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What are new Super Foods

As TV ads blare at us about the latest “super food” fad, should we take it seriously or not? Some foods have been shown to have health benefits and are definitely worth considering. Others are a waste of time and money. Some can be downright dangerous.

Can drinking pomegranate juice really help men to avoid prostate cancer? Will drinking cranberry juice really help prevent urinary tract infections? Do phytochemicals, like that found in berries, really help with memory or help prevent cancer?

Are the benefits touted over the newer, exotic-sounding berries – like noni, mangosteen, acai and goji berries – genuine? Are they worth searching for and paying the high price?

Here is some scientific evidence that supports some claims and disproves others.

The highly-respected Nutrition Action Healthletter (June 2009) offers evidence that cranberries do seem to help prevent URI’s. “The proanthocyamanidins in cranberries can prevent bacteria from sticking to the surfaces of cells.” Several studies, which included over 1,000 subjects, showed that, by consuming 10 oz. of cranberry juice per day, cranberries did reduce URI’s by 1/3. Remember, this is to PREVENT URI’s; once you have one, you will probably need an antibiotic.

Since pure cranberry juice is too “astringent” to drink straight, most juices are blends or diluted versions. Try to drink juice with at least 27% cranberry content. Read labels carefully. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit health-advocacy group for consumers, recommends “Ocean Spray Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail,” which has fewer calories than most available cranberry drinks and contains the considered-safe sweetener, Splenda.

Can pomegranates “save prostates”? In studies with men who already had been treated for cancer, the men’s PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels were doubling every 15 months. By drinking 8 oz. of pomegranate juice daily for 3 years, the rate slowed to less than 1/3 the previous rate of growth. A more recent study produced similar results.

CSPI concludes that pomegranate juice may help “stabilize” the cancer and is worth trying.

To repeat, read labels carefully. Many products are too diluted to be helpful. Recommended are juices from “POM Wonderful [which helped fund the study], Knudsen, Langers, and L&A.”

What about claims that berries help inhibit the growth of cancer cells? Studies were done that compared groups using blackberries and black raspberries, which contain ellagitannin, an anthocyanin. Blueberries don’t contain as much of this working ingredient to earn a recommendation.

Since the anthocyanins don’t absorb well in the GI tract, the study was done using berries in the form of rectal suppositories – for precancerous colon polyps – or a gel applied directly to precancerous mouth lesions. By eating berries and using the gel, the colon group had “about 50% regression in their polyps in 9 months.” Those with mouth sores applied the gel directly at least 4 times a day for six weeks and about 3/5 of the lesions became less cancerous.

CSPI suggests eating berries throughout the week for potential benefits, without doing any harm.

Can berries help with memory? Animal studies show that eating blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and cranberries has “improved learning, memory and balance” in aging rats. It looks like the phytochemicals “protect signals as they pass from brain cell to brain cell.” CSPI recommends eating whole berries, fresh or frozen.

What about the “super fruits” like noni, mangsteen, acai and goji berries? In their “Fraud Alert” on 3-23-09, they debunk the idea that such foods can help anyone to lose weight, flatten bellies, cleanse colons,” etc. According to CSPInet.org, there is a “total lack of evidence that the product works” in clinical trials with humans. Save your money.

Whenever you hear about new uses of familiar foods or wonderful “discoveries” of brand-new “super foods,” always question the claims and get a second opinion from a dependable source – like a nutritionist or doctor.

Don’t waste time or money, or cause yourself harm, with unproven products – even foods – that might cause you to delay medical treatment or avoid healthful programs that will actually benefit you.

Source: Nutrition Action Healthletter, June 2009, published by the Center for Sciences in the Public Interest, a nonprofit, health-advocacy group for consumers backed by a board of M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s who check every claim made. Website: http://www.cspinet.org.