Every week it seems there’s a new “superfood” being praised. A power-charged food or product with the ability to make us thinner, healthier, prevent disease, be happier…the list goes on. While many superfoods are, in fact, super, many should be eaten with caution, or not eaten at all. We have put together a list of eight superfoods that you should not eat, or would be better off spending your money elsewhere.
1. Protein bars
Protein bars are not exactly the “superfood” we think of in the same line as kale, blueberries, and chia seeds. However, they have long been touted as healthy snacks, especially for muscle-building and weight loss. A diet works better with natural food and investing in a good weight loss supplement if cutting off the flab is your ultimate goal. Many protein bars actually contain a high sugar content, and not enough added nutrition to make them a better choice than plain, whole foods. In some cases, you would be better off enjoying a hard-boiled egg, a small handful of nuts and some plain yoghurt as a snack rather than a processed, sugar-filled, packaged bar.
Not all protein bars are the same, of course, some are low-calorie and low-sugar, but often still come with a high price tag. The question you must ask is: Can I get the same nutritional benefit from more affordable, less-processed foods than this protein bar? The answer is almost always: yes.
Tip: Very carefully read the nutritional information on any protein bar you are tempted to purchase. If it has a low sugar content and low calories, then it might be fine. However, whole sources of protein in your daily diet should be sufficient enough for you not to require protein bars. Almonds, chickpeas, plain yogurt, eggs and tinned fish are good choices for on-the-go snacks. If you still need some extra amino acids, try a sugar-free, calorie-free protein or BCAA powder.
2. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar sounds so nice on paper: a sugar substitute that looks like brown sugar and is just as sweet, but is much healthier. However, coconut sugar isn’t really all that much better than processed sugar when you consider calories and nutritional value. You’d have to eat a lot of it to get enough nutrients to make a difference, and even then, you’d be consuming many calories.
The danger with products like coconut sugar is this; people can sometimes mistake healthier options for healthy options, taking them for something they can eat in high quantities and without moderation. This just results in over-eating and even weight gain.
Tip: If you can, just leave the sweeteners out of your food altogether. If this is too difficult an ask (and understandably so), work on slowly reducing the amount of coconut sugar (or honey, or other sweetener you use) until you only require a tiny amount to satisfy your taste. It’s amazing how much sweeter sweet things taste when you’ve reduced your sweet-food intake!
3. Acai Berries
It’s not that acai berries are bad, not at all. But, they have been put on a giant pedestal in recent years. The reality is, they’re no better for you than trusty old blueberries. To be fair, blueberries are a superfood too but they’re less glamorized than acai berries. Acai berries can also be really expensive, depending on where you live, and they are not worth the strain on your wallet.
Tip: Unless you love them, don’t shell out money on acai berries thinking they’ll boost your health more than other berries. Fresh or frozen blueberries are just as good for you.
For a while, it seemed like every health shop or juice bar had a counter full of wheatgrass, selling “shots” to provide exceptional nutritional benefits. For all of the hype, many of the claims have not actually been proven. While wheatgrass does have some fantastic nutritional value, it’s no better than a diet full of fresh veggies and fruit. Wheatgrass shots are expensive, and they don’t taste the greatest, so don’t feel like you’re missing out if you’re not prepared to invest in them.
Tip: Eat a wide variety of fresh produce, with lots of dark, leafy greens and you’ll be matching the benefits of a wheatgrass shot in a cheaper, tastier way.
5. Gluten-Free Foods (if you are intolerant or have Celiac disease)
People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance must choose gluten-free choices, out of necessity. Many people have misunderstood gluten-free foods as weight loss foods, or that they are somehow much healthier. This is most often not the case. Just because a food does not have gluten, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have other unhealthy additives such as sugar and “bad” fats. For example, some gluten free bread products can often have more sugar than wholegrain bread, and less fiber.
In short? Cutting out gluten is not going to make you healthier unless you are allergic to it. Sure, unmoderated amounts of cakes, cookies and refined white bread and pasta might make you gain weight, but it’s not the gluten that’s the problem.
Tip: If you do want to follow a gluten-free diet, avoid gluten-free, processed versions of other products, such as bread and sweet baked goods. Opt for natural gluten free whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and amaranth. Otherwise, starchy veggies such as pumpkin and sweet potatoes are a good way to bulk-out your meals with gluten-free carbs.
6. Green Juices
Another example of a superfood, or food trend that is not bad, but is also not necessarily as advantageous as it’s made out to be. Green juices and smoothies which have been packed with fruits to bulk out the “green” ingredients can actually hike-up your sugar intake for the day. What’s more, you can get just as many nutrients from snacking on raw veggies, or incorporating them into your meals that juices are pretty much redundant.
Some people make the error of thinking that adding a green juice or smoothie to their day, as a snack or drink on top of their main meal, is going to lead them to health. In reality, it’s only going to add calories which could be consumed during mealtimes with a few extra veggies added.
Tip: If you really love green juices and smoothies, go for it. But remember to be sparing with the fruit content, and add mainly veggies to keep sugar levels under control. Consider your juice or smoothie as your meal, not as a side-dish or drink. That way, you will keep your calorie intake at a healthy level and avoid weight gain. Otherwise, get your greens simply by eating them with each meal and forgo the liquidized options altogether.
7. Coconut Water
The internet and social media has meant that food trends can explode at a vast and rapid rate. Coconut water was one of these trends, it seemed to be everywhere at one point, and is still considered to be a miracle drink. Coconut water was, (and still is) thought to be uber-hydrating, and exceptional for post-exercise replenishment. However, coconut water is not more hydrating than normal water, and the nutrients it does have are in very small amounts. The bottom line? It’s just an expensive way of drinking water when you can simply just drink water. The added calories are not worth the very little nutritional value coconut water offers, so save your money.
Tip: Quite simply, just drink water. It’s cheaper and just as hydrating as any other water product you would pay money for. If you really want to add something to your water for extra health benefits, try some organic apple cider vinegar, it helps with digestion among other great benefits.
8. Flavored Yogurt
While plain, full-fat, unsweetened yogurt with live cultures is a fantastic food to consume daily, sweetened varieties are bad news. Many flavored yogurt products have the good aspects of yogurt plastered all over the packaging: probiotics, protein, whole ingredients. However, the large amounts of added sugar override the positive aspects of the yogurt itself.
Tip: Make your own flavored yoghurt by using plain, unsweetened, probiotic yogurt and mixing with a handful of fresh or frozen berries. This way, you can control the exact amount of added ingredients. Better yet, eat or drink plain, unsweetened kefir yoghurt if you really want to give your gut a helping hand.
Falling for the “superfood” trend can be expensive and futile, especially when the foods in question aren’t all they’re hyped up to be. Be wary of persuasive marketing and social media hype around foods, it’s not always well-founded. When it comes to packaged “superfoods” always remember to read the labels to find the true nutritional value of the product before buying and consuming. A diet full of fresh veggies, fruits, whole grains, unsweetened dairy, lean protein, minimal sugary or processed foods and a healthy dose of weight training is as “super” as it gets!