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Enduring Health Advice
My grandmother—healthy, strong, and sharp until the day she passed at 96—always used to tell me matter-of-factly that, when it comes to food and weight, “If you don’t put it in [your mouth], you won’t put it on [your body].” She ate very simply: healthy whole home-cooked food every day. There was no junk unless that half a Danish (“sweet roll” as my grandmother called it) with her eggs in the morning counts. And always, without fail, she took her multivitamin with breakfast every morning as she had done for years.
Pretty simple eating advice that definitely stands the test of time!
And it got me thinking: there’s so much advice passed on through the generations that still is so valid today—from grandparents, moms/dads, aunts/uncles, you name it. I tried to put together a list of some of the best advice. But if you have some great advice that’s been passed down through your family, please share. We’d love to hear it too!
Eat your carrots; they’ll help you see better. How many times have moms and dads told their kids this to get them to eat their veggies? (I’m guilty of it, too, as I tell my daughter this regularly!) There’s definitely some truth to this saying: carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a nutrient that the body converts to vitamin A—a key nutrient for healthy eyes and good vision. But carrots aren’t the only good sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and sweet red peppers are also good sources. But one thing that carrots won't do: they won’t give you 20/20 vision if you don’t have it already.
Brush your teeth before you go to bed; you’ll get cavities. This advice—passed down through pretty much every generation—holds true today, particularly in light of all the research showing that dental health (or lack of it) is potentially linked to heart disease, arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Why brushing (and flossing) is so important before bed: our salivary flow slows down at night—and this is what helps wash food and bacteria from the mouth. With little to no salivary flow while we sleep, bacteria can turn food into plaque and over time, gum disease can set in. What’s also just as important as this advice: brushing in the morning, too, after breakfast. The fewer bacteria in your mouth, the less chance of developing cavities and gum disease.
Stay out of the sun; it’s bad for you. No one will argue with this advice today, particularly in light of all the research linking sun exposure to melanoma and premature aging of the skin. But one thing that was never realized until just recently: the sun is actually a great source of vitamin D (the body creates vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet light) and the more we avoid the sun, the more deficient in vitamin D we become. A simple way to make sure you’re getting enough of this vitamin (actually a hormone): take a multivitamin with vitamin D every day (you need 15 to 25 mcg a day).
Eat everything on your plate; there are starving children in Africa. While many moms and dads (and grandparents) are guilty of passing down this advice, there’s some validity to it—particularly in today’s world of drive-thru eating. The very act of sitting down to eat (and enjoy) everything on your plate takes time, something that’s important for stress relief, healthy digestion, and being satisfied with your meal (so you’re not snacking an hour later). And what’s even better: if you can sit down as a family to connect one-on-one while you’re eating. One thing that this tried-and-tested tip doesn’t say: put down your fork when you feel full. Listening to your own body’s signals is key to avoiding weight gain, which has been linked to diabetes and heart disease.
Chew your food 20 times. Fast eating equals unhealthy digestion—something that our wise parents and grandparents instinctively just knew. Digestion begins in the mouth: our teeth break down food and saliva helps break down the food with key enzymes — making it easier for our intestines to absorb nutrients and energy from food. But just taking time to savor every bite helps us be more satisfied with what we’re eating—and, as some research1 even shows, helps us prevent unnecessary weight gain.
Stop slouching and stand up straight. Your mom may have nagged you with this advice, but it turns out she was right: posture is critical to health. Bad posture compresses your lungs, which can leave you feeling fatigued. It can also put pressure on the disks in the spine, which can lead to back pain. Some experts have even linked better posture to fewer headaches and more efficient digestion. But slouching doesn’t just happen while you’re standing up: instead of hunching over your computer to read this, sit up straight in that chair! (Hey, I’m a mom too…)
Money isn’t everything; put family first. I remember my dad telling me this from the time I was little—and I basically ignored him until I had a family of my own. So much of our lives are spent chasing after the next promotion or a coveted raise that we forget about the things that give us joy in our lives: our friends and family. And it’s these connections with the people that matter that have been linked to reduced stress and healthier hearts—and bodies.
Be happy—and healthy!
1 “Improvement in chewing activity reduces energy intake in one meal and modulates plasma gut hormone concentrations in obese and lean young Chinese men,” Jie Li, Na Zhang, Lizhen Hu, et al., The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2011, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2011/07/20/ajcn.111.015164.abstract