We’ve talked at length about the health benefits of certain foods, even going so far as to label them “Smart Fuels.” And, while we stand by our statements that there are foods out there that are particularly good for you once the marketing masterminds at food manufacturing firms catch wind of it, these poor foods are hailed as the new wonder food. In fact, they become so popular that they become buzz terms in the industry, able to sell just about any product provided it gets an honorable mention on a product label. Our beef? These so-called super foods can never live up to the hype and certainly can’t confer any kind of health benefit when they are served up in processed food items such as gum, candy, yogurt chips and sugar-laden juices! Read on to see our list of the top 10 health foods that have tried, and failed, to live up to the hype:
If Comedian Kathy Griffin had it right when she said people are afraid to speak ill of Oprah, then label us brave because we’re calling out the Queen of Media for hailing açai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) as the next super food. Touted by Oprah’s minions as “nature’s energy fruit,” this item boasts 10 times the antioxidant power of red grapes and a “synergy” of fats and fiber to promote digestive and cardiovascular health and essential amino acids for muscle regeneration. While there are certainly health benefits associated with the berries, the folks over at a Friendly Skeptic note that “the antioxidants in açai are not necessarily as potent as has been claimed” and that there is “no scientific basis whatsoever for making medical or health promoting claims for açai.”
Pomegranate juice, pomegranate jam, pomegranate chutney, pomegranate martinis: Once a food is a super food, it weasels its way in to just about everything! We’re not knocking the benefits of pomegranate – which range from promises that it can prevent coronary artery disease to claims that it can stave off erectile dysfunction – what we’re having a hard time with is the price! Ranging from $5 to as high as $8 for a 16 oz serving, POM (and its various tea and pill derivatives) this is one outrageously priced tipple! Also, it should be noted, dear readers, that just one 8 oz serving of POM packs 34 grams of sugar. You’ve been warned.
3. Goji Berries
How could we not love Goji Berries when we ourselves even named them a Smart Fuel once upon a blog? Again, we stand by our statements that they do confer a number of health benefits – including stemming cancer activity and promoting eye health – but at about $60 a bag, we have a hard time recommending them as an integral part of a daily diet! After all, it is a berry we’re talking about here.
It seems that if you slap an organic label on anything (fruit, vegetable, granola bars, vodka (seriously) you get free reign to hike up the price and still have your item fly off the shelves! Indeed, it seems that whenever you add the term “organic,” it ultimately registers as “healthy” with Joe Consumer. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t necessarily the case. Case in point? Our May Top 10 Junk Foods in Disguise, nearly half of which was dedicated to profiling items that were labeled organic but were still unhealthy. Sigh. Next.
5. Green Tea
Of all the recent health buzz words, green tea is probably the most frequently used (and abused) word in the lexicon. Green tea chewing gum… really? Do you seriously think your sugar-free stick of supped-up Bubble Yum is going to confer the health benefits associated with this ancient Chinese medicine? And the green tea “just add water” supplements? Don’t even get us started! In our searches we even found Green Tea Kit Kat Bars hailing from Japan. Ugg. Hopefully, people can see right through these marketing schemes. While we don’t doubt that the polyphenols at work in Green Tea have their benefits, we recommend that you stick with green tea in its purest form – straight out of a teacup. Expect more to come.
With its fancy name, its fancy country of origin (Brazil) and the fact that its added to just about every herbal supplement and energy drink, it would be plausible to believe that guarana conveys some kind of health benefit, right? Unfortunately, if you do a little research, you’ll find that guarana is… well, basically just a fancy way of saying… uhhh… caffeine. True, it comes from a berry, and we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that the berry itself is rich in tannins and other phytochemicals, but at the end of the day, this is a prime example of a relatively healthy food being blown up as the answer to all of our health needs.
Another fancy name, another relatively un-super super food. Kombucha is really just a fancy name for a sweetened tea grown from yeast and Acetobacter cultures. Early studies of kombucha suggest that it may help detoxify the body, but once in the hands of marketing peons, the benefits of the drink are completely blown out of proportion, with one kombucha drink manufacturer using the tag line “can a drink change your life.” Our answer? Not likely. But, at about $3 a pop, it sure will change the size of your wallet.
And now we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for some new super ingredients ready to make their debut on the wild and wacky world of food products:
8. Slimming Ingredients
The easiest way to sell a new item? Tell people that it will help them lose weight or stay trim. Enviga was just the beginning. The latest for your radar? PinnoThin, a polyunsaturated fatty acid pinolenic acid derived from the seeds of the Korean pine nut tree that is thought to act as an appetite suppressant while also delaying the emptying of the stomach so that people feel fuller, longer. The new compound received the top prize at the First International Conference on Innovations and Trends in Weight Loss and Weight Management, but according to a release, that award was based on a study involving only 18 women. We advise that before you get caught up in the hype (toasted pine nuts on everything!), wait for more conclusive evidence of the pros (and cons) of this new product!
Uchuva may sound appealing, but what if we told you it was really nothing more than a plain ol’ gooseberry? While it conveys some strong health benefits – providing the heftiest dose of fiber in the dried fruit realm – is it going to change your life? Probably not, but it sure does make a cute garnish for summer fruit dishes or a sweet addition to a ho-hum trail mix.
We started with Equal and Sweet & Low, but quickly abandoned the little pink and blue packets when Splenda hit the scene (It tastes just like sugar! You can bake with it! It won’t give you the runs!). Now brace yourself for the newest kid on the block: Cweet. The compound – which is derived from brazzein, a sweet fruit found in West Africa – is thought to be 3000 times sweeter than sucrose and 1,000 times sweeter than plain ol’ cane sugar and is already slated for inclusion in products including chewing gum, sports drinks and candy. Want to know where you can pick some up? Unfortunately this compound is still awaiting FDA approval and, even if awarded “generally recognized as safe” status, still won’t hit stores until 2009.