These 5 Foods Aren’t Quite As Healthy As You Think

These 5 Foods Aren’t Quite As Healthy As You Think

Food gives us the nutrients we need to survive, and we know a balanced diet contributes to good health.

Beyond this, many people seek out different foods as “medicines”, hoping eating certain things might prevent or treat particular conditions.

It’s true many foods contain “bioactive compounds” – chemicals that act in the body in ways that might promote good health. These are being studied in the prevention of cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

But the idea of food as medicine, although attractive, is easily oversold in the headlines. Stories tend to be based on studies done in the lab, testing concentrated extracts from foods. The effect seen in real people eating the actual food is going to be different to the effects in a petri dish.

If you do the maths, you’ll find you actually need to eat enormous amounts of particular foods to get an active dose of the desired element. In some cases, this might endanger your health, rather than protecting it.

These four foods (and one drink) show the common healing claims around the foods we eat don’t always stack up.


Cinnamon, which contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde, is claimed to aid weight loss and regulate appetite.

There is evidence cinnamaldehyde can reduce cholesterol in people with diabetes. But this is based on studies of the chemical in large doses – not eating the spice itself.

These studies give people between 1 and 6 grams of cinnamaldehyde per day. Cinnamon is about 8% cinnamaldehyde by weight – so you’d have to eat at least 13 grams of cinnamon, or about half a supermarket jar, per day. Much more than you’d add to your morning porridge.

Red wine

The headlines on the health benefits of red wine are usually because of a chemical in grape skins called resveratrol. Resveratrol is a polyphenol, a family of chemicals with antioxidant properties.

It’s been claimed resveratrol protects our cells from damage and reduces the risk of a range of conditions such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.

There is some limited evidence that resveratrol has benefits in animal models, although studies done in humans have not shown a similar effect.

It varies by wine, but red wine contains about 3 micrograms (about 3 millionths of a gram) of resveratrol per bottle. The studies that have shown a benefit from resveratrol use at least 0.1 grams per day (that’s 100,000 micrograms).

To get that much resveratrol, you’d have to drink roughly 200 bottles of wine a day. We can probably all agree that’s not very healthy.


Blueberries, like red wine, are a source of resveratrol, but at a few micrograms per berry you’d have to eat more than 10,000 berries a day to get the active dose.

Blueberries also contain compounds called anthocyanins, which may improve some markers of heart disease. But to get an active dose there you’re looking at 150-300 blueberries per day. More reasonable, but still quite a lot of fruit – and expensive.


The news that dark chocolate lowers blood pressure is always well-received. Theobromine, a chemical in chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure in doses of about 1 gram of the active compound, but not at lower doses. Depending on the chocolate, you could be eating 100g of dark chocolate before you reached this dose.

Chocolate is a discretionary food, or “junk food”. The recommended serve for discretionary foods is no more than 600 kilojoules per day, or 25g of chocolate. Eating 100g of chocolate would be equivalent to more than 2,000kJ.

Excess kilojoule consumption leads to weight gain, and being overweight increases risk of heart disease and stroke. So these risks would likely negate the benefits of eating chocolate to lower your blood pressure.


Turmeric is a favourite. It’s good in curries, and recently we’ve seen hype around the turmeric latte. Stories pop up regularly about its healing power, normally based on curcumin.

Curcumin refers to a group of compounds, called curcuminoids, that might have some health benefits, like reducing inflammation. Inflammation helps us to fight infections and respond to injuries, but too much inflammation is a problem in diseases like arthritis, and might be linked to other conditions like heart disease or stroke.

Human trials on curcumin have been inconclusive, but most use curcumin supplementation in very large doses of 1 to 12 grams per day. Turmeric is about 3% curcumin, so for each gram of turmeric you eat you only get 0.03g of curcumin. This means you’d have to eat more than 30g of turmeric to get the minimum active dose of turmeric.

