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Supplement of the Month: Vitamin D

January 28, 2011

No vitamin has gotten as much attention lately as Vitamin D.   That is because so many



benefits have been found from improving vitamin D levels in addition to the long recognized benefit to bone health. These benefits include prevention of strokes, heart disease and some cancers.  Many scientists believe the recommended allowance for Vitamin D is too low.  Low levels of Vitamin D are widespread, especially in the elderly and people who spend little time outdoors, where the sun’s rays convert cholesterol to Vitamin D in your skin.  Ask your doctor to test your 25-hydroxyvitamin D level to see if you need to supplement your diet with vitamin D and if you do, a good source of vitamin D3 is preferred. Although the new DRI (formerly RDA) has been increased to 600IU for most adults, you may need over 1000IU a day to get your levels up to 30 nanograms per milliliter, which is the new normal according to experts.


Healthy Holiday Eating: Dos and Don’ts

December 15, 2010

Santa's Spreadsheet -- Mike Licht

The holidays should be enjoyed and good food is part of the mix. You can enjoy really good food without packing on the pounds or sacrificing your health. The simplest ways to cut calories and unhealthy foods is to reduce the amount of animal fat and refined carbohydrates that you eat, including dairy fat and white flour.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to help keep your holiday’s healthy:

Don’t –“Save room for dessert”

What to do instead — Fill up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats and have just a small serving of your favorite dessert or, better yet, have fresh fruit instead.

Don’t — Add butter, margarine, sour cream, cream cheese, cream or cheese to vegetable dishes, casseroles, soups and breads.

What to do instead — Use low fat versions of these dairy products or substitute healthy fats. You can also substitute applesauce for fat in breads. There are thousands of recipes on-line and in cookbooks for healthy versions of your old favorites, and they can be delicious.

Don’t — go to a party hungry

What to do instead — Eat a light healthy meal with protein, fruits, veggies, whole grains. When you get to the party, try the healthiest, lightest hors d’oeuvres first. Go easy on meats and cheeses and don’t hang around the dessert table.

Don’t — snack on chips, cookies, candy and cake

What to do instead — Snack on whole, healthy foods. Some alternatives include nuts, seeds, fresh or dried fruit, trail mix, whole grain pita wedges or vegetable sticks with hummus, whole grain bread or crackers with light veggie dips, vegetarian antipasto and whole grain crackers with light cheese. Healthy snacks can alleviate hunger, keep your energy levels up and help you eat less at your next meal.

Don’t — Drink too many calories, including high calorie drinks including sweet tea, sodas, hot cocoa, egg nog and alcoholic beverages.

What to do instead — Drink teas sweetened with stevia, sugar free hot cocoa, lower calorie alcoholic beverages (in moderation) and lots of water.

Enjoying holiday food doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your health or your waistline. Learn how to modify your old family recipes to make them healthier, that is, lower in animal fats, sugar and white flour. Eat more fruits, veggies and whole grains. Try something new and go for quality rather than quantity. There’s so much good healthy food to be enjoyed.

Can food choices effect cancer risk?

October 13, 2010

It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a great time to learn how you can protect yourself


Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon


from cancer by living a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, quit smoking, lose weight and drink alcohol in moderation if at all. These are four of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk for cancer, but there is increasing evidence that there are foods that reduce your risk as well. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there are chemicals found in certain plant foods that can protect against cancer.  Laboratory studies have identified chemicals in plant foods that are protective by acting as antioxidants,  deactivating specific carcinogens, slowing the formation and growth of cancer cells and preventing cancer cells from damaging surrounding cells.

Here are 7 of the most promising foods:

  1. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, soy)
  2. Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
  3. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale)
  4. Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory and Swiss chard)
  5. Grapes and grape juice, (esp. red and purple grapes. Sorry, red wine isn’t recommended because the alcohol actually increases your risk.)
  6. Tomatoes (esp. tomato sauce, paste or juice)
  7. Whole Grains

Including more of these foods in your diet may reduce your risk of cancer. All of these foods have not been proven to reduce cancer in human studies but laboratory studies have shown promising results. The AICR recommends a diet that is largely plant based, with plenty of fiber and low in animal fat is protective against a variety of cancers.

What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

September 26, 2010


Thomas Scheiker/Dreamstime


One of the most significant findings in recent years about the causes of heart disease is the role of inflammation. Inflammation is the natural way your body responds to threats. It is essential for fighting infections and we have all witnessed inflammation at work when we have pain and redness at an injury. It is the activation of your immune system to fight off invading organisms.

When is inflammation a problem?

But when  inflammation becomes chronic, it can cause problems. Chronic inflammation can be a result of allergies, autoimmune disease, periodontal disease, inflammatory arthritis and even obesity. Fat cells give off chemicals called cytokines that trigger inflammation.

Why is it a problem?

Chronic inflammation causes damage to the endothelial lining of arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis and heart disease. It may also contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

How can you know if you have chronic inflammation?

You can find out if you have an inflammation problem by having your  C- reactive protein levels tested. C-reative protein is one marker for imflammation that doctors are using more and more. The most sensitive test is called the high sensitivity C-reactive protein.

What should I do if my C-reactive protein levels are elevated?

If your C-reactive protein levels are high, you will first want to talk to your doctor to find out if there is an underlying infection, allergy or autoimmune disorder.  If not, your excess weight could be the cause and weight loss should be your first line of defense.

How do foods influence inflammation?

