Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 8, 2013
In a world full of conflicting health information, how do you know whether a new food product is truly good for you or is just the next money-making gimmick?
We researched six of the most popular nutrition trends on the market to help you figure out which foods are worth your money.
Greek Yogurt ($1 – $2.15/cup)
Greek yogurt is made from cow’s or sheep’s milk that has been strained through a cloth to remove the whey, creating a thicker yogurt. It comes in two varieties: strained Greek yogurt (original) and “Greek-style” yogurt (American version, with domestic milk and possibly thickening agents).
Claim: High in protein and probiotics
Evidence: It’s true! Greek yogurt is a protein powerhouse. It contains about twice the protein of traditional yogurts and still maintains all the gut-friendly bacteria present in other yogurts.
Bottom line: Choose plain yogurt to avoid the added sugar in fruit flavors.
Chia Seeds ($7 – $19/bag)
These nutty, edible seeds come from a plant that grows in Mexico and South America. Yes, these are the same seeds that were used to grow the Chia Pet.
Claim: High in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids
Evidence: It’s rich in nutrients, fiber (10 grams/ounce), and omega-3 fatty acids. And unlike flaxseeds (another source of omega-3s), chia seeds are much more easily absorbed in their whole form.
Bottom line: Chia seeds are safe to eat, and they have many health-promoting nutrients. There also is some evidence that chia seeds may help improve heart-disease risk factors.
Raspberry Ketones ($10 – $50/bottle)
These are natural compounds that give red raspberries their scent.
Claim: An aid to weight loss
Evidence: Raspberry ketones are molecularly similar to the stimulants capsaicin and synephrine. They speed up the body’s metabolism and, thus, are promoted for weight loss. However, there have been no human research studies to support this claim.
Bottom line: Don’t waste your money on this supplement. Instead, eat raspberries, which are naturally low in calories and high in vitamin C and antioxidants.
Green Coffee Bean Extract ($10 to $50+/bottle)
Green coffee beans are raw or unroasted beans of coffee fruits, which are the same beans that are roasted, ground, and used to make coffee.
Claim: Promotes weight loss and helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation in the body
Evidence: The support for weight loss and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes is limited. In fact, one recent study suggests that coffee-bean extract is actually more likely to promote fat accumulation in the liver, which can lead to the development of diabetes.
Bottom line: Limit yourself to one-two cups of regular coffee per day to get the same antioxidant benefits of the coffee bean without the potential side effects.
Aloe Vera Juice ($1.75 – $4/bottle)
Aloe vera is a cactus-like plant that is commonly used to treat skin diseases and promote wound healing. More recently, the plant’s gel (and sometimes the whole plant) has been added to fruit juices.
Claim: Improves digestion and reduces constipation, heartburn, inflammation, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Evidence: One short-term study found that oral aloe vera gel taken for four continuous weeks improved gastrointestinal symptoms in people with mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis (a form of IBD). Other research has shown that whole aloe leaf has a laxative effect in constipation. However, some studies suggest that long-term use of this substance may be harmful to the kidneys.
Bottom line: There is no clear evidence that this drink helps irritable bowel disease or inflammation. Although aloe drinks appear to be effective for constipation, the potential harmful effects outweigh the benefits. To ease constipation, stick to eating at least 25-35 grams of fiber per day and drinking plenty of water.
Coconut Oil ($8 – $13/16-ounce jar)
Coconut oil comes from the inside of coconut kernels.
Claim: Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and other age-related degenerative diseases and reduces symptoms of malabsorption
Evidence: Although coconut oil consists of about 92 percent saturated fat, most of that fat is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are absorbed differently than long-chain triglycerides, which are commonly found in other saturated fats, such as butter. Direct studies of coconut oil are scarce, but available data suggests that MCTs might improve overall cholesterol ratios by increasing “good” high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.
Bottom line: More research is needed to confirm the potential benefits of coconut oil. For some people, coconut can be a healthy food if eaten in moderation, but should not replace other healthy fats like olive and canola oils. It’s also important to use “virgin” coconut oil, and to avoid any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated coconut oils, which contain trans fat.
- Learn more about today’s food and nutrition trends.
- Related post: “Should You Be Consuming Probiotics for Your Health?”