Importantly, curcumin in turmeric is not very bioavailable. This means we only absorb about 25% of what we eat, so you might actually have to eat well over 100g of turmeric, every day, to get a reasonable dose of curcumin. That’s a lot of curry.

What to eat then?

We all want food to heal us, but focusing on single foods and eating mounds of them is not the answer. Instead, a balanced and diverse diet can provide foods each with a range of different nutrients and bioactive compounds. Don’t get distracted by quick fixes; focus instead on enjoying a variety of foods.The Conversation

Emma Beckett, Lecturer (Food Science and Human Nutrition), School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle and Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, PhD Student/Epidemiologist, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


  • For those not committed to highly sweetened foods the following may be considered:

    Re Blueberries
    Try Blackcurrants rather than blueberries. Blueberries seem to dominate the healthy berry isle in supermarkets. This is most likely an ‘artifact’ of American research. Blackcurrants are worthy of being widely available. They contain plenty of Phytochemicals & a very high Vitamin C content.

    Chocolate. Try unsweetened home-brand Cocoa powder. Personally, I enjoy it with unsweetened green tea.

    There is some research indicating that the Curcumin absorption from Turmeric may be enhanced with Pepper.

    As far as Resveratrol is concerned if you are looking for comparable, or better specific gene expression, try Calorie restriction or intermittent fasting.

    As always look at the current research from reputable sources.

  • Chinese and Indian (Ayurveda) ancient texts have prescribed turmeric, cinnamon, etc. thousands of years ago. Prior to introduction of western food, especially fast food, and a high stress lifestyle both cultures were quite healthy and most ailments could be cured by remedies prescribed in those texts. That counts for something.

    So, all this research might be valuable, but don’t follow fads, eat generally healthy and gain some knowledge of ancient medicine and use that in everyday life. That’ll keep you healthy. Also, try to eat “certified” organic where you can and where affordable. Try to avoid meat as much as possible and eat more fruits and vegetables in your diet – learn to cook them the right way. That’s just my 2 cents.

  • No food is healing, but just like the author summarised ; a balanced and diverse diet can.

    I can summarise further. Stick to paleo . Certainly not the paleo diet most of us think of due to the very same myths that came from the same methods testing as some of the above (testing performed with financial interests). Real paleo, (beyond 8,000 years ago, or .002% since human existence) is mostly devoid of beef and other large animals.

    Applying the Paleo Rule to the above constituents:- Neither Cinnamon & Chocolate were accessible to cave man, nor were fermented foods like red wines, so they are out. Of course blueberries and turmeric were, and make up part of a diverse diet – these two, I expect, were misconstrued by those who wished they were healing.

    May help, help, assists, some evidence, etc. are all BS terms which can be translated out of their money making myths, to – Might help 1 in 1000 people.

    • Wasn’t the life-expectancy of Palaeolithic-era humans only approximately 35 years?

      And surely just because something wasn’t available, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been beneficial.

      There’s something else Palaeolithic humans didn’t have access to…a notion of food science and nutrition.

      But to each their own. Eat what makes you feel your best. If you feel fit, strong, and healthy on a paleo diet…more power to you.

      • Hi ClawShrimp, I am thinking the life expectancy was low, not so much because of Palaeolithic-era humans diet but more so lack of medicine, and death from external sources. Only an assumption of course.

        Cinnamon & Chocolate might have been beneficial. However, because these items are not proven ( Studies show today’s science is not capable proving a food as good; one day chocolate is good the not good), only the 3 million year old paleo does.

        Thanks for your words

  • No amount of any food in the quantities we typically eat in meals is going to make much difference on its own. It’s the cumulative effect over a long period of time that matters.

  • Be mindful of the titles. This is precisely the sort of titles which will then lead to people just gorging on fast food. Everything you eat is not necessarily a miracle worker. Put more vegetables in your diet, eat less meat and more nutritious food in general. Do not expect that eating blueberries for a day will create some sort of miracle in you. Btw curry is delicious so having to eat a lot is not a chore 🙂

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