Step aside, Kardashian family. These five foods and drinks stole the spotlight this year. From apple juice to cantaloupe, see the edibles that made headlines in 2011—for better or for worse.
This tropical-tasting drink is marketed as an ultra-hydrator and sold under brands such as VitaCoco and O.N.E. It’s been emerging for the past few years, but really hit critical mass in 2011. Does it live up the hype? Unfortunately for many brands, the answer seems to be no.
The big upside: Plain coconut water packs a lot of potassium—a mineral that has been shown to promote heart health by reducing risk of hypertension and stroke—and doesn’t contain artificial dyes, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., YouBeauty Nutrition Expert. The downside? It’s no diet “freebie.” All that potassium comes with calories and sugar that you would not be drinking otherwise.
A sweet drink for kids or a big gulp of chemicals? The nectar of youth caused quite a stir when Dr. Oz reported on his TV show in September that many apple juices available in the U.S. contain arsenic. The FDA fired back, saying that the kind of arsenic in apple juice is the “harmless” kind, but a few months later admitted that they too found harmful arsenic (and lead) levels in juices. These findings were also backed up by a recent Consumer Reports investigation.
However, Lindsey Toth, R.D., notes that it’s important to remember that recent research is still preliminary. “You should wait for the hard science to be released before jumping to any conclusions,” she says. In the meantime, we’re watering down our apple juice before giving it to our kids.
Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! Who knew we would go from planting chia seeds in pots shaped like small animals to sprinkling them in our oatmeal or making muffins from them? “Although we tend to think of our furry plant pet friends, chia seeds have actually been around for centuries in other cultures,” says Toth.
Chia seeds are rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, antioxidants and they’re a great way to get your omega-3 fatty acids without eating fish. So, their popularity is warranted. Fun fact: chia seeds can absorb liquid and form a gel, which can be used as a thickening agent in soups, sauces or smoothies, says Kirkpatrick.
Foodborne illness—from a fruit? Although meat and other raw foods are typically flagged as sickness culprits, this year, fruit took center stage when a listeria outbreak that tragically killed 29 people was linked to cantaloupe.
“The virus can be carried in the rind [exterior] of the cantaloupe,” says Kirkpatrick. “So as you cut into the fruit, the virus contaminates the inside edible portion.” The best way to avoid: Rinse and gently scrub the rind under running water. Dry with a paper towel before cutting, and then promptly refrigerate cut cantaloupe.
To salt or not to salt, that is the question, but the answer is not so cut and dry. Although limiting sodium intake has long been recommended as a way to reduce your heart disease risk and help lower blood pressure, new studies and health experts suggest that maybe that’s not good for everyone. “Sodium is an amazing mineral; our body needs it for a variety of processes including energy utilization, water absorption and electrolyte balance,” says Toth.
The jury’s still out, but more and more research suggests that extra salt might not be so bad (unless you already have heart problems). In some studies, low salt intake was actually worse than high intake. Until we learn more, Toth and Kirkpatrick still recommend sticking to the recommendation, which is no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt) and 1,500 mg per day or less for people at risk of heart disease.