Which Health Fads Are Worth the Money?


More Than 100 Years of Health Fads

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It’s easy to make fun of the health fads of yesteryear. Around 1900, advertisements touted the benefits of eating tapeworms to rev up metabolism. In the 1940s, there were claims that “bile beans” helped manage digestion. By the 1980s, you or your parents may have bought into the “heart-friendly” oat bran craze as I did. The appeal of these trendy eating habits can be irresistible — and expensive. The logic goes: Who wouldn’t splurge on foods that are supposed to make us slimmer, smarter and more energetic? Today, with all the advances in nutritional science, you’d think that the latest health fads would be anchored in sound medical research...But are they?

Keep reading to find out which of the latest health fads--from cleanses to kale--are worth your money. 

Chia Seeds

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What: This relative of the Chia Pet (really) is a seed that comes from a Mexican plant in the mint family.

The claim: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids (which have been proven to thwart heart disease and cancer), these seeds aren’t just good for your health. When you add water to them, they actually bulk up and create a gel. The theory goes that this gel will help you eat less because it makes you feel full longer than other kinds of foods.

The cost: About $9 for a 12-ounce bag.  Only 1 ounce a day is recommended to reap health benefits.

The verdict: If you’re interested, why not? While researchers say that claims about chia seeds working as an aid for weight loss are unfounded, they are still a whole-grain food that’s rich in fiber, omega-3s and some protein.

Kombucha Tea

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What: A semi-fizzy fermented tea made when a patty of bacteria and yeast called a SCOBY or “Big Momma” is added.

The claim: This beverage, with its high-probiotic (er, bacteria) content, is supposed to help with digestion, give you added energy and focus, and boost your immunity and liver function.

The cost: About $5 a bottle, or brew your own SCOBY from tea and sugar.

The verdict: There’s no scientific evidence that kombucha tea can improve your immune system, digestion or liver function. But there have been reported claims of adverse effects from drinking the tea, including stomach upset or worse. While an occasional bottle probably won’t do damage, beware of drinking it (or anything, for that matter) in excess.

Juice Cleanse

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What: For three to five days, you live off of vegetable and juice drinks.

The claim: You’ll drop weight fast to kickstart a healthier eating regimen.

The cost: You can make your own concoctions from a high-power Vitamix juicer of your own. Or you can sign up for beverage delivery from many of the juice-cleanse companies around, like BluePrintCleanse or Organic Avenue. Neither option comes cheap: The cost of these veggie drinks and delivery fees can range are up to $75 a day. The cost of a Vitamix machine: $380.

The verdict: Skip it, say most health and nutrition experts--from Dr. Andrew Weil, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and author of more than a dozen books (including “Eating Well for Optimum Health: The Essential Guide to Food, Diet, and Nutrition”), to Dr. Glenn Braunstein, chairman of the department of medicine at Cedars-Sinai. The drinks may be chock full of vitamins, but many need to be ingested with a little bit of fat (think salad dressing) for absorption.  Plus, any weight you lose is just water weight — the kind that will come right back on once you eat your first real meal again.

Bulletproof Coffee

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What: This isn’t your average cup of morning joe. The recipe calls for three ingredients: special Bulletproof “Upgraded” coffee beans, grass-fed butter and coconut palm oil.

The claim: Buttery java may be high fat (up to 195 calories more than the average 5-calorie regular brew), but it promises to help you lose lbs, boost your IQ and give you more energy than caffeine alone. Thanks to the “powerhouse” combo of caffeine and high fat, you’ll feel satisfied longer and more alert from one souped-up cup.

The cost: There’s the specially designed coffee at $18.95 for a ¾-pound bag, a dollop of premium grass-fed butter at $7 for 8-oz package and a 32-ounce jar of coconut oil for $30. Compared to the cost of a regular cup at $10 for a 1-lb bag of beans and a gallon of milk at about $4.50, bulletproof is not budget-friendly.

The verdict: I brace for all the comments from Paleo Diet fans out there. But for most, it’s probably best to stick to Dunkin’ Donuts. Besides the yuck-factor many may feel about butter in your brew, there’s no scientific-evidence-based research to back up the claims (like a higher IQ) from bulletproofing joe. While there’s probably no harm in adding a little butter to your coffee (some cultures do it regularly), research has indicated that drinking coffee alone (in moderation) may protect against disease ranging from diabetes to heart disease. There’s also research to show that grass-fed butter and coconut oil can be good choices for your pantry. But mixing them all together? Probably not likely to make you any smarter than a caveman.


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What: A versatile, dark leafy veggie consumed in a plethora of forms: from sauteed stir-fries to raw in salads to blended into smoothies to oven-dried chips.

The claim: Kale fights cancer and lowers cholesterol, is loaded with calcium (more than milk and oranges) and is rich in those omega-3 fatty acids again.

The cost: Around $2.30 for a 10-ounce bag

The verdict: Eat up! Here’s where hype meets its match. You can’t beat the price, the culinary versatility and nutrition of this stand-up veggie. The veggie is loaded with nutrients that have clinically proven health benefits. 


Coconut Everything

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What: This seeded “drupe” has been a documented source of food worldwide since 5th century A.D.   

The claim: Both coconut water and oil are everywhere now. Its water is supposed to offer better hydration than both regular water and sports drinks, thanks to its ideal ratio of carbohydrates, water and electrolytes (a fancy term for chemicals like salt and potassium that we need for proper cell function). Its oil (already mentioned earlier as a key ingredient in bulletproof brew) is said to be a better choice for cooking than butter or olive oil since it is composed of “medium-chain triglycerides” (MCT).

The cost: The beverage is about $2 a serving, and the oil is about $30 for a 32-ounce jar.

The verdict: Try them, but be reasonable about the results. The water is all-natural and does offer an efficient form of hydration. But if you’re training for a intensive event, it may not be sufficient to rehydrate you alone. The oil is also a fine option, but remember: It still has the same amount of calories and grams of fat as other cooking fats. While coconut oil may be heart-healthier than butter because it is a plant-based oil (and therefore cholesterol-free), it isn’t an elixir to be used in excess. 

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