- Plenty of ubiquitous products peddled to improve health and well-being are more or less useless, health professionals say.
- Dietitians consistently named probiotics, alkaline water, and juices — particularly of the “cleanse” or “detox” variety — as the products they wish people wouldn’t waste their money on.
- The products aren’t supported by solid evidence and, in the case of some cleanses, can be risky.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more.
Plenty of people are skeptical of “miraculous” cures and belly-blasting products sold on infomercials and in airplane catalogs. But the seemingly healthy drinks sold at Whole Foods and the supplements lining your local drugstore are so ubiquitous, even skeptics may assume they work, or at least don’t hurt.
Several products in particular have no place in people’s kitchens or medicine cabinets, according to nutrition experts.
Insider asked nine dietitians who attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo to name a product people buy in an effort to improve their health that just isn’t worth it, and three themes emerged.
Probiotic supplements, alkaline water, and “detox” products like juice cleanses don’t have the evidence to justify their use, they said.
Probiotic supplements aren’t proven to help with most conditions
Probiotics are live bacteria found in foods like yogurt and kombucha that have health benefits, particularly for the gut. But when packaged in supplement form, their benefits are more murky, New York City-based registered dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman, who works in a gastrointestinal practice and wrote the book, “The Bloated Belly Whisperer,” told Insider.
“There is such paltry evidence of benefit for most commercially available products,” she said.
While the supplements may help treat infectious bacteria, there’s not enough evidence to show they work at healing any of the other ailments they’re marketed for, from the common cold to preterm labor.
The term “probiotic” also applies to many different types of bacteria. It’s not always clear what a given product contains or whether the strain any one person buys is linked to the health benefit they’re seeking.
Even the concept of using probiotics to help counter the potentially disruptive effects of antibiotics on the balance of gut bacteria isn’t well-founded, registered dietitian Malina Malkani, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle, told Insider.
“Probiotics offer many potential health benefits, but there is evidence that probiotic supplements may actually prolong the gut microbiome’s process of resuming its normal state after antibiotic use,” she said. While people take probiotics in an effort to populate their guts with the “good” bacteria antibiotics can kill, the supplements may just make the process of getting the gut back to normal take even longer.
Alkaline water is often is a waste
Ginger Hultin, a Seattle-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, named alkaline water as the one product people buy for health that just isn’t worth it.
The beverage, which has a higher pH level and is therefore less acidic that plain water, is marketed as providing better hydration, detoxifying the body, balancing pH levels, boosting energy, and even supporting weight loss. Some varieties go for as much as $15 for a 1.5 liter container, Insider previously reported.
Nutrition experts say it’s probably not superior to plain old water. Plus, research on diets and cancer risk found that alkaline water had no proven health benefits for cancer prevention or anything else.
“Basically, the type of water you choose to drink won’t have a considerable impact on your health, provided that it’s plain, calorie-free water,” Ali Webster, a registered dietitian and associate director of nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council Foundation, previously told Insider.
Expensive juices, especially those promising to detox or cleanse your body, are often a waste
While springing for a fancy cold-pressed juice isn’t necessarily unhealthy, there are better and more cost-effective ways to get nutrients, experts say.
“I want people to eat and chew their food and get all the benefits,” registered dietitian Amy Kimberlain, a certified diabetes educator at Baptist Health South Florida and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Insider.
Blending fruits and vegetables causes them to lose a lot of the fiber you’d get if you simply ate them, Kimberlain added. “We don’t talk about fiber and all it’s health benefits enough,” she said. A lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic diseases are among those benefits, according to a study commissioned by the World Health Organization.
What’s more, slinging back juices in the name of detoxifying or cleansing the body misunderstands how the body actually works and can even be risky, New York City registered dietitian Bonnie Taub Dix, author of “Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table,” told Insider.
“We each have a liver and kidneys to do that job without needing a detox diet that is, in most cases, inadequately balanced and lacking in so many important nutrients,” she said. As a result, dieters can wind up tired, irritable, lightheaded, and weak.