5 Over-Hyped Foods

Green Juice

photo: buymeapie.com

This is a guest blog post by Toby Amidor RD. It originally appeared here.

Every few week there’s a new superstar food claiming to be the answer to our health concerns. Before you jump on the latest food craze bandwagon, do some digging to assess whether it’s really craze worthy. These latest 5 foods may be healthy, but their benefits are over-hyped.

Tart Cherry Juice
Touted as a powerful anti-inflammatory, athletes in particular have gone crazy for this stuff. Supporters claim it can reduce muscle pain and aid in recovery. While there is research to support these claims, it doesn’t negate its high caloric and sugar content. It can be an appropriate supplement for active folks, but those with diabetes or insulin resistance should steer clear.  And not all juices are created equal. Look for a brand that is made with 100% juice and doesn’t contain any unnecessary added sugars.

My advice: If weight control or diabetes is a concern, you’re better off choosing with modest portions of salmon or ginger to help reduce inflammation.

Chia Seeds
There’s no doubt these seeds are nutritious. But you may get more than you bargained for when these little seeds are mixed into sugar-laden drinks and granola bars. Although they do contribute healthy fat and protein, it won’t offset added sugars and artificial ingredients.

My advice: Stick to the seeds on their own, and if the hefty price tag has you cringing, you can find just as much nutrition in less expensive flax seeds.

Thought to increase energy and improve digestion, this fermented tea can be found on most grocery store shelves next to the iced teas and lemonades. Although it seems to be safe for healthy folks, those with a compromised immune system (like older adults and pregnant women) should be careful. Findings show that kombucha may sometimes be contaminated with fungus. Each serving (typically half a bottle or 8 fluid ounces) contains about 8 grams of sugar, so as with any beverage containing sugar, you need to be mindful of portion size. As for the health claims made, there actually hasn’t been a single human trial done to support or disprove these.

My advice: If you’re looking for kombucha’s proclaimed health benefits, turn to yogurt, kefir, and green or black tea instead.

Green Drinks
Green juices and smoothies are popping up everywhere, with some stores being completely dedicated to brewing up green concoctions. Buyers beware, however, liquid calories can add up quickly. Juices are also stripped of much of the fiber and vitamins (which are easily destroyed during the juicing process). As for smoothies, pay attention to the other ingredients added. Many stores and companies add high amounts of sweeteners and other sugary ingredients.

My advice: Enjoy a green smoothie with no added sugar on occasion. You’re better off tossing a variety of greens together in a salad or sauteed as an easy side.

For those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, eliminating gluten from your diet is necessary. But for the rest of the population who sees gluten-free as the next big diet craze, swapping out everything for its gluten-free alternative may do more harm than good. Since gluten-free products tend to be higher in calories and fat their gluten-filled counterparts, you may end up gaining weight! And sorry to say, but a cookie is still a cookie.

My advice: Choose modest portions of whole grains and steer clear of processed junk food with or without gluten.

TELL ME: What’s your take on these over-hyped foods?

Toby Amidor , MS, RD, CDN, is a national nutrition expert and author of the forthcoming cookbook “The Greek Yogurt Kitchen” (Grand Central Publishing 2014)

  • MartinCoady

    A cookie is still a cookie indeed! And processed food is still processed food and as such should be minimized, which appears to me to be the author’s conclusion as well. If cherries actually contain some magic health benefit then eat some but,in general, juicing fruit wastes nutrients.

  • MartyParty

    Gluten is never ok, for anyone. While I agree that processed grains are never a good choice even if they’re quinoa, it’s not that hard to switch to healthier alternatives like rice and sweet potatoes.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Perhaps for you Gluten is not a good choice, but many people have thrived on whole grains full of gluten for thousands of years.

      • Gary Graf

        Please Fooducate yourself..

    • PeterNZ

      Can you please provide some scientific facts to support your statement?

      • overseaschinese

        In Asia, generally, we eat grains and all kinds of nuts as it is for thousands of years. It’s part of our culture. Only recently, the West discover its benefits for what we have discovered for thousands of years.

  • Dan

    Gluten is never okay, for anybody. New studies as of late 2013 confirm this. It’s not a “diet craze”.

    Also, higher calories and more fat, doesn’t necessarily cause you to gain weight, as the article suggests….fat is very satiating so you’ll feel fuller, sooner, for longer. It’s all relative.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      This is simply not true. If you are referring to the recent attention to Perlmutter’s work, read this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/diets_b_4069694.html

      • Dan

        Yes I’ve read that before, and other pieces by Katz…this article doesn’t do anything for me, there are many like it out there anyway.

        And eating fat does not necessarily equal weight gain. I’m living proof. My diet is consistently say, 50-65% fat, and I’m pretty lean and I’m not the only one.

        • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

          Happy you found what works for you. But a sample of n=1 has no statistical significance when trying to find a solution for an entire population.

          • Dan

            Which is precisely why I hate n=1 examples. I like proof. So, let’s take for example, the Inuit- an entire population of people- one of many in the history of earth, to have eaten a largely gluten-free diet and have no signs of the diseases of modern man, which coincidentally, only appeared after the agricultural revolution…namely, largely grain based any foods with gluten.

            I also tell folks to avoid n=1 examples lol. Fat does not make you fat, but if you believe that, you are the victim of government and FDA propaganda.

