Here’s the truth about wheatgrass, goji berries, tiger nuts, and coconut water
An incredible new food is helping men across the planet lose weight, add muscle, and even gain sexual stamina. You don’t know about panther berries? Maybe you’ve seen them in the hands of fit Instagram celebs or heard them hawked on satellite radio. Where can you find panther berries?
Nowhere. We made ’em up.
But the “benefits” cited above are not all that different from those of other so-called superfoods like tiger nuts, chia seeds, jackfruit, and coconut water, none of which live up to the hype when you look closely at the research. In fact, the FDA hasn’t defined the term “superfood.”
There’s no legal, scientific, or medical definition. As nutritionist Norman Temple, Ph.D., of Athabasca University in Alberta, succinctly puts it, “‘Superfood’ is purely a marketing term.”
That doesn’t mean these foods are bad for you. It’s just that you should look at them with a sceptical eye, as we did.
These morsels prevent heart attacks, enhance immunity, and improve circulation, and they’re gluten free! (They’re made from neither tigers nor nuts. Presumably the name “Yellow Nutsedge” didn’t have the same allure.)
Tiger nuts, also called earth almonds, are actually tubers. They’re nearly 50 percent carbohydrate, which makes them starchier, pound for pound, than potatoes. Sure, they have lots of fibre, fatty acids, and minerals—all good stuff—but research on tiger nuts is scarce. One study, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2015, found that tiger nut powder mixed in water increased sexual performance—in male rats.
If you’re an impotent rodent, nibble tiger nuts. If you’re human, feel free to try them if you’re curious. Tiger nuts taste vaguely like coconut and are often a major ingredient in horchata, a refreshing beverage that’s popular in Spain and Latin America. Ground tiger nut flour is an alternative to wheat for people with celiac disease.
These little health nuggets can treat diabetes, reverse high blood pressure, promote weight loss, enhance brain activity, boost immunity, battle cancer, and protect against UV damage. Holy cow!
Goji berries do have a lot of antioxidants and other nutrients, but those other bold claims don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.
One widely touted Chinese study from 1994 suggested that combining goji extract with cancer treatment may prolong remission, but the study didn’t contain information needed to prove its accuracy.
If you want to add them to yogurt, go ahead—they’ve got fibre, vitamin A, and iron. But they won’t be putting sunscreen companies out of business anytime soon. Plus, at almost $2 an ounce for one organic brand we found, you need to really like the taste.
These green shoots fight inflammation and detoxify your liver after you’ve, well, “toxified” it. Their chlorophyll power is so profound that soaking in a wheatgrass bath boosts blood cell production.
Yes, wheatgrass is nutritious, but it’s really nothing special. Its benefits are similar to those of other greens. Studies have suggested that wheatgrass juice may have perks like treating ulcerative colitis. But a 2015 article published in Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry found problems with existing wheatgrass research. Plus, foods and drinks can’t magically “detox” your body—a healthy person’s liver, kidneys, and lungs do that job just fine.
Wheatgrass is a fine ingredient for a healthy smoothie (add it to one of these smoothie recipes), but don’t count on grazing as your major source of vegetables for the day or as a hangover pick-me-up.
Pomegranate seeds are an excellent source of fibre, antioxidants, and vitamins C and K, but evidence that the fruit provides any benefits beyond what other fruits offer is not convincing, says Diane McKay, Ph.D., of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Most of the perks, including the fibre and vitamin C, come from eating the fruit, not drinking the juice. Some pomegranate juice defenders point to small and/or short-term studies that suggest health benefits, although more research is needed to prove a cause-and-effect connection.
Enjoy pomegranate—whole or as a beverage—if you like the taste, but don’t expect special powers. In fact, compared with orange juice or whole fruit, pomegranate products are higher in calories and sugar, and lower in fibre and some vitamins and nutrients.
Coconut water does have important electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. It’s also lower in carbs than Gatorade. But a 2012 study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism concluded that it doesn’t hydrate any better than a sports drink does.
Let Nyree Dardarian, R.D., of Drexel University, spell it out for you: “If your goal is fitness and weight loss, plain water is the best option. I’d recommend coconut water if you’re a recreational athlete who doesn’t like to drink water and prefers flavoured drinks.” But if you’re doing exercise that’s more intense, such as marathon training, you’ll need to consume more carbohydrates to fuel smart, she says.
Ch-ch-ch-chia seeds provide fibre, calcium, and iron. But the biggie here is heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. One article (not on Men’s Health) trumpeted the fact that chia seeds have nearly eight times the omega-3 content of salmon.
Research reviews haven’t found sufficient proof that chia provides any lasting health benefits. Chia seeds contain mostly short-chain fatty acids, which are different from the long-chain form in salmon. While you may be consuming more omega-3s per gram, choosing chia means your body won’t net the boost that salmon offers.
The seeds may not have the omega-3 value promised, but they do contain 10 grams of gut-filling fibre per ounce. Blend them into a shake or scatter them into a bowl of yogurt if you have trouble getting enough daily fibre.