Super foods and super promises are timeless

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and author of “The Slim Down South Cookbook.” Email her at

You may have heard so-called “super food” claims. Drink lemon water to detox your liver. Consume coconut oil for shiny hair, clear complexion and a healthy heart. Sip green tea to lose weight and boost your immune system. The only thing really “super” here are the promises.

The temptation to promise a wee bit more than science supports is rampant in food marketing messages and perhaps always has been.

Consider this sage advice.

“No subject lends itself more readily to misuse than diet. Fakers fatten and grow rich on gullibility of the public when it comes to selling ‘pointers’ to beauty and health,” Fairfax T. Proudfit, professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee and author of Nutrition and Diet Therapy, first published in 1918.

Yup, 1918. Nutrition science may have advanced by leaps and bounds since then, but truly the basics haven’t changed that much. Eat your vegetables, choose whole grains, and eat a wide variety of foods to get a wide variety of nutrients. Limit sugar, fat and salt and remember to drink water to stay hydrated.

Food facts

Lemon water: Adding lemon, orange or a splash of any fruit juice can help make water taste a bit better so that you might drink a bit more to stay hydrated. Hydration aids in digestion, supports heart health and the brain. Dehydration can make you feel lethargic and cranky. So, if drinking lemon water helps you stay hydrated, that's a good thing.

Coconut oil: While coconut tastes good in a pina-colada, coconut oil isn't all it's cracked up to be as a "super food"according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA issued warnings to marketers of coconut oil over misleading and unsubstantiated health and nutrition claims. Coconut oil, like any fat, is a concentrated source of calories with 120 calories per tablespoon so should be consumed in moderation.

Green tea: Drinking unsweetened tea is hydrating, non caloric and and provides a gentle lift without the jitters often associated with coffee. Green and black tea, both from the camellia sinensis plant, contain the amino acid L-theanine, which research shows can help you feel alert and calm at the same time.

Health claims for green tea tout its high concentration of antioxidants. But there are lots of foods rich in disease fighting antioxidants including most fruits and vegetables and other kinds of tea, too.

So, when you read about the “super” effects of “super foods” on your health, take a moment to digest the facts.