12 Spring Superfoods That Are a Waste of Money
Certain spring "superfoods" aren't worth it—either because they're not that nutritious, they're hard to find, or they're just too expensive. Here's what to buy instead.
Coconut oil tastes like warm, tropical weather and goes well in plenty of spring recipes, from granola to smoothies. People claim it can help prevent heart disease, promote weight loss, and reduce the risk of cancer.
Why it’s not worth it: The health claims about coconut oil are unproven. Plus, coconut oil contains saturated fats—the kind of fat linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Adding coconut oil to a diet that’s already high in saturated fat from meat and cheese probably isn’t a healthy move.
What to eat instead: Olive oil and avocado oil are my preferred oils because they’re rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. You can also add fresh avocado to your meals and get the additional benefits of fiber, pantothenic acid, and vitamin K. Avocados are a good source of fiber (a fifth of an avocado contains about 11 percent of your daily needs), and eating plenty of fiber from fruit helps lower cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Pantothenic acid helps the body convert food into energy, while vitamin K plays a role in blood clotting and bone health. Find out which other 13 superfoods every woman should have in her diet.
Young nettle leaves are a leafy green that you can eat in salads or cook into dishes. People use the mature plant as an herb. Herbalists claim it has anti-inflammatory properties and can cure numerous diseases, including diabetes and cancer.
Why it’s not worth it: This tough-to-find plant overpromises and underdelivers. There isn’t enough research to support health claims, and the side effects are worrisome, including sweats, low blood sugar, and stomach issues. However, it does show some promise in helping reduce the need for pain medications in people with osteoarthritis.
What to eat instead: Mixing in some nettle as one of the leafy greens in your diet is fine, but don’t rely on it to overcome an unhealthy diet. Choose a variety of spring greens such as arugula, dandelion, pea shoots, and watercress. Not only are they easier to find, but there is evidence that they really can reduce inflammation.
These seeds contain plant-based omega-3s, as well as an impressive amount of fiber and some protein.
Why they’re not worth it: Your body has a tough time breaking down whole flax seeds—the shell is too tough—so you won’t get all the omega-3s inside. You can grind up flax seeds to get at the healthy oils, but that’s time-consuming and messy. You could buy ground seeds, but grinding exposes the oils, so the seeds go rancid much faster. You have to keep ground flax in your fridge or freezer or it will develop an off-putting odor and flavor.
What to eat instead: Chia seeds offer all of the nutritional benefits of flax seeds but in an easy-to-digest package. Because there’s no grinding involved, you can store your chia seeds in your cupboard for months or in your freezer for years. Later in the year, make sure you know which fall superfoods aren’t worth your time.
While charcoal isn’t really a food, it’s certainly showing up in food as a detoxifying ingredient. This superfood trend turns up in juices, pizza crusts, ice creams, and waffles to name a few.
Why it’s not worth it: Activated charcoal can help with medical emergencies such as poisoning, but you shouldn’t use it regularly. Charcoal interferes with nutrient absorption—don’t add it to your food.
What to eat instead: Support your body’s natural ability to detoxify by choosing foods that are high in fiber and antioxidants—get more vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses, and whole grains. There are no quick fixes for detoxing; you’re better off cutting back on inflammatory foods: ones that contain trans fats and added sugar.
It’s said to be a superfood and to contain up to 35 percent protein. Herbalists claim it can boost energy and help keep the prostate healthy.
Why it’s not worth it: Bee pollen is a very expensive spring superfood, setting you back about $20 to $30 for a small jar. You won’t get much protein from it when you’ll only be adding a teaspoon or so to smoothies—a teaspoon of bee pollen only gives you about 1 gram of protein, which isn’t enough for a snack, let alone a meal. The health claims haven’t been well-studied.
What to eat instead: If you’re looking to get more protein into your meals in a budget-friendly way, choose foods that from the USDA MyPlate Protein Foods Group such as chicken, fish, eggs, or tofu. You’re better off with those than the 50 foods nutritionists never eat (and neither should you).
Maqui berries are a dark purple berry from South America that fans believe can help detoxify the body, assist with weight loss, and prevent diabetes and heart disease.
Why it’s not worth it: Not only are these exotic berries expensive, but there isn’t enough research to back up their nutritional promises. Plus, they’re pretty hard to find.
What to eat instead: Like maqui berries, blueberries contain phytonutrients called polyphenols. This group includes anthocyanins—antioxidants thought to fight heart disease and cancer—with 163.3 milligrams of anthocyanins per 100 grams of blueberries. Blueberries are also a good source of vitamin C, with one cup providing 24 percent of the daily recommended amount of this antioxidant. Vitamin C supports a healthy immune system and helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Blueberries offer many more health benefits, and they have the advantage of being easy to find.
Also known as fava beans, these special springtime legumes are delicious, and loaded with fiber and protein.
Why they’re not worth it: Fresh fava beans take a lot of work—shelling the pods and then taking the skin off of each individual bean. This is more fuss and muss than most people would want to deal with.
What to eat instead: If you can get young broad bean pods, you won’t have to peel them. The beans inside haven’t developed, so they’re more of a vegetable than a bean, like snap pea pods or green beans. They’re delicious blanched or sautéed, but they won’t provide much in terms of protein. Other options include Bob’s Red Mill Premium Quality Fava Beans. They’ve been blanched to remove the skins, so they’re ready to cook—no soaking required. They’re an excellent source of fiber and protein, and a good source of iron.
Unlike most types of alcohol, wine gets lauded as a healthy beverage thanks to its antioxidant content. And as the weather warms up, rooftop and patio happy hours beckon with glasses of vino.
Why it’s not worth it: Drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol has been linked to a higher risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer. That’s why health experts recommend that if you don’t already drink alcohol, don’t start.
What to drink instead: Try swapping out at least some of the wine and other alcohol in your week with healthier beverages such as kombucha. Because kombucha is made from tea, it contains antioxidants that help fight free radical damage, and it may help prevent cancer and support a healthy heart. Plus, the fermentation process creates healthy bacteria that could provide a boost to your immune system and gut health. You can even make your own kombucha at home!
Quinoa is a seed or “pseudograin” (food that we eat as a grain but it’s really not) that’s been a superfood star for years.
Why it’s not worth it: Quinoa isn’t really a high-protein food. A half cup of cooked quinoa delivers about four grams of protein, which isn’t enough for a meal.
What to eat instead: Nuts are a better source of vegetable protein if that’s what you’re after—almonds come in at six grams per serving. For a healthy meal, you can start with quinoa or another grain that’s higher in protein, such as spelt, teff, or amaranth as your base. Then add slivered or sliced almonds, along with plenty of fresh or roasted veggies. To get even more protein, you can make a dressing out of a tablespoon of almond butter, two tablespoons of lemon juice, a tablespoon of water, and salt and pepper to taste. Find out the best 15 sources of plant-based protein.
These low-calorie, low-carb noodles are made from konjac, a root that’s high in fiber. Shirataki noodles meet the requirements of keto, low-carb, and grain-free diets.
Why it’s not worth it: Try as I might, I can’t get these noodles to taste very good. In my opinion, the texture is all wrong—squeaky and rubbery—and the flavor leaves plenty to be desired.
What to eat instead: Zucchini noodles (zoodles) are a fun way to reduce the carbs and calories you’d get in a pasta meal, and they fit well with keto, gluten-free, or low-carb eating. Anyone can benefit from getting more vegetables into their meals! Plus, zucchinis are a spring superfood that deserve the title. They’re a very good source of fiber and are rich in several antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health. You can even find ready-to-eat zoodles such as the ones from Cece’s Veggie Co. While you’re at it, make sure you’re eating these 15 foods nutritionists eat every day.
Marketed as a natural sweetener that’s safer than sugar, agave doesn’t seem deserving of superfood status.
Why it’s not worth it: Many health gurus have changed their tune about agave, noting that it’s high in fructose. There is evidence that high amounts of fructose can raise “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and could cause people to store more fat around their bellies. Plus, agave offers little nutrition beyond calories and carbohydrates.
What to eat instead: If you’re looking to add a hint of sweetness to oatmeal, tea, or coffee, consider pure maple syrup. It’s a natural sweetener that contains 67 different polyphenols, including nine that are unique to it. And unlike agave, the syrup is sucrose (not fructose). Plus, it’s rich in manganese and riboflavin, and it’s a source of copper. Manganese plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels, while riboflavin helps reduce fatigue. Copper is needed to support the nervous system and a healthy immune system.
Fans claim it can help you rehydrate after a workout, speed up your metabolism, and even slow down the aging process.
Why it’s not worth it: None of the claims about coconut water have science to support them, and the different brands have varying levels of nutrients—something that makes them less than ideal for rehydrating after intense workouts. (An eight-ounce sports drink typically offers 40 milligrams of potassium and 95 milligrams of sodium.)
What to drink instead: If you’re looking to get more fluids into your day and find plain old H2O too boring, try making your own spa water by enhancing it with fresh or frozen fruit, cucumber slices, or fresh herbs. If you need something to help you rehydrate post-workout, you could use this recipe for a homemade sports drink. You’ll also want to load up on these 50 of the healthiest foods you can buy in the supermarket.