In the never-ending parade of new food products that make headlines every year, there are always a few that catch on and become trendy, almost fashionable. They are options that beg to be included in any healthy diet.
The question is: Are they worth bringing to the table? Put another way, will they help you age more gracefully and do they have unique nutritional benefits?
Here’s a look at seven of the trendiest edible offerings that people are talking about around the water cooler, at book clubs and in the coffee shop, along with details on what they do and don’t offer when it comes to health, nutrition and disease prevention:
1. Lollipop Kale
The new “it” veggie of the produce bin might be labeled lollipops, or kale sprouts or KalettesTM, depending on where you shop. Whatever the moniker, nutritionists agree that crossing two superstars of the vegetable world — Russian Red Kale and Brussels sprouts — is definitely a win-win when it comes to health.
What you’ll get in 1.5 cups: Just 45 calories, but a full day’s supply of Vitamin K, almost half the required vitamin C and a good dose of vitamin B6.
Why raw sauerkraut? Canned and bottled sauerkrauts are typically heat treated, which destroys probiotic bacteria.
What they taste like: A little bit sweet, a little bit peppery, a little bit nutty, with mild notes of that distinctive brassica (Brussels sprouts) vegetable flavor.
How to eat them: The beautiful red-green mini leaves look nice in a salad like this Orange Kalettes Salad from Tozer Seeds, the British company that created the cultivar. The savory “lollipops” are also good sautéed or roasted.
2. Grass-Fed Beef
Rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that is showing promise in the prevention of cancer, grass-fed beef is also lower in fat and saturated fat than its grain-fed cousin.
According to the American Grassfed Beef Association (AGBA), a sirloin steak from a grass-fed steer has about one-half to one-third the amount of fat as one raised on grain. And that adds up, says AGBA: “If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to grass-fed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year — without requiring any willpower or change in eating habits. If everything else in your diet remains constant, you’ll lose about six pounds a year.”
If that sounds good but you’re put off by the higher price tag of grass-fed beef, not to worry. “Lean beef that’s 10 percent fat or less — whether it’s grass-fed beef or another type of beef — can be part of a heart-healthy diet,” says Dr. Rekha Mankad, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist.
3. Bone Broth
While long, slow-simmered stovetop stocks made with roasted bones and vegetables have always been around, paleo and detox diet proponents are making them trendy again by calling them bone broths. Nourishing bone broths. The name, they say, is meant to separate these homemade elixirs from mass-produced broths cluttered with additives and devoid of gelatin and other good nutrients that leech from meat bones that are slow simmered. (Ironically, the trend is so hot that big soup companies are now mass-producing boxed “bone broths.”)
Is bone broth nourishing? Yes. Is it lower in sodium that boxed varieties? Most of the time. Is it a superfood that tames inflammation? Not really. It’s just one food, one healthy diet choice.
4. Coconut Sugar
As the “all things coconut” craze heats up, the caramel-colored sugar made from the sap of the coconut palm is riding a wave of popularity. It’s not really a new sweetener, just new to Westerners. Used in South Asia for thousands of years, coconut sugar has a flavor similar to brown sugar. But that’s not all that’s similar. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says coconut palm sugar provides just as many calories and carbohydrates as regular sugar: about 15 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrate per teaspoon.
“It is OK for people with diabetes to use coconut palm sugar as a sweetener, but they should not treat it any differently than regular sugar,” the ADA says.
What about those health claims that say coconut sugar is low on the glycemic index (a scale that measures how blood sugar levels react to carbohydrates)? Holistic medicine specialist Dr. Andrew Weil takes issue. “This is irrelevant,” says Weil. “The glycemic index does not directly apply to sweeteners.” Weil’s bottom line: Sugar is sugar, whether it’s from a natural source or not. Go easy on it if you want to stay healthy.
5. Raw Sauerkraut
Hot dog topper and traditional side dish for pork chops, fermented white cabbage has long been recognized for potential cancer-fighting benefits. But who knew? This German staple is now getting a second health look, not for its cabbage content but for the good-for-you (or your immune system and digestive tract) probiotic bacteria produced during fermentation. (Here’s a good review of probiotics from WebMD if you need it.)
Why raw sauerkraut? Canned and bottled sauerkrauts are typically heat treated, which destroys probiotic bacteria. So the only way to nab the beneficial bugs is with unpasteurized or raw cultured sauerkraut, the kind usually found in whole food or health food supermarkets.
More good news for raw sauerkraut: A preliminary study finds the probiotic strains it harbors, called lactobacilli, might help prevent the body’s absorption of some pesticides.
6. Matcha Green Tea
In Manhattan, matcha is the “new java,” a hipper caffeinated brew and an ingredient chefs are using to create all kinds of sweet and savory treats. It’s also the tea of choice in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. But among “food as medicine” proponents, the star feature of matcha is that it contains three times as many as catechins (substances that studies show might do everything from fighting cancer to preventing heart disease, to helping with weight loss) as regular green teas. The reason: This tea isn’t steeped from green tea leaves, but is actually ground up tea leaves. When Matcha is harvested, the leaves are ground into a beautiful bright green powder that is then whisked into water. Make it at home.
But if you’re hitting the local tea or coffee shop for your fix, be aware. “Sweetened tea beverages introduce calories, fat and other ingredients that get away from the basic premise that the tea leaf may be responsible for any health benefits,” Dr. Howard Sesso tells Harvard Health Publications. Sesso is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Associate Epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Heralded as “the breakfast of champions” by many Japanese, paleo diet enthusiasts are singing the praises of the fermented soybean mixture called natto. For starters, it’s healthy for the heart. It’s a natural blood thinner, it lowers blood pressure and it’s super-rich in vitamin K2, a hard-to-get nutrient that helps prevent osteoporosis and keep bones strong. In other words, natto might offer multiple benefits for many of the common lifestyle ills that plague a fiftysomething body.
There’s just one hitch. While Japanese diners are in love with all forms of natto — there’s natto ice cream, natto toast, natto sushi — the slippery texture and stinky aroma are not an easy sell to Westerners, says one Japanese fan.
If natto is a no-go for you, Weil says there might be some other options. “I think all of these fermented soy foods are healthy — miso, natto, tempeh,” he says. “Adding fermented foods in general to the diet is good.”