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Slimming down your waistline and wallet

Are health foods and supplements really worth the cost? The Grind investigates. (CAROLINE DUNN/The Stanford Daily)

(CAROLINE DUNN/The Stanford Daily)

The start of the new year always brings the tragic removal of ornaments from the Christmas tree, the sudden absence of Christmas carols on the radio and a score of New Year’s resolutions. Unsurprisingly, given the never-ending supply of cookies over the holidays, “healthy eating” or “losing weight” are the most popular New Year’s resolutions for Americans, a trend reflected in the media.

Bon Appétit has started the tradition of releasing a “Healthy-ish” themed magazine for the January/February edition each year. Cosmopolitan has featured a “#CosmoButtChallenge” video on its Snapchat story page demonstrating gluteus maximus-strengthening exercises to do each day. And healthy food companies such as Pressed Juicery are promoting their cleanses with the straightforward slogan: “2016 is over. Cleanse.”

Unsurprisingly, this fervor to uphold the maxim “new year, new you” leads to a frenzy to get in shape and improve your diet. The food and exercise industry responds to this desire with an outpouring of supposed “miracle” solutions to fix all your problems, ASAP. And though the effectiveness of these different “cures” varies (I, for one, remain very skeptical of the effectiveness of juice cleanses), almost all of these weight loss solutions have one thing in common: They’re very expensive.

Case in point: Over break, I went to one of my favorite stores on Greenwich Avenue, The Juice Press. Similar to Pressed Juicery in Palo Alto, it sells juices, smoothies and vegan food. After downing their “anti-aging” juice, I happened to look at the price and realized that I had just paid 11 dollars for literal cucumber juice.

And yes, I know the arguments of why cold-pressed juices are so expensive: Juicing a fruit or vegetable massively reduces the volume, so two to six pounds of produce per juice can get quite pricey, especially when these stores promise to use organic produce (though the whole “organic” food tag is rather debatable as well). However, the cost of production doesn’t match the inflated costs customers pay.

The cold-pressed juice market makes an estimated $100 million a year. Juice bars can afford to inflate their prices because of the supposed health benefits (the “it’s virtuous, therefore it’s worth the extra money” philosophy) and because of celebrity endorsements. With celebrities from Oprah to Lily Aldridge to Blake Lively all endorsing different juice brands, juicing is trendy and thus expensive.

And pricey juices aren’t the only way that Americans are spending (or wasting) their money. Responding to the popularity of vitamin supplements, health food companies are pushing probiotic supplements, which supposedly help keep your gut healthy. In that same new year fit of healthy food buying, I bought a jar of the Juice Press’s probiotic supplements at a pricey 40 dollars. I thought that was expensive for vitamins, but prices of probiotics can range from $10.99 to $159.95 (currently on sale for the “reduced” price of $119.95).

Studies led by universities like Harvard have yet to conclude whether or not probiotics are effective or even safe. Yes, studies have shown that some strains of bacteria are “good bacteria” that can improve your gut track, and this Stanford study showed that probiotics can help severely obese people lose weight after bariatric surgery. But there are millions of different strains of bacteria, and not all the probiotic pills contain strains of bacteria that have been well-tested, let alone proven to be all that safe.

According to Berkeley Wellness, “There’s not enough solid evidence to recommend their widespread use. Vague claims that probiotics ‘support good digestive health’ are meaningless.” Of course, the probiotics industry is yet another money-churner. By 2020, the probiotics market is projected to be worth $46.55 billion.

So now that you’re back on campus and trying to fulfill those New Year’s resolutions, beware of wasting money on bogus health claims. Though I am also guilty of these habits, I do think it’s important to at least be aware that you’re being ripped off…potentially with little health benefit too. Just think about it: You’re paying as much for a glass of vegetables as you would for a glass of wine.

 

Contact Caroline Dunn at cwdunn98 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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