ tale focuses on carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and kale are also excellent sources of vitamin A.

Don’t Smell (or pick) the Dandelions or You’ll Wet the Bed

Sometimes common phrases such as this one can leave us very confused. This phrase originated in Western Europe where dandelion leaves were traditionally used as a diuretic. However, for the diuretic to take effect, the dandelion has to be consumed; smelling or picking a dandelion won’t do it!

Dandelion’s diuretic effects were so well known that other names for this plant have included pissinbed (English) and pissinlet (French).

Yogourt Cures Yeast Infections

This old wives’ tale is both true and false. It is true that yogourt contains friendly bacteria known as probiotics, which have been used by complementary health practitioners both orally and vaginally to treat yeast infections. So in that sense, yes, yogourt can be a cure.

However, yogourts vary considerably in the type and percentages of probiotics they contain. It is also essential to note that it is only plain and preferably homemade yogourt that will give some relief (although you can find plenty of yogourts with healthy probiotic cultures at your health food store). The “fruit-in-the-bottom” yogourts just don’t have this healing property, plus they contain higher amounts of sugar, which only feed the yeast.

The validity of this old wives’ tale varies from woman to woman, depending on the yogourt in her fridge.

The amazing thing about old wives’ tales is that there is always an element of truth hidden somewhere in them. Despite the lack of scientific analysis and understanding, generations before us were often able to decipher what was good and harmful for us.



No Proof

No Proof

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD