Consumers have a tendency of falling for the next big health gimmick. Save your money on health duds with these Business Insider tips.
No matter how many times we're told otherwise, Americans' obsession with get-healthy-quick schemes will likely never die. Too bad most of these fads aren't worth their weight in salt — or your hard-earned dollars. We've put together a list of some of the worst budget-sucking health trends that still persist today.
Coconut water may be nature's version of Gatorade but some brands have already caught fire for over-hyping its nutrient content. Vita Coco agreed to settle a $10 million class action lawsuit over an independent study that showed the drinks didn't pack near as many electrolytes as advertisements implied. Some coconut waters are also loaded with added sugar, which will do nothing to help your waistline.
30 percent of Americans bought more natural foods in 2011, according to a Rodale study. But what are we really paying more for? There's no clear cut regulation on what makes food "natural," which means just about any company can slap that label on its packages, add a fancy green theme and jack up the price.
Says Andrew Schrage of MoneyCrashers: "Before buying any food that is touted as being 'all natural,' take a look at the ingredient list before you check out. Keep in mind that butter and salt are indeed natural ingredients. So stocking up on natural foods may not achieve anything other than increasing your grocery bill."
Read on for more.
Weight Loss Wardrobes
When it comes to ridiculous-looking toning shoes and clothing designed to help shed pounds faster, we are seriously dubious. Reebok's already paid $25 million to consumers for over-marketing its line of toning shoes' weight loss power. And the one study that seems to support the claim that tight-fitting threads help burn more calories only involved about 15 participants.
"I think there are much simpler and less expensive ways the average person can bump up calorie burn and build strength," says Shape.com's Liz Neporent. "For instance, interval training and hill work. These workouts certainly have the science behind them."
Illegal Hormone Injections
People really will do anything to shed pounds, even if it means injecting themselves with hormones made from someone's placenta. The FDA ordered companies to stop selling hCG (a protein made in the placenta and passed through pregnant women's urine) after it was used in conjunction with low-calorie diet regimens. A 40-day kit sells for $120 but the hormone's only been approved for use in fertility treatments.
Per the Mayo Clinic: "HCG is not approved for over-the-counter use, nor has it been proved to work for weight loss. Companies that sell over-the-counter HCG weight-loss products are breaking the law."
Here's a trend that makes just about every nutritionists' blood boil: the idea that people can purge their bodies of toxins by consuming different variations of liquid diets. From the cabbage soup plan to the infamous Beyonce "Master Cleanse," there's hardly any science to back them up, says Essential Nutrition for You's Rania Batayneh.
"What consumers need to know is that your body naturally detoxifies itself through our lungs, skin and kidneys," she said. "Sweat it out, breathe it out and eliminate. Eating a clean diet daily will give you the feeling you are looking forward to at the end of your depriving cleanse, so get started. Besides, cleanses are unnatural and typically based on eliminating food groups and or foods altogether."
Splenda just rolled out a new version of its popular sweetener – this time with extra fiber – but the idea that consumers should pay more for fake sugar that's been pumped with MORE fake ingredients is slightly irksome.
"Adding healthy components to unhealthy things just doesn’t make sense," says Batayneh. "What is 1 gram of fiber (or maybe 10 for those who over consume artificial sweeteners) going to do for you when you should really be focusing on whole grains, beans, seeds, fruits and vegetables versus relying on your coffee for fiber? This small dose of fiber should not convince you to try it."
The Infamous Shake Weight
Sure, it made a pretty funny stocking stuffer last year, but you probably won't wind up with Michelle Obama's biceps by relying on this infomercial fad. Just check out Wired.com's less-than enthused review:
"In practice, however, the 'workout' wasn't terribly satisfying. We'll admit you do feel reasonable tension in your muscles. However, jerking this five-pounder only got our max heart rate up to 114, which pales in comparison to a standard weightlifting session, let alone back-to-back sets of push-ups. More importantly, after a few days of use, our muscles didn't feel nearly as sore as they do from weightlifting. And, as everyone knows: no pain, no gain."
Batayneh calls this one of the worst weight loss myths out there and another attempt to play on the low-carb fad sparked by the Atkin's diet.
"A gluten-free diet does not necessarily mean a low-carb diet," she says. "A person who eats gluten-free can ingest plenty of carbohydrates from gluten-free breads, pastas, cereals, and baked goods as well as vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes."
Gluten-free lifestyles have been proven to ease symptoms of Autism in children and, obviously, are vital to anyone with a gluten allergy. But "if you don’t have a medical reason for following a gluten-free diet, there’s probably no benefit,” says Tricia Thompson, R.D., founder of glutenfreedietitian.com.
The weight loss really occurs from cutting back on packaged and processed foods that come packed with gluten. You can do that yourself without blowing a fortune on specialized products.
Most Organic Produce
There aren't really any known health benefits to eating organic — other than the peace of mind that comes with knowing your food's not coated in pesticides.
But even federal guidelines on what's certified organic aren't all that stringent and plenty of regular produce isn't "dirty" enough to warrant paying top dollar (as much as 150 percent more) for organic versions anyway.
The Environmental Works Group has an excellent chart detailing the "dirty" and "clean" products we should worry about.
These made the clean list: Onions, Sweet Corn, Pineapples, Avocado, Asparagus, Sweet Peas, Mangoes, Eggplant, Cantaloupe, Kiwi, Cabbage, Watermelon, Sweet potatoes, Grapefruit, and Mushrooms.
Weight loss has much to do with portion control, but those helpful little 100-calorie pack snacks are nothing but a big budget suck. "We have portion distortion in this nation and even though I like that (100-calorie packs) are pre-portioned, that can be a more expensive option," Batayneh says.
Instead, keep a measuring cup in your desk drawer to scoop out perfect portions of whatever you're munching on at work (almonds, trail mix, etc.) rather than paying more for packaging. (Or, get creative with one of these 15 bento box lunch ideas.)
There are literally no clinical studies that support claims that antioxidants in Acai berries will make you live longer, help you fly, smooth your crow's feet or anything else.
"We've had waves of costly 'super juices' in the marketplace that were nothing more than fruit juice," says clinical nutritionist Stella Metsovas. "Testing chemical properties in a laboratory is completely different once the product is pasteurized. There is no possibility of processing a super-fruit to compete with the natural form (i.e.: a handful of berries)."
The Acai berry's popularity in the U.S. spawned a new wave of consumer scams involving "free trial offers" for smoothies, juices and other products. (See: "Free Trials" Aren't Always Free, Miracle Health Claims: Add a Dose of Skepticism, and Weight Loss Promises, by the FTC).
Obsession with bottled water may have taken a plunge during the recession, but it's still one of the dumbest ways we spend our dollars – $100 billion per year, to be exact. You're better off going to the tap to quench your thirst, especially since nearly 50% of the bottled stuff comes from tap water anyway.
If it's impurities you're worried about, see Consumer Report's guide to buying water filter systems for low-cost alternatives.
Zero-calorie sodas have also been linked to a slew of nasty diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. If you're looking to kick the habit, try weening yourself off slowly with fizzy substitutes like seltzer water or reducing your portion size bit by bit.
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