"Super" Foods to Avoid

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Athletes are constantly bombarded with information on how to improve their physique, build muscle and increase endurance. The majority of this comes from books, magazines, and radio and TV ads that promote various "ergogenic aids" – substances that supposedly increase vitality and improve performance.

Unfortunately, most of the promises made for these products are baseless. Investigations made by David Lightsey, an exercise physiologist and nutritionist-member of the National Council Against Health Fraud Inc. Showed that not a single company in the United States that markets ergogenic aids could support its contents.

In four years, Lightsey called up more than 80 companies asking for scientific proof or written documentation to back up the fitness-related claims of their products. What he received did not convince him.

"Fewer than half sent anything. Most of the studies they sent were poorly designed and proved nothing. The few that were well-designed did not support product claims but were taken out of context," he reported.

"Some companies claimed that one team or another was using their product. In each such case, I contacted the team management and learned that although one or more players used the company's product, the management had either approved the products nor encouraged their use, Lightsey added.

What are some of the questionable products being sold to athletes? One of them is bee pollen. This "super food" was popularized in 1973 by Finland's Lasse Viren who won the 5,000 and 10,000-meter run in Munich.

Viren's success put bee pollen in the limelight and also jacked up the price of this food supplement. Other pollen pushers are New York marathon runner Noel Johnson and former US President Ronald Reagan.

Pollen is collected by bees from various flowers. This is later scraped off from the beehive and made into tablets. Promoters claim bee pollen is the "perfect food" since it supposedly contains all essential vitamins and minerals. It's also touted as an aid to athletic performance.

In truth, pollen's exact composition and nutritional value varies widely since it comes from many flowers. Its main component is sugar which makes up at least 50 percent of its weight. While bee pollen contains some vitamins and minerals, these can be obtained cheaply from ordinary foods.

"Pollen promoters claim that pollen improves athletic performance and stamina. They have lots of anecdotes and testimonials but no scientific studies. In a study at Louisiana State University, half of the members of the swimming team took 10 pollen tablets a day for six months, One quarter took five pollen and five placebo (sugar) tablets, and one quarter took 10 placebo tablets. No reasonable difference in performance was found among the three groups. The study was then repeated with groups of swimmers and high school cross-country runners. Again, taking bee pollen conferred no reasonable benefit. " Said nutritionist Kurt Butler of the Quackery Action Council in Hawaii in "A Consumer's Guide to Alternative Medicine." (Next: The problem with pollen.)

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