9 Vintage Health Ads That Will Take You Back to the 1960s

Updated: Dec. 03, 2018

Some of these are truly cringe-worthy.

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“Be Really Refreshed”

The popular soda manufacturer promises an energy lift in this March 1960 magazine ad: “Only Coca-Cola gives you the cheerful lift that’s bright and lively.” We now know that soda’s sugar buzz is quickly followed by an energy crash.

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“Milk: Nature’s Nightcap”

A warm glass of milk has been a longtime home remedy for insomnia for good reason, as evidenced by this vintage March 1960 depiction of milk as a nightcap. Although people point to milk’s tryptophan content for its soporific effects, more recent research shows that the tryptophan in protein-rich foods like milk isn’t able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and that milk’s effect on our sleepiness is likely due to psychological comfort. Here are 18 rare, vintage photos of what life was like in the 1950s.

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“The Most Useful Protein”

Billing itself as having protein that’s “100% as useful as the protein in meat,” Life cereal marketed itself as a health food in its January 1962 ad. (Introduced in 1961, Life didn’t launch its popular “Mikey” ad until the 1970s.)

As for the meat comparison, Life wasn’t exactly spot-on: Meat is considered a “complete protein,” which means it contains all the amino acids your body needs for good health. Other plant sources of complete proteins include soy and quinoa. Whole grains like oats aren’t considered complete proteins, but making sure your diet includes other protein sources like beans, seeds, and nuts ensure you get all the protein you need.

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“Fastest Tan Under the Sun”

We can just see dermatologists shaking their heads at this July 1963 claim that this “sun-balanced formula” provides “the best tan possible with the best protection.” Even 50 years of solid science have yet to fully debunk the pop-culture myth of a safe tan. Derms today insist there’s no such thing as a safe base tan because that sun-kissed look is basically evidence of DNA damage that’s already occurred in your skin cells. These 11 rare, vintage photos show what flying was like in the 1950s.

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“Something Good Between Meals”

This November 1962 ad from Juicy Fruit says it “supplies the body with just enough of what it takes to provide that pleasant little ‘pickup’ you need between meals”—and there is interesting research behind the health benefits of chewing gum.

British researchers published a paper that found chewing gum helped study participants improve concentration during a task that tested their ability to focus. A 2009 University of Rhode Island study (albeit sponsored by the Wrigley Science Institute) found that people who chewed gum in the morning consumed fewer calories at lunch and reported feeling less hungry.

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“Is One-Third of His Life Worth Anything to You?”

In this surprisingly forward-thinking mattress ad from July 1963, Simmons points out how valuable sleep is to our overall health: “About one-third of his life is spent in bed … If, during those hours, his body, nerves, and heart have a chance to recuperate from the day’s turmoil … this man of yours has a better chance in life.” Decades of sleep medicine science later, we know that people who get too little sleep have a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and overall death.

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“How to Shape Up”

It’s hard to imagine in today—when sugar added to processed foods shoulders much of the blame for America’s obesity epidemic—that this May 1964 ad depicted sugar as a diet aid. “Sugar … takes the edge off pretty girls’ appetites so that they don’t need or want heavier, fattening foods. Sugar is the sensible weight-watcher because it doesn’t leave you feeling draggy.” Here are 8 vintage Christmas ads from the past 90 years.

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“Are You Dieting?”

This December 1964 ad for One A Day multivitamins makes an interesting point that many experts today still agree with: “many diets are notoriously vitamin-poor … while winning the calorie battle, you may lose the vitamin war.” The research on taking multivitamins to improve your health, however, is mixed. While you run the risk of missing out on vitamins when you slash your overall food intake, filling your plate with nutrient-dense fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, and fish should help ensure you get the vitamins and minerals you need from food.

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“Polyunsaturating Her Entire Family”

The sixties issues of Reader’s Digest were packed with ads from various margarine and vegetable oil companies, touting the benefits of unsaturated fat—like this Mazola one from February 1969—as experts warned about the heart risks of saturated fats in butter.

Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are recommended to replace both trans and saturated fats, according to Harvard Medical School. That doesn’t mean you should cut saturated fats out of your diet completely, but most nutritionists still recommend limiting saturated fat to 10 percent of total calories a day, per Harvard Medical School. Diets rich in saturated fats could drive up total cholesterol and has been linked to heart disease. Next, check out these 15 vintage cars you’ll wish you could drive today.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest