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5 of the Unhealthiest ‘Superfoods’ Too Many People Are Eating

April 17, 2017

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Health experts tout superfoods as nutrient-packed foods that can do everything from increase your energy to protect you from cancer, heart disease, and life-threatening illnesses. But just because a food has been labeled as a superfood doesn’t mean it actually is one. Take these five superfoods foods for example. Despite their healthy food label, many of them lack scientific data to back up their claims, don’t contain nearly as many nutrients as they’re presumed to, and can even include some harmful side effects. Here’s a look at some of the unhealthiest superfoods.

Here’s a look at some of the unhealthiest superfoods.

1. Goji berries

Often sold in juiced and dried form, Healthline says that goji berries are packed with antioxidants and vitamins, can lower your blood sugar and blood pressure, and may even reduce inflammation. Mother Jones concedes that goji berries do contain phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that can prevent heart disease, cancer, and brain deterioration, but adds that they “are not really miracle cures for everything from obesity to sexual dysfunction.”

In fact, in 2006, the Food and Drug Administration reprimanded two different goji product manufacturers for making unsubstantiated health claims, according to Mother Jones. In addition, eating this superfood may cause some unwanted side effects. Livestrong states that goji berries may interfere with diabetes medications and can irritate the digestive system, causing diarrhea, indigestion, nausea, and in extreme cases, vomiting. Finally, Livestrong notes that although it is rare, goji supplements may affect your body’s ability to clot blood properly.

2. Acai berries

The Global Healing Center states that antioxidant-rich acai berries have anti-aging effects, aid in weight loss, fight off cardiovascular disease and cancer, increase energy, improve mental function, and reduce irritation. If you think these benefits sound too good to be true, you aren’t alone: Many health experts share that sentiment. Mayo Clinic notes that research on acai berries is quite limited, and many of the health claims surrounding the superfood haven’t been proved.

Best Health adds that acai berries are high in antioxidants, but they degrade quickly after the berries are picked from the acai palm. This means that by the time you purchase acai berries, many of their original nutrients are gone. Instead of paying for pricey acai, Best Health advises you to stick with less-expensive options, such as grapes, blackberries, and blueberries. Finally, WebMD writes that despite the weight loss hype surrounding acai, there is a lack of scientific research to support those claims.

3. Coconut water

Coconut water is often promoted as a beverage that’s more hydrating than sports drinks and regular water. Lifehack says nutrient-rich coconut water aids in weight loss, boosts hydration, regulates digestion, and reduces blood pressure. Despite those benefits, many in the health industry advise against purchasing this drink. A Time poll asked five health experts whether they believed coconut water to be worth the price and hype surrounding it — four said no. Nancy Clark, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition counselor, tells Time in her response that she recommends natural foods, like potassium-rich bananas or potatoes, over coconut water.

The New York Times reports that Vito Coco, a leading brand of coconut water, used to advertise the drink as having 15 times more electrolytes than sports drinks. But a 2011 class-action lawsuit said that some of the mineral contents on its packages were exaggerated, and as a result of the suit, Vita Coco stopped comparing coconut water to sports drinks. The bottom line: Stick with water and bananas, as coconut water hasn’t proven itself to be any more spectacular than either.

4. Chia seeds

Chia seeds were given their superfood status because they aid in weight loss, reduce glucose levels, and improve your mood, notes mindbodygreen. Science-Based Medicine adds that health experts believe that the soluble fiber found in chia seeds can help lower your cholesterol and prevent the absorption of fat. But don’t rush out to buy a bunch of the cure-all seeds just yet; they aren’t as healthy as you may think. Contrary to popular belief, a study published in Nutrition Research found that chia seeds do not promote weight loss or alter the disease risk in overweight adults.

Science-Based Medicine says that while chia seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, eating them won’t provide you with very many cardiovascular benefits. Science-Based Medicine explains that the body has a hard time converting alpha-linolenic acid to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. Instead of chia seeds, Science-Based Medicine suggests eating fish, which is a great source of DHA. Recent research has even revealed that eating chia seeds may put you in danger. They can potentially block your esophagus and shouldn’t be eaten in their dry, raw form, particularly by people who have a history of swallowing problems or a constricted esophagus, writes HealthDay.

5. Almond milk

Care2 explains that almond milk, which is often advertised as being a healthier alternative to milk and soy milk, has seen a huge spike in sales since 2012. Almond milk contains fewer calories than soy, has no saturated fat or cholesterol, and is a good source of vitamin D and E. However, there is very little protein in almond milk, though, so those who drink it are advised to supplement their diet with other protein sources. Additionally, Livestrong notes that people absorb the nutrients in milk and other dairy products far better than those found in plant-based milks, such as almond. Furthermore, many commercially produced versions of almond milk aren’t nearly as nutritious as they’re presumed to be. Superhuman Coach says they often contain a blend of harmful additives, so be sure to read the ingredients list before purchasing!

There is one other factor that makes this superfood unworthy of its super status: The Atlantic reports that it requires 1.1 gallons of water to produce one almond, and California, a state that’s suffering from severe drought, is the nation’s leading almond producer. This means that almond production is depleting the state’s already sparse water supply, which is causing other ecological concerns. The Atlantic writes that thousands of endangered king salmon in northern California’s Klamath River are threatened by low water levels because water is being diverted to almond farms. As long as you don’t have a dairy intolerance, we suggest choosing milk instead; it has more nutrients and is environmentally friendly.

Article courtesy of Kirsten Yovino for The Cheat Sheet.