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Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? Dr Nighat busts some healthy living myths

The saying goes that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but then that apple became 5-a-day. Add on top the 10,000 steps ‘we should all be doing’ and the 8 glasses of water ‘at the very least’ and you’ve got a list as long as your arm.

But should we feel pressured to keep up with these catchy health slogans and do they stack up when it comes to leading a happier, healthier life? Dr Nighat is here to dispel the health myths, from the health musts.

Myth 1: getting 10,000 steps a day is a healthy optimum

The myth: fitness trackers, health apps and public health guidance, by default, will tell you to hit 10,000 steps a day as a 'healthy optimum'.

Fact or fiction?

  • the 10,000-step goal originates not from any public health body but from a marketing campaign in the wake of the 1964 Tokyo olympics.

  • When a fitness boom took off in the country Japanese company yamasa tokei keiki launched a pedometer called the 'manpo-kei', which translates as the '10,000-step metre'. the figure stuck and it became part of healthy living campaigns globally ever since.

  • That being said, studies suggest that a dose of just under 10,000 steps per day may be optimally associated with a lower risk of dementia.

Take home message:

  • In reality the guidance is some steps are good, but more steps are better.

  • The number of steps also doesn't account for how fast people are walking - the faster you walk, the more cardiovascular benefit you'll gain. So, taking fewer steps but at a faster pace could reap more health benefits.

  • Start small and then try adding 1,000 steps and see if you can hit that new target consistently, building up as you go.

Myth 2: 'one of your five-a-day' fruit & veg

The myth: five-a-day is a campaign that encourages the consuming at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Fact or fiction?:

  • The roots can be traced back to a 1990 recommendation from the world health organization, linking a daily dose of 400g of fruit and veg with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Divide that into 80g servings and you get five a day.

  • The uk department of health launched the 5-a-day campaign around this idea in 2003, based on advice from the world health organisation (who).

  • 5 a day was decided: a portion of fruit or veg is 80g, and 400g divided by 80 equals 5.

  • Today, the NHS says that 5 a day, adding up to 400g, is the minimum amount of fruit and veg to eat in a day.

Take home message:

  • In April 2014, a study by University College London concluded that '5 a day' was not enough, and that a healthy diet should contain 7 or more portions of Fruit and veg.

  • We know that 800g of fruit and veg, or 10 a day, provides increased protection against all forms of mortality.

Myth 3: you should drink 8 glasses of water a day

The myth: the UK government advice on fluids is to drink six to eight glasses of water per day - this equates to around two litres - and a sign of being hydrated is that your wee is a clear pale yellow colour.

Fact or fiction?:

  • Staying hydrated helps to get rid of waste in the body through urination, bowel movements and perspiration, and regulates the body's temperature and protects soft tissue.

  • Drinking eight glasses a day isn't supported scientifically and a lot of scientists aren't sure where the guidance came from.

  • This recommendation also doesn't take into account the water we receive from food, you can gain 50% of the water your body needs from foods.

Take home message:

  • There is no clear cut correct amount of water, there are so many variables to consider person to person - where you live, your diet, the temperature, how active you are, and pregnancy.

  • The best thing you can do is listen to your body and drink water when you're thirsty, instead of trying to follow a specific guideline.

Myth 4: three square meals a day

The myth: three square meals refers to the idea that we should stick to breakfast, lunch and dinner rather than eating little and often.

Fact or fiction?:

  • Scientists are split on how often we should eat. One study found that when comparing those eating 3 meals to those that 'snacked' 17 times across a day, the snackers had a better metabolic profile and also lower cholesterol.

  • A contradictory study has in contrast found that spreading calorie intake across many meals doesn't aid weight loss.

Take home message:

  • There are benefits to eating three square meals, and eating little and often. + there's still a lot of support for the traditional way of eating, as it provides fuel throughout the day and keeps you from grazing on empty calories.

  • Like most recommendations, however, this guidance can vary from person to person and there are many factors to consider, such as portion size, or needing fuel before or after a workout.

  • Research has also been done on intermittent fasting, giving your body a break by consuming less calories, which may also have positive effects on blood sugar levels.

Myth 5: breakfast is the most important meal of the day

The myth: breakfast is the most important meal because it breaks your fasting and fuels you for the rest of the day.

Fact or fiction?

  • There are many varying views over breakfasts. Some say if you skip breakfast you will lose weight, whilst others argue that skipping it will cause you to snack more later in the day.

  • It is also suggested that eating breakfast revs up your metabolism.

Take home message:

  • While there's no conclusive, exact science on when and what you should eat, we should listen to our own bodies and eat if we're hungry.

  • People often skip breakfast in the hopes that it will serve as a weight loss tool, But numerous studies suggest this isn't the case, and in fact will make little difference.

  • Breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day, but it is still important.

Myth 6: an apple a day keeps the doctor away

The myth: originally from an 1860 welsh proverb that eating apples diminishes doctors visits.

Fact or fiction?

Iin 2015 a study actually looked into whether people who reported eating apples daily actually had fewer annual doctor visits or were in better overall health. Of the 8,399 study participants, 753 ate at least one small apple daily. The results showed that 39 per cent of apple eaters avoided physician visits compared to 34 percent of non-apple eaters, which was not a statistically significant difference.

Take home message:

  • This rhyme should not be taken literally, but the sentiment of it is true, eating fruits and vegetables daily does have health benefits.

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