          • rich

            Why doesn’t Katz’s article do anything for you? Like your inuit example, he cites populations that have lived long healthy lives on grain based diets…

          • Dani

            You want proof but ignore the article cited. I don’t get it. You use the Inuit as an example, but many Mediterranean cultures have plenty of gluten in their diet and don’t have as many of the diseases we have in the U.S. Agriculture came about as a part of evolution because hunting and gathering was quickly becoming unsustainable for the growing population. We adapted to survive. Humans have evolved to be able to process gluten as well as lactose which our ancestors were not able to do. so gluten is bad for someone who can’t process it but for the rest of us it’s fine as long as it’s not over processed.

  • Michael

    There are a few decent points in this article (such as avoiding processed foods, especially those with a lot of sugar) but I tend to disagree with much of it. To start off, it makes no mention of food quality which is very important; I often find this to be the case of many studies and therefore tend not to give them much weight (organic is not the same as conventional, is not the same as home grown – and soil quality matters too!)

    Concerning fruit juice I would not advocate store bought juice whatsoever, ’100% juice’ or not. Almost all store bought juice is completely devoid of the original nutrition as it oxygenated so that it can be stored for long periods of time. This destroys anti-oxidants and beneficial micro-organisms (which would of course otherwise reduce the storage and shelf life.) The juice is then reconstituted with ‘flavor packets,’ (this is why tropicana or minute maid always tastes the same – for example) often developed by fragrance companies, and it’s vitamin C content restored with ascorbic acid (which is not the same as vitamin C complex.)

    Properly made kombucha does not accidentally grow fungi, the acid content tends to prevent this. Also the sugar content on the label is, I believe, the original sugar content prior to fermentation; depending on the length of fermentation the end sugar content can be much less. Yogurt, kefir, or water kefir certainly also contain beneficial probiotics but if you’re reason for choosing yogurt over kombucha is worry about mold I disagree (Chobani anyone?) In any case make them yourself at home; it will be far more beneficial. On a side note, a friend of mine has found significant relief from her IBS drinking around a quart of homemade kombucha every week.

    On green drinks, if you’re buying the ridiculously expensive raw juices at the store you’re doing it wrong. Even the ‘raw’ ones are put through a high-pressure pasteurization process which reduces their benefits (but increases the shelf life.) To do it right do it at home and try to avoid mixing sugary fruits with veggies (sugary fruits are better eaten whole or possibly in smoothies so the fiber aids in slowing the sugar absorption, also the vegetables can slow the digestion of the fruit causing undesirable fermentation.)

    Gluten-free is complicated. I wouldn’t advocate completely replacing gluten with gluten-free alternatives as they can often be just as detrimental. One of the main issues with grains is the hybridization that has occurred over the years of grains with grasses which contain indigestible proteins. This was done so the grain would exhibit disease resistant characteristics of the grass without considering the addition of indigestible proteins to the grain. A good alternative to research is sprouted and/or fermented grains, heirloom varieties are good also as they generally have not been hybridized. I wouldn’t argue against the paleo route of completely eliminating grains but it’s not for everyone (not me.)

    Bottom line though is do your own research, don’t buy into trends (didn’t even know these 5 were trendy but who cares?), and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! Your reactions to foods may not be apparent at first but if you practice listening you will develop the ability to effectively assess which foods are right for you.

    Citations? All of this information is easily found through search engines. You are much more likely to learn something and have it stick if you learn it on your own (and maybe even learn above and beyond what I mention here – I’m just sharing ideas I have found to be true for me over the years. To each his own.) Looking forward to any responses which help set my ideas straight and teach me more!

    Good luck and good health!

    • Michael

      Oh, and also the gluten content of grains today is not equivalent to the gluten content of grains 100 years ago due to selective breeding which favored high gluten content in order to more easily facilitate industrial production of breads.

      • Dan

        Your post is entirely more informative, and more factual, than the article itself.

        And I agree that the best route for grains, if you’re going to have them, is sprouted or fermented grains. Makes digestion easier, allows nutrients to be more bioavailable.

  • Elliot Dole

    Great article. Thanks for having the guts to call out the nonsensical trend toward demonizing grains / gluten.

    • silvi

      Thanks, for telling for what it is about those foods!

  • overseaschinese

    Hype is never a good thing. We should learn to eat moderately, and not because it is a hype that we only focus on those food types.

  • Jen

    As all docs say— moderation & exercise!

  • The Frugal Dietitian

    Thanks Toby

  • mitchell

    I make my own chia smoothies with kale and coconut water with green onion and celery no sugar a little bit of fat free plain yogurt and I can run for 20hrs low loss of energy and its good for the kidneys as well as inflamation

  • Belle

    As I sit here drinking my homemade smoothie… I’d say the takeaway is not that chia seeds aren’t as awesome as they’re claimed to be or that green smoothies aren’t as awesome as they’re claimed to be- its that store bought processed foods are bad. This is nothing new. For those of us who’ve educated ourselves, we know better than to buy a green smoothie off a grocery store shelf and think we’re doing our bodies some kind of favor. I agree with her sentiments regarding the gluten free craze. It’s over the top and unnecessary lest you have a medical condition. But like virtually everything: moderation, moderation, moderation. More importantly, when it comes to health foods: variety, variety, variety. There’s a reason I don’t use the same kind of greens in my smoothies everyday. Different berries. Different beans, legumes. Different vegetables. AND. a variety of grains, grass, seeds and nuts.

  • karen

    I began using chia seeds in my smoothies about 3 weeks ago. I couldnt figure out why i was so sick for those 3 weeks. It was the chia seeds killing my stomach. After i stoppes using them i feel so much better.

  • Maki

    I disagree with much of the article as well, especially about green smoothies and gluten.