Do fortified "super foods" deliver on their promises?
From health headquarters to your local grocery, store shelves are stocked with food packaged with a mouthful of claims. But can calmer minds, healthier bodies, and magical weight loss really be found inside these colorful packages?Ever skeptical, we sat down with Whitney Orth, a registered dietitian with UT Medical Group, who shed some pretty interesting light on the products. Items were purchased at Fresh Market, Wild Oats, Schnuck's, and Smooth Moves. Of course, before any radical dietary changes are made, consult your physician first.
Here's what we found. >>>
Simple Soynut Butter
This product is organic, nut- and gluten-free, kosher, and vegan. The fat and calorie content is almost the same as that of a leading peanut butter brand, but, says Orth, "for someone with a peanut allergy or other special needs, this is a perfect substitute."
(Warning: Open carefully! The oil that collected at the top of the jar spilled everywhere when we twisted off the top. The maker, Simple Food, claims this is natural, and the contents must be stirred to achieve the same texture as regular peanut butter.)
Sambazon Shaman's Immunity Organic Acerola Smoothie
What is acerola, anyway? Also known as the Barbados cherry, this tropical fruit has a high vitamin C content. The smoothie (which tastes fantastic for those who like ginger) packs a whopping 2,500 percent of recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, an essential nutrient. But is that too much of a good thing? "Since vitamin C is water-soluble, the body easily excretes any more than it can use," explains Orth. "But such high doses can cause stomach upset, and those with kidney diseases should check with their doctor before drinking this product." She adds that nothing you drink from a store shelf renders you totally immune to anything.
Nature's Path Optimum Zen
A cereal that provides inner peace? Give us a break. Sure it's a healthy way to start a day, but unless you eat a bowlful while doing yoga, forget about the Zen promise. Some things you don't need an expert to figure out.
Organic Valley Large Brown Eggs
People tend to believe that brown eggs are somehow healthier, but the difference between brown eggs and white eggs? The breed of hen. It's as simple as that, says Orth. "There is no nutritional difference whatsoever between the two," she says. But, for those who care about our fowl friends, these eggs are produced by organically fed, cage-free chickens. So you can feel good about supporting the cruelty-free aspect of your next omelet. In fact, that might give you more inner peace than the previously mentioned cereal.
Spectrum Organic Omega-3 Dressings
"A delicious source of Omega-3," claims the bottle. We agree. These flavor-packed dressings (including Asian ginger, pomegranate chipotle, and creamy garlic ranch, among others) provide 100 percent of the RDA for Omega-3, widely recognized as a key to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. We loved them, but Orth says that any olive oil-based dressing can legally make the same claim. Since these are roughly the same price as other leading brands, we say pour it on.
Anyone suffering from "water burnout" can appreciate the relief of these mildly flavored hydrators. Each flavor offers something different, from green tea to a little boost of vitamin C to potassium. Anything that encourages hydration (for an added 50 calories, though) is a positive thing, but Orth notes that those sensitive to stimulants should avoid Vitamin Water's "energy" flavor, as it contains caffeine and guarana (a plant with roughly the same qualities as caffeine). If you're willing to add the calories to your daily intake, drink up.
EnviroKidz Organic Gorilla Munch Cereal
The packaging for this kids' cereal pimps the product as low-sodium, but Orth explains that most cereals are low-sodium, and the munch mix is about as sweet as any cereal we recall from our childhoods. The product is gluten-free, so it works for kids with grain allergies. But why the name EnviroKidz? One percent of all sales of their products go to endangered species, habitat conservation, and environmental education for kids — which makes the cereal's premise that much easier to swallow.
Enviga Sparkling Green Tea
Jumping on the energy drink bandwagon, but from a diet direction, is the Coca-Cola Company with its line of Enviga products. The line of tea drinks claims that three of its 12-ounce servings will burn 60 to 100 calories in healthy 18- to 35-year-olds. Clocking in at a mere 5 calories per can, the claim seems to have some credibility. The product's ingredients are caffeine, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and green tea extracts, which studies have shown do burn more calories than water alone. The jury is still out on this, as the drink is flavored with the sugar substitute aspartame, which other studies suggest interferes with the body's natural ability to burn calories. So what's a thirsty weight-conscious individual to do? For now, drink up, but don't expect to lose any real weight by potentially burning 100 extra calories a day. Or, suggests Orth, "Just have a cup of coffee."
Powerbar Nut Naturals
Organic Food Bar with active greens
We lumped these three energy bars together as they tend to make the same claims: easy to digest, balanced, nutrition-packed food-on-the-go. But upon closer inspection, says Orth, "most are just expensive candy bars in cool packaging." The calorie content, she warns, is often the same — if not higher — than that of, say, a Snickers. "Most people not involved in a triathlon don't necessarily need that much protein or carbs in a single serving." The biggest misconception about these energy-bar products is that they are a great snack, when in fact, they are intended to be actual meal replacements. Check the servings per bar, Orth advises, and see if you'd be just as well off, if not more satisfied, with a hot, healthy meal.
Wheat Grass Shot
If ever there was a super food that carries its weight, it's the wheat grass shot. At Smooth Moves, the shots are offered in one-or two-ounce servings, and make some pretty big claims. Wheat grass, a living grass before it is cut (before your eyes) and ground through a juicer, picks up 92 of 102 known minerals found in soil, is incredibly high in enzymes, and contains up to 70 percent chlorophyll, making for a bacteria-unfriendly environment. It also has tons of vitamins and antioxidants proven to help reduce and cure an enormous range of maladies, from cancer to diabetes. That's some big promise, but it would appear that wheat grass can back it up. But here's the rub — it looks like liquid grass and tastes the same because that's exactly what it is. It's not a pleasant drinking experience, and has been known to cause headaches in some imbibers. (I've been drinking the shots for a few years now, no more than one a week, and have not had headaches, but have gotten a bit nauseated when I ingested the juice on an empty stomach. Also be prepared to burp the grass taste for hours afterwards. Not fun, but I feel great afterwards, despite the unpleasant side effect.) Although there are docs and scientists that disagree, even more back up the miracle-juice's powers than not. "But," cautions Orth, "don't think that you can have one shot a week and eat junk the rest of the time and it will balance out. It absolutely will not."
Source of Life Liquid
The name seems to say it all — within this bottle lies the magic sources for a healthy life. And in a way, it's true. But the most-infomercial-esqe looking product on our page is actually nothing more than a liquid multivitamin. Nothing bad about that, says Orth. But if you take a multivitamin, you get the exact same benefit. "This juice would be perfect for someone who wants to take vitamins but can't swallow those big horse pills," she says. At $32 a pop, it's pretty pricey, and there's no way to know just how potent the product will stay after it's been hanging around your fridge for a while. If you can, stick with the vitamins.
Odwalla Berries GoMega
These tasty juice products brag of 1,000 mg of spirulina per serving, and that the product is flash pasteurized. But what is spirulina, anyway? It's microalgae that's 60 percent vegetable protein, rich in beta-carotene, iron, and vitamin B-12. The drinks also boast 100 percent RDA of Omega-3 acids as well as vitamins. All of these things are great. But, clocking in at 320 a bottle, that's roughly 20 percent of the calories needed for an average female needed to maintain (not lose) weight. Men have a bit more leeway in that category. "This is a healthy way to begin the day as a breakfast, but certainly not a way to wash down breakfast," notes Orth. These things are good, and good for you, but watch the calories and plan accordingly. If you're trying to lose weight, these are probably not your best bet.