10 Superfoods You Don't Really Need to Buy (We're Looking at You, Wheatgrass)
10 Overhyped Foods to Skip
The term “superfoods” is one that is often overused and misunderstood. Although there is no scientific definition to qualify a superfood, in the nutrition world, it signifies a single food that's jam-packed with good-for-you nutrients that help keep your body healthy. There are many, many foods that are super, but as the saying goes, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” (And keep your eyes out for these Health Food Buzzwords That Don’t Mean Much.)
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans stresses variety. Since no single food can provide every single nutrient your body needs in the exact amount needed, your best bet is to eat a whole bunch of healthy fare, all of which balance each other out. That’s also why you may have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow”—the more colors are on your plate, the wider variety of nutrients you’re eating.
Some foods, however, although touted as superfoods, are overhyped (and overpriced!). There are other foods (or combinations of foods) that can provide you with similar nutrients that are just as healthy. Find out which not-so-superfoods you can cross off your grocery list—and what to add instead.
Also known as wolfberry, these berries are small with an orange to light red hue. In Asia, goji berries have been eaten for years in the hopes that they act as a fountain of youth. These small berries have been marketed to treat inflammation, fight cancer, and improve vision and fertility. Studies done on rabbits and rats have shown some promise in heart health and insulin resistance, but that’s a long way off from having the same effect on humans—or touting the food as a superfood. The actual berry is not rich in one particular vitamin or mineral, though it does contain natural plant chemicals beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, both antioxidants in the carotenoid family.
You're better off choosing a variety of berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries—all provide a nutritional punch of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Plus, they’re pretty versatile in the kitchen. (Start off with 10 Berry Creative Ways to Use Blueberries.)
Many people take a shot of this sprouted grain daily, or purchase high priced-juices or smoothies containing it. Wheatgrass contains a plant compound called apigenin, thought to work similar to an antioxidant in preventing damage to the body’s cells. Wheatgrass does contain a variety of nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E, calcium, iron, and magnesium. It’s also brimming with 70 percent chlorophyll, which is significantly higher than many other green leafy vegetables. However, despite some claims, studies have not found any nutritional value to consuming chlorophyll, and there are no human studies showing that it has any health benefits. Wheatgrass is also consumed to help cleanse the body. But the liver is the body’s natural cleanser, and doesn’t need help to do its job.
There are also several safety concerns when consuming concentrated amounts of wheatgrass—like in shots. Reported side effects include headaches, nausea, hives, and constipation. Pregnant and nursing women are strongly encouraged to avoid it.
Choose dark leafy green vegetables like chard, kale, collard greens, chicory, and spinach instead. (Find out The 10 Best Leafy Greens.)
Acai grows on palm trees that thrive on forest edges, near rivers and streams. These berries are the size of blueberries, but are 95 percent seed. It’s a staple food in Brazil, where locals munch on them with toasted yucca or as a side to fish. In the U.S., acai comes in all types of forms: powders, juices, frozen pulp, smoothies, and supplements.
Acai has been touted to have all sorts of benefits, including curing allergies, boosting energy, improving sleep, and aiding weight loss. Once again, though, there are no human studies to prove these claims. There was one study conducted at the University of Florida where the antioxidant compounds in acai were shown to help fight leukemia cells—but it was done in a test tube, not on humans.
Acai does have an interesting nutrition profile with 50 percent of its calories coming from omega-9 fats, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. These berries also have fiber, vitamin A, iron, and calcium, and several plant chemicals including anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants. However, a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry
found that acai juice contained fewer anthocyanins than red wine and pomegranate juice.
There's a huge variety of foods that contain anthocyanins, including blackberries, blueberries, cherries, red grapes, cranberries, and red currants, that are more worth your time.
This black tea is fermented with the help of yeast, bacteria, and sugar. And it's health claims include detoxification, increasing energy, improving digestion, enhancing the immune system, and PMS relief. But there are no human studies to support any of these claims. Further, the vinegary flavored tea (which you either love or hate) tends to have a good amount of added sugar. There have also been contamination issues with fungus and bacteria, which is potentially dangerous for those with weakened immune systems, like the very old, very young, pregnant, and nursing mothers. (What is Kombucha?)
There are all types of teas you can enjoy that have been shown to have health claims (yes, they’re back up with science!). Tea contains phytochemicals called flavonoids, shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. To get more good-for-you bacteria, enjoy kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut.
