You may have heard about all the must-eat fermented foods on the market, the coconut oil craze or daily apple cider vinegar tonics. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded by food advertisements and nutrition claims, some true, others more of the science fiction sort. Read on to learn about a few of the most current food trends and become a more well-informed consumer!
1. Coconut oil - Coconut oil has gained popularity in recent years as a miracle food that supposedly prevents heart disease, reduces inflammation and supports weight loss. However, most of these claims are not supported by credible research, and therefore this information should be consumed with caution, as should the coconut oil itself. The fact of the matter is that coconut oil has a very high saturated fat content, which is known to raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. In most cases, alternative fat sources such as olive or canola oil can be substituted to serve the same function and provide more of the healthy, unsaturated fats and less saturated fat.
2. Apple cider vinegar - Apple cider vinegar, or ACV as it is sometimes called, is made from the juice of apples. It is commonly used in salad dressings, as a component of marinades, or even added to water when boiling eggs to prevent the shells from cracking. More recently, it has been recognized by some as a cure-all tonic for several ailments including sore throats, digestive issues, and high blood sugar. A handful of small-scale research studies have found that regular consumption of apple cider vinegar may support a reduction in blood sugar levels, however, similar results were seen with the consumption of other vinegar varieties. Further research is necessary to substantiate these results and ACV should not be used in place of a healthy diet or medications prescribed to regulate blood sugar levels. Caution should be taken if consuming ACV in larger amounts, as the acidity may cause erosion to tooth enamel.
3. Matcha tea - Matcha is a brightly colored green powder made from ground green tea leaves. Green tea is loaded with catechins, a form of antioxidants, which when consumed, may prevent or delay cell damage. The antioxidants found in matcha are concentrated in a small amount of powder. Research suggests that the consumption of green tea may contribute to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. However, as with many of these popular functional foods, additional research is needed to fully understand how they may support human health. Matcha is regularly served hot or cold as a latte and may be blended into smoothies or added to baked goods (as in the muffin recipe below). Some people prefer matcha as a lower caffeine alternative to coffee.
4. Kimchi - Kimchi is a Korean vegetable side dish. It is made with a variety of vegetables, like cabbage scallions, radishes, or carrots, spices and other flavorings. Traditionally, it is served over steamed rice, with grilled meats, or as an accompaniment to Korean noodle dishes. It is fermented in a jar for several days to achieve its notable sour, spicy and umami flavors, which will vary depending on the ingredients included and the length of fermentation. The process of fermentation is responsible for the food's significant probiotic profile. Probiotics have been found to support gut health, which in turn supports normal digestive function. Research is ongoing to determine if gut bacteria is responsible for more than just digestive health. Additional health benefits of consuming kimchi include anti-cancer properties, as well as improved cholesterol levels.
With all of the health messaging we are exposed to, it can be difficult to determine accurate information and what is more of a half-truth or marketing ploy. To learn more about new products you see popping up on the shelves of your local grocery store, check out evidence-based references such as eatright.org, heart.org, or diabetes.org.
Visit eatright.org for additional resources and current information about food and nutrition.