I Rant About SuperFoods and Other Bogus Supplements

During my study over the years of herbs and their uses I have come across many fads, myths and downright lies about how they should be used to improve foods and promote health. All this came to mind recently when my darling husband purchased a container of “organic superfood” made from a “blend of green foods, superfruits, sea vegetables, and probiotics.” It looks like something I would normally spread on my garden beds and, based on my husband’s reaction the first time he tried it, tastes about the same. But it’s guaranteed to be organic, support “whole body detoxification, energy levels, immune function, healthy aging, and alkalinity.” Sounds great, right? No, no, no!

This health food supplement has managed to bring together in one neat package nearly all the current pseudo-science buzz words floating around today. The result is someone somewhere is making money selling hope – hope that this odd combination of ingredients (trust me, I read the list) will provide a better life and erase years of poor health habits.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many vitamins and nutritional supplements that do indeed help with medical issues. I myself take several regularly. But anything with as many dubious claims as were on the jar of powder my husband purchased sets my teeth on edge. So in hopes of helping you sift through the claims of books, websites, and products claiming to improve your life I’m offering these words of caution.

What Goes Around Has Already Come Around – There are no new ideas in dieting or food preparation, just re-treads of old concepts. Raw foods, probiotics, and the paleo-diet are not new. You don’t have to go very far back into the history of this country to see similar dietary and health fads. Ever heard of Sylvester Graham, inventor of the graham cracker, or John and William Kellog, founders of Kellog’s Cereals? These were health food gurus of the nineteenth century and they would have loved the current rash of food fads.

Watch Out for “Kitchen Sink” Products – I’m referring to food supplements that have a bewildering array of ingredients, what our grandparents would have described as “everything but the kitchen sink.” These formulas seem to be created based on the notion that if you throw enough ingredients in you’ll be likely to come up with one that works. With that logic I would do better to select a half dozen fresh fruits and vegetables at random from the grocer’s shelves, mix them together and have a salad. At least I have a chance of enjoying my food rather than holding my nose and downing a murky green goo.

Beware of Popular Ailments – It seems that each decade has its favorite malady. In the 1920’s it was acidosis, a real malady but one that was described then as failure to eat enough acidic foods. The solution promoted at the time? Eat more citrus, which just happened to provide more Vitamin C and – ‘voila – people started feeling better. I remember in the 1970’s when nearly every problem in the neck and head was being traced to TMJ (temporo-mandibular joint) problems. Yes, it is a real malady but at the time you’d think we were having a TMJ epidemic. The same can be said for the current emphasis on a gluten-free diet. Like TMJ, problems digesting gluten (Celiac Disease) is a real thing but do you really believe that everyone who has put themselves on a gluten-free diet has this problem?

Who Said Your Colon Was Dirty?! – I practically foam at the mouth when I hear about colon cleansing. This is a pseudo-medical notion as old as the hills and can be traced back to the second century Greek physician Galen. He believed that health was determined by balancing what he called the four humours, characterized by four bodily fluids: red blood, yellow bile (urine), black bile (poo), and white phlegm. According to him all illnesses could be traced to an excess of one of these fluids. This means that for some diseases he would prescribe elimination of excess black bile – what is today called “colon cleansing.” If you’re over 50, chances are your doctor has recommended a colonoscopy which requires you to clean out your bowels in advance. Did you feel better afterward? I can guarantee you felt a little lighter and emptier but the effects vanished with the first hearty meal you ate after the procedure.

By now I’m sure I’ve said quite enough to get some interesting feedback. Let me be clear – food supplements can be helpful with medical problems but not every claim out there is true. Be a thoughtful shopper. Ask yourself who has examined the benefits of the supplement. Does it have a track record for actually helping? Last, but not least, be a little skeptical when reading the label of a product that says it will brighten your smile, harden your nails, improve the texture of your skin, and help you run a marathon. The more benefits claimed for a product, the more likely it is just plain bogus.

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