Beware of these gimmicky “health” foods in 2015

Perhaps you resolved to eat right and lose some weight in the New Year. And that’s a great resolution. But it’s a jungle out there. It can be hard to go it alone and make good choices. Plus, it seems as though every month or so, some TV medical guru tells us about another “superfood” that you just can’t live without.

But of course, achieving good health isn’t that simple. No one food can work wonders.

So today, I’ll give you some tips for navigating the grocery store aisles and avoiding those trendy, over-hyped, one-hit wonders…

First off, stay away from most “canned” diets. In fact, any diet where you need to pay a monthly fee or buy a recipe book just isn’t worth following. Last month, I warned you about four of these ineffective and dangerous fad diets. Plus, even some of the doctor-approved “fab” diets just aren’t that effective over the long-term.

Second, be wary of overpriced, designer grocery stores like “Whole Foods.” These profitable purveyors of foods claim health and environmental benefits for their trendy products. But you pay far more for their products than necessary.

Third, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars a week filling your cart with organic food. The truth is, many of the splashy, packaged “organic” foods lining supermarket shelves these days are a waste of your money. And just because something has the “organic” label doesn’t mean it’s healthy. For instance, you can eat all the “organic” macaroni and cheese you want…but it’s certainly not healthy.

As I’ve said before, the one type of food you should always consider splurging on is organic produce.  Organic produce does cost more. And that’s mainly because farmers must spend impressive amounts of attention, care, time, and money to attain “certified organic” status in a rigged system.

The truth is, many farmers at my local farmer’s market actually sell produce grown without pesticides…but they can’t afford to apply for organic status. The same goes for farmers who raise grass-fed beef and free-range chickens.

So ask around at the farmer’s market and talk to the farmers themselves. You might be surprised by what you learn. Very often, you can get “organic” and “sustainable” produce. And it will cost a whole lot less that what you’ll pay at Whole Foods.

My other advice for today is to take all the “superfood” promises with a grain of salt.

At this time of year especially, mainstream publications like to run stories about some new “nut, berry, or grain of the gods.” You can only find it in the far-reaches of the Swiss Alps or Himalayas…or in the Amazon rain forest…so it will cost $10 for five ounces. But it will “supercharge” your immune system…detoxify your liver…and apparently give you the gift of flight.

Usually it’s a lot of hype and nothing more. In Nature, there is no such thing as a “superfood.” And you should always strive to eat a variety of healthy foods, as our ancestors did.

Today, I’ll address three of the biggest “superfood” offenders. And tomorrow, I’ll continue my list, so you’ll know how to avoid them at the grocery store…

  1. Almond milk

From a nutritional standpoint, almonds themselves are a nearly perfect food. They contain optimal levels of monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber, and antioxidants. In fact, research shows if you eat a handful of almonds a day, you can lower your risk of dementia, Type II diabetes, and heart disease. (Of course, the FDA won’t permit nut growers to tell these scientific facts on their products.)

But almond “milk” is another matter altogether.

It takes more than one gallon of water to produce a single almond. And California–where most of the nuts in this country are grown–is in the midst of the worst water crisis in recent history. California has a climate that was never fit for dense human habitation–but tell that to all the fruits and nuts out there!

With almond milk, they add more water. Then, they create all the extra shipping costs of transporting a heavy liquid product that’s mostly water.  Almond milk is simply a bad choice for the environment. Regular milk is more likely to be locally produced. It doesn’t take more water from California. And it doesn’t require as much energy for transport.

My suggestion?

If you want the health benefits of almonds, just eat the simple, dry nuts.

  1. Coconut water

Coconuts and their edible parts have long been used as a healthy food by cultures around the world. The edible parts of the fresh coconut are the coconut “water”–essentially an electrolyte fluid inside the nut–and the fresh coconut meat that adheres to the inner shell. You can also dry the meat to create copra, or dried coconut. Confectioners then shred or flake the copra to make various treats.

You can also soak the copra in water to create coconut “milk,” which is a nutritious addition to any number of delicious, nutritious recipes in Indian, Burmese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisine–which among them feed over half the world’s peoples. Coconut milk also has the essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that are needed to add to these carbohydrate-based rice diets.

So, what’s the craze with “coconut water” in your local health food market?

The marketing of this drink as a naturally hydrating miracle and even “post-yoga” beverage has gotten way out of control. In fact, a leading brand of coconut water had to drop its overblown claim that it had 15 times the electrolytes of a typical sports drink following a 2011 class action lawsuit.

Plus, the industry isn’t environmentally responsible.

Much of the coconut water consumed in the U.S. comes from Indonesia and the Philippines. So shipping this heavy water product half way around the globe incurs astronomical transportation and energy costs…as well as pollution.

Meanwhile, the poor coconut farmers at the bottom of the supply chain do all the backbreaking and risky work. But they only receive a small portion of the product revenues.

In 19th century Malaya, the British had to import laborers from India (largely Tamils) to harvest coconuts since the local population could not be induced to do it. The labor exploitation in Southeast Asia has progressed little since that time.

For real natural hydration, stick with South African rooibos, a water-soluble powdered extract that you can add to any beverage, hot or cold. I recommend Red Joe brand water-soluble rooibos powdered extract.

  1. Goji berries

In recent years, goji berries became the “go to” berries for everything that ails you. Of course, like all other berries, goji berries are high in phytochemicals, which offer protection against cancer, dementia and heart disease.

But there is nothing fundamentally different about goji compared to other berries. Marketeers promote both acai and goji berries as “miracle” cures for everything from obesity to sexual problems. But they don’t have any research to back up these claims.

They like to conjure up exotic images of goji berries growing in the Himalayas with enlightened gurus sitting among the bushes. But in reality, poor, exploited farmers grow goji primarily on industrial plots in China.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our trek through the list of the trendy, but decidedly unimpressive “superfoods.”