Seemingly every day a new food grabs headlines with promises to detox the liver, protect the heart, ward off cancer or increase longevity. And while many of these so-called super foods offer health perks, none of them is a silver bullet for health and wellness.
"The idea of ‘food as medicine' has been big in the media lately but there’s no group of foods that supersede all of the others," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kelly Nohl. "The best diet comprises a mix of foods with a variety of colors."
Perhaps even more important, some of these so-called “magical foods” can harm your health if you get too much of them. Here’s the skinny on five foods making the news:
1. Apple cider vinegar (ACV). Healers began using ACV as early as the 1820s to aid in weight loss and help lower blood sugar levels. However, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence out there that apple cider vinegar alone will help with weight loss, says Nohl. In fact, the best evidence only suggests that ACV may promote weight loss when used in conjunction with complex carbohydrates (fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, for example). And while ACV may be low in calories and could possibly impart health benefits, it offers almost nothing in the way of nutrients.
Cautionary notes: When used as an appetite suppressant, ACV can cause nausea and stomach upset. Plus, ACV is highly acidic, and over time it can wreak havoc on your teeth.
2. Bone broth. This dressed-up stock or broth is made from roasting animal bones for more than 24 hours, sometimes with the meat still attached. The idea is that simmering bones for that long releases the nutrients (mostly proteins) packed inside them. What doesn’t bone broth contain? Fiber and vegetables.
Cautionary notes: “Bone broth shouldn’t be a meal by itself,” Nohl warns. Instead, sip on broth between meals, especially if you’re battling a disease like cancer since bone broth is not a significant source of calories. Also, keep in mind that broth can be high in sodium. If it’s pre-packaged, it may also have added butter or cream.
3. Coconut oil. Coconut oil has been the “it” ingredient in recent years with advocates suggesting it’s a silver bullet for anti-aging. Proponents slather it on their skin, spoon it into coffee, and slip it into recipes for baking. True, coconut oil is rich in vitamin E, but it’s certainly not a health food and should be consumed in moderation.
Cautionary notes: "Coconut oil is solid at room temperature which tells us that it is higher in saturated fats," says Nohl. Just one tablespoon of coconut oil contains 11 grams of saturated fat – and the American Heart Association recommends less than 13 grams daily. Oils such as olive or canola oil are better choices for most of your cooking.
4. Green tea. Tea — of any color — is a tasty, zero-calorie beverage everyone should enjoy. Green tea, in particular, has experienced a heyday in the headlines. Some claim that regular sipping can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity. Others suggest drinking five or more cups of green tea daily can boost your metabolism and keep excess pounds at bay. Unfortunately, most of these studies were done on animals. While drinking green tea before a workout may give you a boost of energy, it’s probably from the hit of caffeine more than anything else.
Cautionary notes: Drinking caffeinated green tea could interfere with sleep and may make you jittery.
5. Turmeric. Turmeric has a long and storied history in ayurvedic medicine, a holistic, natural-healing practice originating in India. In fact, use of this powerful spice dates back 5,000 years. While some evidence suggests turmeric may play a role in reducing pain for patients with inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, there’s just not enough solid data to support its use, and particularly not as a supplement. Instead, the best approach is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
Cautionary notes: Turmeric should be used in cooking, not as a dietary supplement (unless under the guidance of your health care provider). In supplement form, turmeric may interact with other medications.
The bottom line: There’s no miracle food that can counteract the damage of poor eating habits. What’s more, argues Nohl, classifying foods as good or bad can have unintended consequences. A better approach: Keep your body functioning at its best by eating a rainbow of unprocessed whole foods. Need more specifics? Try the DASH, Mediterranean or MIND diets. All three are high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats.
To find a registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-855-434-5483.
Kelly Nohl is a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.