Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Promises, Promises: Where’s the Truth?

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Promises, Promises

Promises, Promises (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many claims made of “miracle” supplements and foods that in reality do not keep their promises when put to test of science.  Be a smarter shopper and do not fall for the marketing ploys of these supplements or foods.


Policosanol made from Cuban sugar cane has been touted as a dietary supplement that can lower blood cholesterol as well as statin drugs, without the side effects. Some studies had positive results but the 80+ double-blind studies on policosanol were conducted by a single research group in Cuba that owns the policosanol patent.. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association used high doses of the supplement and found no benefits on cholesterol numbers.  This certainly questioned the positive results of the previous Cuban studies.


Many claims have been made about Echinacea as a cold remedy in some manner.   A study that examined its effects on 399 volunteers found no benefit in reducing cold symptoms compared to a placebo. However, the results of other studies are varied, some showing some benefit; others none.  The problem is that the studies have used different types of echinacea plants and different methods of preparation. Trying it probably does no harm, but as yet, it doesn’t seem live up to its claims.  These kinds of studies are particularly susceptible to placebo effects, so this phenomenon also may play a role in the study results.

Bogus Grains

Whole grains, whole grains – how many food products are making these claims today?   Here is the straight scoop.  Foods labeled as “multi-grain”, “stone-ground”, “100 wheat”, “cracked wheat”, “seven-grain” or “bran” are usually not actual whole grain products.  Look for the Whole Grain Council’s seal or choose foods that name one of the whole grain ingredients first on the label’s ingredient list – brown rice, bulgar, graham flour, oatmeal, whole-grain corn, whole oats, whole rye, whole wheat, and wild rice. By the way, popcorn has just been claimed to be the most perfect snack food when it comes to whole grains.  But hold the butter!!

Organic Seafood

Don’t be fooled by this marketing gimmick.  The USDA has not yet developed any organic standards or certifications for seafood.  So fish can be labeled as organic but has no meaning and there is no guarantees that it does not contain contaminants such as mercury or PCBs. 

“Lower Salt” Processed Foods

If you’re watching your salt intake due to hypertension, you may want to read ingredient labels for these additives on processed foods that are sodium-based in disguise.  Look for flavorings, preservatives, sweeteners and sugar substitutes as well as sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate, sodium cyclamate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium nitrate.  By now you have realized that the key word here is sodium.

Power Bars

Unless you’re an endurance athlete (and most of us are not), you don’t need all the extra sugar and calories these glorified candy bars provide.  Most of us do not need these “extras” and you will not likely burn them off with moderate exercise. For example, one Power Bar Protein Plus Chocolate Brownie has 360 calories, 11 grams of fat with 4.5 of those as saturated fat.  There is 260 milligrams of sodium, less than 1 gram of fiber, 33 grams of total carbohydrate with 30 of those as sugar grams.  The “whopping” 30 grams of protein are not worth all the other less desirable components.  Shop smart and don’t be fooled by these marketing gimmicks.

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