Read Before You Sip: Are These Six Weird Drink Trends Actually Worth It?
Charcoal water. Breast Milk (really!). Bulletproof coffee. Most of the time the proponents of these trends advertise a quick fix, but what I learned from talking to April Schetler, registered dietician at South Jersey’s Virtua Health (and one of the semifinalists in last year’s Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge!), is that it’s usually a mistake to take these too-good-to-be-true claims at face value. Below, with Schetler’s help, we break down some of the weirdest “healthy” beverage trends that have been floating around the Internet lately and the science, or sometimes lack thereof, behind their touted health benefits.
1. Breast Milk to build muscles
The Claim: Some adults, especially male bodybuilders, are guzzling human breast milk to reap its purported benefits to athletic performance. The logic is that if breast milk helps babies grow so efficiently, it should help adult’s muscles the same way. Some also believe that the antibodies contained in the milk boost the adult immune system.
The Truth: According to Schetler, breast milk is definitely the ideal food for infants, but research has shown no special advantages when it comes to adults drinking it. A newborn absorbs the antibodies in it that her own new immune system doesn’t have yet. Adults, on the other hand, already have these antibodies, and are perfectly capable of absorbing nutrients from solid foods. And the way people are buying breast milk is from the nursing women themselves, which is potentially very unsanitary. “These women haven’t been screened for any diseases,” April says, “People are voluntarily paying for a drink that might give them an infection.”
2. Bulletproof Coffee to avoid coffee-induced food cravings
The Claim: Dave Asprey, the guru behind the Bulletproof Diet, recommends that we blend his special coffee brew with at least two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of coconut oil extract. This will apparently give you “boundless” energy, get rid of normal post-coffee food cravings, and, by starting out your day with healthy fats, encourage your body to burn fat all day long.
The Truth: As Schetler says, “Of course it satisfies your hunger,” she says, “you’re putting hundreds of calories worth of butter in it!” Added fat will suppress hunger, she explains, but that amount of fat adds so many calories that it starts to promote weight gain.
3. Alkaline Water to neutralize acidity
The Claim: Drinking mineral-added water with a pH that’s higher than regular water will neutralize excess acidity in the body. Advocates of this beverage (mostly companies selling it) claim that alkaline water will help relieve the drinker of a variety of health problems that are caused by the acidifying nature of the standard American diet.
The Truth: Schetler says “It’s not harmful to drink, but your kidneys and respiratory system are already doing an amazing job at controlling the acidity in your body.” She says save your money — there just isn’t enough evidence that the expensive bottled alkaline waters on the market today are actually worth it.
4. Olive Oil before meals for weight loss
The Claim: Drink a few tablespoons of olive oil about an hour before each meal to lose weight. This is the premise of the Shangri-La Diet, and guess what? That’s the only premise. The late Seth Roberts, the architect of this diet, assured his audience that there was no need to make an effort to alter any other aspect of one’s diet or to incorporate exercise. He claimed that plain oil before a meal would naturally suppress appetite and prevent overeating.
The Truth: Schetler says, “This really just makes me giggle.” Similar to Bulletproof Coffee, this practice advocates swallowing hundreds of extra calories and does nothing to address what individuals are doing the rest of the day that affects their weight. She says, “If you’re going to down 200 to 500 calories before your meal, are you going to have the willpower to eat a smaller meal to make up for that?”
5. Charcoal drinks to detoxify
The Claim: Charcoal drinks are popping up in juice bars all over the country as the next quick fix. The idea is that activated charcoal will absorb toxins so that they can exit your digestive system without entering the body. The trend might be inspired by the actual medicinal use of activated charcoal: Doctors give it to patients when they’ve been acutely poisoned because the charcoal will absorb the poison before the body absorbs it.
The Truth: “The theory behind it makes sense,” Schetler agrees. But like alkaline water, it’s probably a waste of money. We already have our liver and kidneys to perform all the detoxifying the body needs on a regular basis, Schetler says.
6. Bone Broth for joint pain
The Claim: Cooking bones down into broth for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours releases beneficial nutrients and substances like collagen, gelatin, and glucosamine. Touted by some for its medicinal benefits, bone broth is now becoming trendy and popping up in to-go cups all over the place. The supposed benefits include improving joint pain and speeding wound healing.
The Truth: This one may actually not be all hype. “It’s not totally outlandish,” April says. People experiencing joint pain often take supplements of things like collagen and glucosamine anyway, so this could be a legitimate way to get those substances naturally. But know, it takes a lot of time and effort to cook bones down to that point.
On the whole, Schetler reminds us that these fads gain popularity for a reason: “It’s all because we don’t want to eat right and move more — that’s what keeps me in a job.” And no matter what the next supposed miracle drink is, there really is no quick fix for all of your weight and health woes.
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