I am The Stomper of Dreams. Or at least that’s what my friends call me. Inevitably, at any party or social gathering, my friends are eager to share their latest health food secret that promises to keep them young and invincible. Alas, as a registered dietitian/nutritionist, I feel obligated to investigate their latest obsession and help them understand the actual benefits (and sometimes risks) of the product.
I understand their desire to find an easy path to wellness. I am open to new ideas and foods that promote health and are simple to incorporate into my routine. It’s easy to fall under the spell of good marketing, but I need to know the scientific facts about the new latest craze before I’ll adopt it.
Here are some trendy health food myths I feel obligated to debunk.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been touted as a folk remedy for as long as I can remember. There’s some evidence that the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar (and all other vinegars) may have some positive effects on starch digestion, but there has been no conclusive evidence that it does anything more than that. It does not cure diabetes, promote weight loss, or reduce inflammation. These are all widespread, unproven myths.
Beware – apple cider vinegar can be risky, too. Apple cider vinegar, like all vinegars, is as mentioned above acidic. If it is consumed without dilution, it can potentially cause burns to your mouth or esophagus. Play it safe and save the apple cider vinegar for salad dressing or pickles.
2. Sports Drinks
Soft drinks with added electrolytes, vitamins, and carbohydrate are a popular choice for both athletes and non-athletes alike. I’ve always been puzzled by the perpetual need to make water better. For hydration, it’s all that most people need. If you exercise vigorously for more than an hour, you may need to replenish salts and carbohydrates, but the average person does not lose enough nutrients during a workout to need a special sports drink.
Sports drinks have added calories and sugar, which most of us are trying to avoid. Stick to the plain bottled or tap water and have a healthy snack after your workout to put back any nutrients lost after you exercise. What do I recommend? Try a banana or orange slices. Plain water. If you want some additional electrolytes, eat a banana or orange slice.
Want to learn more about the importance of hydration? Check out our tips, not myths, on how to stay hydrated and heathy.
3. “Power” Bars
There are many types of protein and nutrition bars on the market. I see them every time I go to the gym, visit a food store, or even stop for gas. Do you really need them, and do they really help you to stay healthy? No.
The product itself is not going to transform you into an Adonis. Here’s a scary fact: many power bars are comparable to candy bars in calories and added sugar. Yikes! If you want some extra protein, eat a larger protein serving at meals or try adding a snack of peanut butter, hummus, or even a glass of milk.
My tips? Get the power, but ditch the bar. Maintaining muscle balance and strength is important as you age. It has been shown to benefit overall health, improve longevity, increase endorphins, and provide a youthful appearance. Click here for tips on how to maintain muscle balance at any age.
4. Veggie Chips
I’m always suspicious of any health food that comes in chip form. Although they sound like a healthy option, many veggie chips are deep-fried and heavily salted. This makes them no better than their potato and tortilla chip counterparts. Even baked chips typically have enough fat per serving to disqualify them as a healthy choice. Try some baby carrots, apple slices, or other fresh cut vegetables instead.
Need some thin-spiration to inspire you to replace the chips with healthier snacks? Read about how Fran Creasy lost 75 lbs at age 63! Spoiler Alert: Fran didn’t let any health food myths slow her down.
This spice is the ingredient that gives curry its yellow color. Traditionally used as a folk medicine, it has become all the rage among my friends. They swear they feel better when they take it. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has some study behind it, however there is no conclusive evidence that it cures or controls any health conditions.
Turmeric is generally considered safe in small doses, but too much can lead to some unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects such as an upset stomach, nausea, dizziness, or diarrhea.
If adding a small amount of turmeric to their diet makes my friends feel better, so be it, but the perceived health benefit is most likely just a placebo effect.
How to Spot a Health Food Myth
There is so much information and misinformation about health food in the media and on the internet these days. It’s easy to fall prey to slick marketing, promises of health benefits, or testimonials from misinformed friends. Before you jump on the bandwagon of the next big trend, be smart.
- Look for actual science behind the claims.
- Read labels for other ingredients that you may not want to consume.
- Ask a registered dietitian/nutritionist to help sort out the information.
While I may be the Stomper of Dreams, I have my friends’ best interest in mind. After all, I want them to be my friends for a long time to come.
Author: Mary Herrstrom, MBA, RDN, LDN is a registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist and certified health and wellness coach. She is the Corporate Dietitian for Acts Retirement-Life Communities.