By Janet Helm, MS, RD
Once there’s positive research on a specific food, it doesn’t take long before it’s bottled up and sold as a dietary supplement. It’s been that way for a long time. Yet, the transition from food to pill doesn’t always translate into a meaningful benefit, and it’s far from the “miracle” that you’re lead to believe. In some cases – like beta carotene from brightly colored fruits and vegetables – the pill form can even be harmful.
Now there are new foods making their way into pill bottles. The latest hot “miracle” pills include everything from African mango, raspberry ketones, maca root and brown seaweed to extracts from white beans, green coffee and saffron. I just wish people who are loading up their carts with these pills would be just as enthusiastic about buying and cooking whole foods.
Wouldn’t it be nice if people actually ate more fruits (only 8% of Americans meet daily fruit recommendations) instead of buying extracts from mangoes and raspberries. How fantastic it would be if we got Americans excited about exploring new recipes with beans, rather than rushing out to buy white bean extract in hopes of flattening their bellies. On average, we’re only achieving about one-fourth of the recommended goal for beans: 3 cups per week. Yet, white bean extract is flying off the shelf.
I’m not saying don’t buy supplements. Not at all. But these products are supplements, not substitutes. They can’t make-up for careless eating and a sedentary lifestyle. They’re not a magic bullet. Relying too heavily on these “miracles in the medicine cabinet” could mean that you pay even less attention to what you’re actually eating. You might think you’re covered. Yet, the only real evidence of sustained weight control, reduced risk of disease and longevity is linked to our eating patterns and our lifestyle.
It’s not one food or pill that makes the difference. It’s how you put it all together that really matters. One style of eating that has a lot of solid science behind it is the Mediterranean Diet, which is not really a “diet” at all, but it’s an approach to eating that will do a lot more for your waistline and your health than any pill possibly could.
May is National Mediterranean Diet Month, organized by Oldways and the Mediterranean Foods Alliance, so it’s a perfect time to learn more about the benefits of this style of eating – which is based on the traditional foods (and drinks) of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. That means building your meals around lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. It’s about eating fish at least twice a week, including healthy fats such as olive oil, using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods, and drinking red wine in moderation with meals.
“Miracle” pills may use lots of convincing testimonials in their ads, but that’s not a substitute for science. There’s a tremendous amount of scientific evidence behind the Mediterranean Diet. Studies have shown that this style of eating is one of the healthiest in the world – linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, and a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. That’s pretty miraculous to me.
Embracing the Mediterranean diet is about making some simple changes to the way you eat, and it’s about enjoying the pleasures of the table. Savoring fresh, flavorful food is a lot more powerful – and a lot tastier – than what you can buy in a bottle.