5 Hot Health Fads: The Bottom Line

Fitness, News and Advice, Nutrition
on May 1, 2010

Trendy workouts. Amazing superfoods. High-tech medical tests. Do they live up to the hype? We investigate five of the hottest health fads to find out.

The fad:
Coconut water
Stars swear by the low-calorie water found in green coconuts, and promoters claim it enhances athletic performance, boosts energy, even cures hangovers. A lot of people use coconut water as sports drink substitute, says registered dietitian Bridget Feeny, of nutrition and fitness consulting firm Fitability. But while she praises coconut water’s nutritional profile, Feeny says it doesn’t contain as much sodium—the primary electrolyte lost when you sweat—as conventional sports drinks. “If you’re working out hard or outside in heat, you can try coconut water, but you may also need to snack on something salty,” Feeny advises.
Bottom line: Try it, but don’t rely on it.

The fad:
Kettlebell workouts
The momentum created by swinging these round, cast iron weights with attached handle—and the strength necessary to control them—promises to sculpt your shoulders and flatten abs. The goal, explains Feeny (also a certified personal trainer), is to continuously progress from move to move, keeping your heart rate elevated, and therefore getting both aerobic conditioning and strength training in one fast-paced workout. A University of Wisconsin, La Crosse study found that kettlebells provided a higher-intensity workout than standard weight-training routines: Kettlebell lifters burned 400 calories during a 20-minute workout, on par with running a six-minute mile pace. But most people can’t match the intensity of the study-prescribed workout, Feeny says, making kettlebells “a good addition to a well-rounded workout routine but not a magic quick fix.”
Bottom line: Try them, but dumbbells work, too.

The fad:
Facial exercises
Gadgets, infomercials and websites promise a “natural-looking facelift” by toning underlying facial muscles (no needles or knives necessary). Sample moves include the “Surprised Face” and “Puppy Dog Face.” But Dr. Robert Kotler, of UCLA’s Division of Head and Neck Surgery, says you can’t grin or grimace your wrinkles away. “We make many expressions throughout the day, so if that theory were true, people wouldn’t wrinkle as much,” Kotler says. What will work? Limiting sun exposure, quitting smoking and applying moisturizer and SPF 15 sunscreen daily.
Bottom line: Love your smile lines.

The fad:
Greek yogurt
Nope, it wasn’t Aristotle’s favorite snack (but apparently, it’s Oprah’s): Greek yogurt is simply yogurt that has had the watery whey removed, creating a dense, creamy texture. It packs a ton of protein (about 14 grams/cup) and fewer carbs than regular yogurt, plus lower lactose levels that mean it may sit better with you if you have lactose intolerance. Registered dietitian Elisa Zied, author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips, suggests opting for 0% fat or 2% fat over full-fat varieties to limit your saturated fat intake.
Bottom line: Worth the hype, both nutrition- and taste-wise.

The fad:
Springy shoes
These futuristic-looking kicks claim to ease back, legs and foot pain by absorbing shock and reducing impact. The sneakers, sandals, even cowboy boots, look normal except for the visible spring in the heel, which purportedly blocks pain from everything from bunions to arthritis. But are they worth the often steep (up to $300) price? Manhattan podiatrist Dr. Jacqueline Sutera says the wide, high toe box and rocker bottom sole seem promising, but their “somewhat dorky” appearance may put people off. She notes that springy shoes should only be worn while walking—they may be too unstable for running, increasing your chances of injury.
Bottom line: Try them — if you can get over their looks.