Superfoods or Superduds? You Decide!
Claims: This small purple berry, harvested from the Açai Palm in Brazil, is said to fight heart disease due to a potent mix of antioxidants, minerals and amino and fatty acids. Some product makers also claim the berry helps people lose weight, prevents aging and stops cancer.
Reality check: Açai berries do contain beneficial fatty acids and high levels of phytochemicals, an anti-inflammatory, fibrous, antioxidant blend that research suggests may reduce chronic-disease risk. However, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to claim that açai berries are more beneficial than other phytochemical-rich berries such as blueberries, raspberries or cranberries
Claims: This relatively low-caffeine, less processed form of tea is said to contain high levels of antioxidants that help prevent cancer and heart disease. Some vendors also claim it helps people lose weight.
Reality check: Research confirms that green tea is rich in antioxidants. However, evidence that it benefits heart health or prevents cancer is not conclusive, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
What about the weight-loss claims? They’re not completely unfounded, says Washington, D.C., nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson. Green tea contains the fat-burning compounds catechins, but you’d have to drink at least three cups of it daily for the slightest drop in weight, she says.
Black tea actually packs a bigger weight-loss wallop, she says, because in addition to catechins, it contains more caffeine — also a weight-loss aid.
Claims: This purple fruit from Asia is said to contain powerful antioxidants called xanthones, which are found in a few tropical fruits. Xanthones are supposed to boost the immune system, improve intestinal health and ward off cancer.
Reality check: As with some açai berry manufacturers, a marketing network is selling mangosteen as a blended juice. In the U.S., a bottle of XanGo goes for $37. And as with the açai berry, no rigorous research on humans exists to back the immunity-boosting claims, notes nutritionist Salge Blake.
Claims: The cocoa in dark chocolate contains phytochemicals known as flavonols, which marketers say help the heart by controlling bad cholesterol and ease blood pressure by expanding blood vessels.
Reality check: The flavonols in dark chocolate — not regular or milk chocolate — do appear to fight cholesterol and may even give your brain a boost, research indicates.
Claims: It contains flavonoids and a substance from grapes called resveratrol. Both help the heart by reducing inflammation and aids in preventing artery damage caused by buildups of bad cholesterol in the blood vessels.
Reality check: Studies indicate that red wine does appear to boost heart health, says nutritionist Salge Blake. However, a large British study linked having just one alcoholic drink a day to an elevated risk of cancer of the breast, liver and rectum in women.
Claims: The list of benefits from this rather blah-looking bean seems endless. The bean offers plenty of protein, and its isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen) are said to aid heart and bone health, cancer prevention, and ease the symptoms of menopause.
Reality check: While soy’s phytoestrogens may ease menopausal hot flashes, research has also linked those same compounds to breast cancer and other estrogen-related diseases such as uterine fibroid tumors and endometriosis. Recent research reviews also cast doubt on the bean’s supposed heart and bone benefits.
Spirulina (blue-green algae)
Claims: This form of blue-green algae from lakes and the ocean is touted as a great source of antioxidants and complete protein and B vitamins. Marketers say it helps prevent cancer and heart disease, boosts energy and immunity, and aids weight loss, among other benefits.
Reality check: There is no rigorous scientific research to support any claims linking spirulina to disease prevention, boosting immunity or helping with weight loss. There is, however, some preliminary animal research indicating that it could aid in healing wounds and ulcers.