The health foods doctors say don't work: From blueberries to cod liver oil and margarine that 'cuts cholesterol'
23:41 GMT, 26 November 2012
Dr Aseem Malhotra, lead cardiologist of the National Obesity Forum, says:
I don’t go near Benecol or any other margarine-type products that claim to lower cholesterol and I advise my patients to stay clear of them, too.
First, they are expensive; second, these products are artificial, packed with unnatural products that really can’t do you any good; and third, I don’t believe there is any demonstrable health benefit.
Stay clear of margarine-type products that claim to lower cholesterol
They may have a very marginal effect on cholesterol, but — and this is critical — this hasn’t been established as having any clinical benefit in reducing the risk of a heart attack. In short, the whole saturated fat argument has been ridiculously overhyped.
A review of studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010, which analysed almost 350,000 people for up to 23 years, revealed no consistent evidence linking saturated fat and cardiovascular disease.
In fact, I’ve started advising my patients to have butter, though clearly in moderation.
Really strong data is increasingly showing that the saturated fat from natural dairy products may even be beneficial in reducing heart attacks. It’s thought this is because it contains essential vitamins, such as A and D, as well as essential nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus, which studies suggest can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Other research, by Dr Dariush Mozaffarian from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, found that people with higher levels of the trans-palmitoleic fatty acid (found mainly in dairy products) in their blood were about 60 per cent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the next 20 years than those with the lowest levels.
Again, this runs counter to long-standing recommendations to trade in whole milk and cheese for the skimmed varieties.
Shamina Asif, council member of the College of Optometrists, says:
Everyone thinks that carrots help with eye health, but, in fact, they are of no more use to our eyes than any other vegetable.
The myth started in World War II when the Government famously responded to a temporary wartime oversupply of carrots by suggesting that the RAF’s exceptional night-flying and target success was due to eating high carotene content carrots.
The ruse worked: consumption increased sharply because people thought carrots might help them see in the blackout, thus taking the pressure off other more scarce food supplies.
It’s actually leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, that people should eat for their eyes. These contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — the most common cause of blindness in the UK.
Since there’s no treatment for it, prevention could not be more essential. If you’ve got AMD or a family history of it, my advice is to consume leafy green vegetables at least three to four times a week. The rest of the population should eat leafy green vegetables at least once a week.
Natural sugars from fruit in smoothies can add hundreds of extra calories
Helen Bond, state registered dietitian, says:
While smoothies are undoubtedly better than fizzy drinks and can help you on your way to one or even two of your five-a-day, the health benefits of some are questionable.
Many of those purchased in shops and supermarkets are very high in calories, with added whole-milk yogurt, syrups, sugar, even peanut butter and chocolate.
Natural sugars from fruit in smoothies can add hundreds of extra calories to your daily intake.
Juicing also involves the removal of fibre. This not only removes some of the nutrients that would be found in a whole fruit or vegetable, but you are also less likely to feel fuller for longer.
Furthermore, if sipped over a long period of time, the fruit juice in smoothies, which is quite acidic, can damage dental enamel.
COD LIVER OIL
Dr Christine Haseler, GP adviser to the charity Arthritis Care, says:
Many people with osteoarthritis swear by cod liver oil. But there is no overriding evidence that it will do you any good whatsoever.
Our advice is to focus instead on what we do know works — exercise. Research shows it is actually the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement. It’s also a great way to prevent osteoarthritis in the first place. So ditch the cod liver oil and get moving.
If you have osteoarthritis you need to do activities with a wide range of motion, such as yoga, as well as endurance or aerobic exercises, such as walking, swimming or cycling, to strengthen your heart and lungs.
Strengthening exercises, such as fast walking or using light weights, will help with muscle strength which, in turn, protects joints.
Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, says:
Foods that look ‘healthy’ are often actually packed with calories. The main ingredients in the ‘yogurt’ in yogurt-covered raisins and nuts are sugar and fat.
In fact, there is no yogurt in them. It is a yogurt-flavoured coating consisting mostly of sugar, oil, dry milk and yogurt powder.
You’d be better off having a low-fat yogurt with natural raisins or fresh fruit — less sugar and very little fat.
Do berries help to stave off dementia
Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, says:
There has been a lot of hype about the power of berries in helping to stave off dementia.
Yes, some research has found a handful of berries might help slow age-related mental decline, and, of course, eating lots of fruit is a good thing generally. But what is completely untrue is this idea that if you eat daily bowls of strawberries and blueberries, you’ll be safe.
The studies focused on the fact that some berries are rich in flavonoid chemicals with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But the chemistry is far more complicated than that.
The biggest study — which found nurses who ate a serving of blue-berries or strawberries each week had slower cognitive decline — is flawed for other reasons, notably that the people were asked how many berries they ate, and self-reporting is never that accurate.
Finally, association is very different from causation, so just because you eat berries and don’t have dementia doesn’t mean one leads to the other.
Sammy Margo, physiotherapist and spokesperson for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, says:
I’ve lost count of the number of people who think orange juice is good for chest and respiratory problems. They believe it’s a good way to get much-needed vitamin C to unblock their lungs.
Not only is that a load of rubbish, but we know from working with cystic fibrosis patients that it can actually make matters worse.
Orange juice (I mean processed rather than freshly squeezed) is mucus-forming, making the secretions thicker and stickier. For physiotherapists trying to clear people’s respiratory systems, this is a nightmare — like trying to get tomato ketchup out of a bottle.
For good watery mucus, people need to hydrate. But not with orange juice.