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Ask It: What's the Deal with Ginseng & Guarana?

Posted Apr 30 2010 8:30am

holdthewhippedcream asked:What’s your take on herbs like ginseng and guarana? A guy at work practically shoves them down my throat. Isn’t eating clean, healthy food enough?

I love this question because the answer is so easy:

YES, eating clean, healthy food is enough!

But let’s back up for a second. What is ginseng? What is guarana?

  • Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant with fleshy roots (it looks like ginger, shown above). It’s used as a “functional food” (I’m uber-skeptical of so-called functional foods) in energy drinks, for the treatment of Type II diabetes, and for sexual dysfunction in men. Studies haven’t been able to verify the medicinal benefits of ginseng — the results of current research are inconclusive. More info here .

  • Guarana is a climbing plant in the maple family. Its fruit contains twice the amount of caffeine as coffee beans. So basically, it’s like caffeine on steroids. Anecdotal evidence has shown that it can contribute to the onset of seizures. More info here .

Both ginseng and guarana are plants, found in nature. But the way the food industry uses them isn’t natural. They concentrate, ground them down to a powder, and add them to other foods and drinks (and even weight-loss pills) with lots of sugar and other crappy, chemical-laden ingredients. So while both are “natural,” considering the way they’re used, they’re about on par with high-fructose corn syrup (which also starts as a plant!). In general, my rule is to stay away from foods that claim to have direct medicinal benefits (i.e., functional foods).

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