There are tons of gluten-free foods hitting the market. But just because you see more products doesn’t mean gluten-free is better than its gluten-filled counterparts. Those who have been diagnosed with celiac disease must eliminate gluten from their diet and those with gluten intolerance may also need to do so. For everyone else, replacing gluten-free foods for gluten-filled ones isn’t always as smart as it seems. Many gluten-filled counterparts are higher in calories and fat—and even though it’s gluten-free, junk food is still junk food.
Stick to modest portions of whole grains (like oats, whole wheat, wheat berries) with or without wheat instead. (Or indulge in any of these 10 Good-for-You Gluten Recipes Under 400 Calories.)
This edible, nutty-flavored seed comes from a desert plant grown in Mexico. The theory behind its weight loss claim is that it provides a satiety value, making you feel full and hopefully causing you to eat less. However, one short 2009 study published in
found no such luck when participants ate chia over a 12-week period—in fact, there were no changes in appetite or weight loss.
So what about the omega-3s? If you think you’re getting a ton of this essential fat, think again. Chia contains the ALA type of omega-3 fat, which needs to be converted to more potent forms called DHA and EPA in order to benefit heart health. Although reports claim that milled chia can convert from ALA to DHA and EPA more efficiently, more research needs to be done.
You're better off choosing nuts like almonds, peanuts, cashews, and pistachios, which are filled with protein and healthy fat and can help curb hunger. For an omega-3 fix, choose fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines, which contain high amounts of DHA and EPA—the more potent form of omega-3 fats. (And, as an added bonus, these Healthy Foods Further Your Life Expectancy.)
The color of a drink shouldn’t be the determining factor of its healthfulness. Green juices are being sold at health food stores and juice shops throughout the country, and claims have been made that these juices help detoxify. Again, your liver was created for this purpose and needs no outside help.
Even worse, these liquid calories can add up quickly—and to set off the bitter flavor of the dark leafy green, oftentimes need to be sweetened up (a lot). Juicing also destroys much of the fiber and certain vitamins, especially C, so you may not be getting as many nutrients as you think.
A green salad with all types of dark green leafy vegetables will do the trick. If you love a green drink, make your own on occasion at home, where you control the ingredients and especially the added sugar. (Take your greens to the next level with Easy Salad Upgrades for Your Best Bowl Ever.)
If the word “vitamin” plastered on the label makes you grab for the drink, then turn the label around! Check out the ingredient list and you’ll find that many of these drinks are loaded with added sugar, up to as much as 8 teaspoons per bottle. Choose the lower-calorie version, and you’re now downing artificial sweeteners.
Good old H2O is all you need—and if you’re craving extra flavor, add a splash of citrus like lemon, lime, or orange slices. (Get creative with these 8 Infused Water Recipes to Upgrade Your H2O.)
This tropical fruit comes from southeast Asia. It has an edible purple outer rind with white, tender flesh, and a strong, bitter aftertaste. Although you can eat it fresh, you’ll typically find mangosteen blended with other juices or purees (it also comes in supplement form).
Health claims include reducing the risk of cancer (due to its high amount of antioxidants); however, the American Cancer Society asserts that there’s just not enough evidence to support cancer prevention in humans. The fruit does contain xanthones, an antioxidant shown to help fight inflammation, but not as much fiber and vitamin C as some other more common fruits you can find at the market.
Blueberries, butternut squash, and cranberries are also high in antioxidents—and a lot more accessible (and less expensive!).
This water comes from a cactus-like plant that’s native to sub-Saharan Africa and is now grown worldwide. Aloe vera juice or water is the clean liquid extracted from the plant and has a slightly bitter, citrus-like flavor.
Although the clear gel extracted from the aloe vera plant has been used for years to help treat wounds, burns, and skin infections, the water has been touted to help with upset stomach, weight loss, detox, and boost energy.
Aloe vera water does contain a high amount of antioxidants, but it also has diuretic properties which, if taken in high amounts, can leach potassium out of your body and is potentially very dangerous. As for weight loss, there have been some animal studies, but very little research done on humans. (Read more: The Truth About Aloe Vera Juice.)
Further, because aloe vera water has a bitter flavor, it’s typically mixed with sweeteners or juice, so you may be getting more sugar than you realize.
Fill your plate with a variety of foods containing antioxidants, including fresh fruit and vegetables, instead.