Did you spend a week on salads and diet drinks only to gain weight? Took the diet pills but didn't drop a pound? Americans spend billions of dollars every year on supplements, foods and gimmicks that promise a quick fix for weight loss or better health.
The Federal Trade Commission says $25 billion has been spent on supplements since 2009, with sales going up while the economy took a dive; people started taking their health into their own hands rather than paying for doctor visits. But some products don't live up to their claims and, even worse, they can cause dangerous side effects. So next time you buy into a miracle cure, turn the package over and take a closer look.
How do you make healthy choices when you can't take health food claims at face value? Health products make grand proclamations on their packaging only to be debunked by the latest research. Health fads endorsed by celebrities and celebrity doctors claim to help you shed pounds and toxins but after a bit of time under the spotlight, promising theories are pocked like swiss cheese.
There is a worrying trend in food advertising toward making unproven claims that eating certain foods can improve health or reduce the risk of developing cancer. While some fads fail to produce results, consumers should be wary of the ones that have proven to be downright dangerous.
It can be impossible to keep up with the latest news on what to eat and, more importantly, what not to eat. But whatever theory you subscribe to, be it paleo or vegan, there are a few trends everyone agrees are really terrible.
9 Detoxing cleanses
Put down that unpalatable green drink. It may help you clear out last night's binge but that's about all it's going to achieve. There's little evidence that all those hunger pains and good intentions will actually rid you of the toxins you've ingested.
There's no doubt that eliminating highly processed foods from your diet and eating more fruits and vegetables will give you a spike in energy. And all that water and lemon juice is good news for your digestive system but when you go back to the burger and fries, any benefits you gained will be immediately lost.
Detox diets that limit protein intake or include fasting can result in fatigue or vitamin and mineral depletion. Colon cleansing can cause cramping, vomiting and dehydration. So before you take on any serious diet, consult a doctor to see if it's safe.
8 Fish oil supplements
Rather than eating more fish, at least 10 per cent of Americans take fish oil supplements regularly in an effort to get the recommended dose of Omega-3s. Studies have shown that they're wasting their money. And yet sales for these supplements have been rising alongside the evidence that they provide no benefit. Most clinical trials have found that these supplements won't lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
7 Sports and energy drinks
While sales of popular colas and soft drinks have taken a slump, sports drinks, vitamin drinks and other beverages making health claims have been taking off. But a UC Berkley study found that many of their claims are unfounded. In fact, the study found that many of the added ingredients can be dangerous.
Though many of the ingredients may seem innocuous to the average label-reader, combining the additives may be the cause for concern. The report points to the caffeine and guarana combo which it says boosts the physiological effects of the caffeine. While the caffeine is credited with increasing your energy, endurance and performance, it's causing anxiety, stress, headaches, insomnia and will decrease academic performance. The risks are notably higher for young people.
About one percent of Americans have celiac disease and should be following a gluten-free diet. The rest of us are wasting our money and are suffering through lettuce wraps for nothing. Many of the gluten-free products that line store shelves in the "health product" aisle are high in sugar, fat and are highly processed. So while you may be trying to do something that's good for your health, reaching for the gluten-free version of a favourite product may mean you're getting less of the nutrients your body needs.
So if you think you have an intolerance to gluten, talk to your doctor about it and base your diet on sound advice rather than clever marketing.
5 Fast food salads
With no time to waste, you find yourself at a drive thru window pondering the menu. But while you might think the salad is the obvious choice for a healthy meal, the lettuce is still topped with the same meat, cheese and high fat dressing that you'd get on your burger. If you were to compare their calorie and fat content, you'd find that it doesn't matter much which one you choose. Fried chicken, crumbled tacos and creamy dressings take up much of the space in the bowl rather than the array of fresh vegetables the menu implies. The better choice is to keep driving.
4 Filtered water
Don't worry, water is healthy. But filtered water is no healthier than tap water and what you're really paying for is the packaging, shipping and marketing.
You might think that because bottled water is 240 to 10 000 times more expensive than tap water, some of the extra money would go to stringent testing. After all, the only reason people fork out the extra cash is because they want to make sure they're drinking uncontaminated water. But only six per cent of bottled water factories were tested in 2010 while municipal water is tested regularly. Some of the contaminants found in bottled water include arsenic, bromide, bacteria and lead.
3 Vitamin supplements
When it comes to vitamin supplements, buyer beware. Recent studies have found that supplements won't boost your health and some supplements are worse than others. After a number of trials found little evidence that multivitamins have any benefit whatsoever, the study authors have said it's time to stop digging for proof that they work.
"Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided," wrote the study's author Eliseo Guallar MD and his colleagues. It concludes that supplementing the diet of well nourished adults with vitamins and minerals don't promote health and can cause harm.
2 Fat-free products
Fat has become a bad word. At some point, we started thinking that the fat in the food we eat will inevitably migrate to our hips. So next to the gluten-free aisle, there's a row of fat-free options that promise to help us fit in our little black dresses. But what exactly are we eating when we eat something that's fat-free?
Our bodies crave fat and need healthy fats and oils to absorb fat soluble vitamins. And because fats contain these healthy nutrients that we need, we enjoy them. So when they reduce the fat in a favourite food, manufacturers have found they need to add extra sugar, sodium or highly processed hydrogenated oils to keep that food appealing. The end result is something far worse than the original offender.
1 Health bars
You're running out the door again with your coffee in tow. Grab a breakfast bar and eat it on the way. Tasteless and dry but at least it's healthy, right? Not necessarily.
There's a bar for every need out there and not all bars are created equal. Take a look at the label and you may find your choice has as much sugar and saturated fat as a chocolate bar. But don't stop there - does the protein come from whey, nuts or seeds? How was it sweetened? Sure, it's better than grabbing a donut but you wouldn't be patting yourself on the back for doing that, would you? As long as you keep in mind that these health bars are a treat, the occasional indulgence won't hurt.
With any health product be sure to distinguish between hype and health by reading labels carefully.