Health-food fads come and go, changing as rapidly as the rise and fall of hemlines and the music on the radio. Some trendy health foods are little more than hype, while others can stand up over time.
But how can you tell the difference?
Consumer Reports this month tracked down seven health-food trends du jour to see which measure up and don’t.
Marci Clow, M.S., a registered dietician and certified nutritionist at Rainbow Light, noted all seven of the foods singled out by Consumer Reports are indeed healthy choices. But the key is knowing what varieties to buy and how to prepare them, to maximize their nutritional value, and to make sure they are consumed as part of a balanced diet with lots of whole, unprocessed foods.
“All of the foods identified can be included as part of a healthy diet and are worth putting in your cart to try,” she tells Newsmax Health.
“But the take-home point is that ... there is no-one particular food that is miraculous and at the same time there is no-one particular food that should be black-balled. Consuming a wide-variety of fresh fruits and veggies, whole-grains, lean proteins, and in general real, whole foods is the best way to get the beneficial array of nutrients needed to keep our bodies functioning optimally.”
Here are the seven foods Consumer Reports evaluated this month:
Chia seeds: The tiny seeds that made Chia Pets a popular consumer product three decades ago are making a comeback as a health food item. Like other seeds and nuts, chia seeds are high in fiber and nutrients. Clow notes they can be a healthy additions to salads, smoothies, vegetables, and yogurt.
Tip: Buy bags of whole seeds instead of packaged products, which may include chia seeds too low on the ingredients list to make any difference in your diet.
Bean pasta: Beans are nutrition powerhouses and pastas made from them are healthier alternatives wheat-based products because they are loaded with protein and fiber. Plus: They’re also gluten-free and, for those with diabetes, don’t produce the high blood-sugar spikes that conventional pastas do. “Bean pasta is a nice protein and fiber-fortified pasta option for those who truly do need a gluten-free diet,” Clow says.
Tip: Pick pastas with beans listed first in ingredients lists.
Hemp seeds: Rich in alpha-linolenic acid, hemp seeds are a natural plant-based source of lean protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Worth noting: hemp seeds are free of THC, the chemical in hemp's cousin, marijuana.
Tip: Choose whole seeds over packaged products that have seeds in them.
Yogurt, fermented foods: Greek yogurt, the Korean vegetable dish kimchee, and kefir are all fermented foods loaded with probiotics — live “good” bacteria that live in your gut and promote immune function and digestive health. Probiotics supplements are also available. “I wouldn’t exactly say that fermented foods are a new trend, but definitely one that has staying power,” notes Clow. “Examples of fermented foods include the widely popular tea drink called Kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchee, sourdough bread, pickles, olives and yogurt.”
Tip: Buy only refrigerated products, which contain the most active ingredients, and avoid shelf-stable versions that aren't fermented, as heat-treated or pasteurized items because they lose the good bacteria along with the bad. Be sure the label says the food has "live" cultures, which need refrigeration to stay active.
Ancient grains: Amaranth, quinoa, spelt, and other grains that have been grown and harvested for thousands of years are believed to offer health benefits above and beyond traditional wheat, corn, rice, and other more highly processed grains. When eaten whole — in hot cereal or pilaf — ancient grains are great sources of protein, fiber, and other nutrients and may help reduce the risk of some chronic conditions.
Tip: Buy products with such grains high on the ingredients list. Many cereals, breads, and packaged foods marketed as “ancient-grain” products have only a sprinkling of those grains and may contain added sugar, salt, and preservatives.
Matcha: This powdered green tea made has more EGCG — an antioxidant that may protect against cancer and heart disease — than other green teas. It’s also a good source of L-theanine, a compound that boosts attention.
Tip: Consume matcha in tea, but steer clear of snack bars, ice cream, and lattes made with it. Such products have less of it than a single cup of tea, as well as more sugar and fat.
Grass-fed beef: Beef raised on grass instead of grain is lower in cholesterol-raising saturated fats and calories. It is also a better source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a “healthy” form of fat that may have health benefits.
Tip: Look for a label that the beef is certified grass-fed claim, such as the American Grassfed Association seal. You’ll pay twice as much for grass-fed beef as conventionally raised beef, and don’t assume that all organic beef is grass-fed (or vice versa).
Clow notes these seven foods are nutritional powerhouses, but are no substitute for a healthy diet. Studies consistently show that only about 11 percent of Americans consume the recommended daily minimum of nine servings of fruits and vegetables — the equivalent of about five cups.
“This extreme lack of fruit and vegetable intake is one of the contributors to the overweight and obesity rates in our country, which are at an all-time high,” she explains. “Sadly, 1 in 10 people also get one-quarter or more of their calories from added sugar.... The message is really that our nation is overfed and undernourished.”
She recommends replacing some of the regular convenience foods you eat with fruits and vegetables. “Think apples and bananas as the ultimate in convenience!” she says.
She also notes bagged salads, pre-cut raw veggies, and frozen veggies can take away the “hassle factor” of fresh-food preparation.
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