Inflammation can also be influenced by the foods you eat.  Research has shown that certain foods trigger inflammation and others suppress it.  Here are some of  the best foods for suppressing inflammation:

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, trout and tuna contain antiinflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Grass fed beef also contain some omega 3 fats (unlike corn-fed beef, which has mostly saturated fats).
  • Turmeric, a spice that is part of most curry dishes, contains a powerful antiinflammatory compound.
  • Ginger, used in Asian cuisine, is not only antiinflammatory, but it helps control nausea.

Foods that have high antioxidant levels also tend to reduce inflammation. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are usually higher in antioxidants.  Dark colors also can indicate the presence of higher levels of antioxidants as in blueberries and black beans. Some of the best sources include:

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cauliflower and greens (cruciferous vegetables, AKA the Mustard family) also contain a cancer fighting compound.
  • Cherries, which are particularly helpful with gouty arthritis (dried cherries are great on salads)
  • Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants and may even enhance memory. Other brightly colored berries are also good sources.
  • Green tea is rich in both antioxidants and antiinflammatory catechins.

Eating more antiinflammatory foods can help reduce chronic inflammation. Find ways to make these foods a part of your everyday diet and you will not only be protecting your body from disease, but you may find that some of your aches and pains improve.

How to increase the nutritional quality of your diet while cutting calories

July 12, 2010

Those of us who are trying to lose weight and help others lose weight have become obsessed with how much carbohydrate, fat and protein we are getting in our diet.  But what about the micronutrients? Micronutrients are the essential vitamins and minerals as well as other beneficial substances in our food that our bodies need for optimum health. When we cut back on our food intake to control weight, we cut back on our intake of micronutrients as well.

apple & barbell

(Istockphoto/Viorika Prikhodko)

To lose weight our intake has to decrease or we have to increase our activity.  Increasing activity is essential but it can be difficult to get enough when our lives are busy or when we develop physical problems that make exercise more difficult.  Knee, back and foot pain, fatigue or shortness of breath can make it difficult to burn enough calories to control weight. So, how do you make sure you are getting enough nutrients while you are trying to cut your calories?

You could take a vitamin and mineral supplement and I do recommend it.  But the problem with vitamin pills is that studies show the benefits of certain nutrients in food but when scientists study vitamins in pill form, they don’t get the same results.  Many scientist think that nutrients work best when they are in combination with other beneficial components of plant foods.  That means whole food is your best choice.

I like the idea of having extracts of plants with known beneficial phytochemicals added to multivitamins.  These are not as well tested as I would like, but if they are made by a reputable company, I think the chances are good that you would benefit from them, especially if you are not eating 7 to 9 fruits and vegetables a day. But getting phytochemicals from the real thing, whole plant foods is your best bet.

There is a way to eat plenty of nutrients while eating fewer calories.  The trick is choosing foods of high nutrient density. High nutrient density is not strictly defined but, in general, it means foods with a higher ratio of non-caloric nutrients to caloric nutrient. has developed a scoring system for foods that takes into account its nutrient content, i.e. vitamins, minerals, amino acids, healthy fats, calories and much more.  Using this website to search your favorite foods is one way to explore what your most nutrient dense choices would be.

Here are some of your best choices for high nutrient density foods:

  • Cruciferous vegetables or the Mustard family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussells sprouts, mustard greens, collard greens and kale)
  • Dark green or purple leafy vegetables (spinach, Romaine lettuce, turnip greens)
  • Orange or red fruits and vegetables (cantaloupe, watermelon, apricots, peaches, nectarines, apples, cherries, carrots, tomatoes, acorn squash, butternut squash, sweet potato)
  • Citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, satsumas, mandarin oranges, lemons, limes)
  • Berries  (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries)
  • Dark red or purple grapes
  • Red beans, pinto beans, kidney beans and black beans
  • Soy products (tofu, tempeh, soy milk, edamame)
  • Low fat dairy (skim milk, yogurt, kefir, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese)
  • White fish (Cod, flounder, sole)

Stock your refrigerator with  a lot of  low calorie, high nutrient density foods.  When you keep good choices available, you can eat to your hearts content while controlling your weight and feeling confident that you are getting plenty of nutrients.  The combination of nutrients in colorful fruits and vegetables not only provide many of the vitamins and minerals you need, but also other beneficial plant chemicals (phytonutrients) that protect us from disease. So, get your nutrients from the real thing —  whole food — and watch your waistline shrink.

Enjoyment of Eating

May 29, 2010

Enjoyment of food is just as important as eating healthy food. That may surprise you, coming from a nutritionist who preaches prevention.  I try to convince everyone who will listen, that a healthy diet is necessary for a good quality of life because good health is important for a good quality of life.

But the enjoyment of food is also a necessary ingredient of a good life. Although it is true that a healthy diet improves your life by improving your health, if you hate what you are eating, your quality of life will suffer.  You probably won’t stick with it anyway.

What determines what we love to eat or hate to eat?

We experience life through our senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.  Three of these senses affect the way we experience food.

We taste sweet, sour, bitter and tart.  Some tastes give us pleasure while others are repulsive to us. The desire for good tasting food entices us to eat and thereby, nourish our bodies. When elderly people lose their sense of taste they begin to eat less and their weight begins to drop, sometimes to a point that is life-threatening.

Our sense of smell is an equally important way we experience food. There are hundreds of odors that we experience every day. They can stimulate feelings and memories that we may not even be aware of.  Have you ever noticed a smell and gave you a feeling that you couldn’t quite put your finger on?

The smell of food can have a powerful impact on what we find pleasurable or distasteful. This reaction to smells is deep-rooted in our childhood. It can sometimes have more to do with memories and emotions than it does with the quality of the food.  The smell of my grandmother’s rolls cooking in the oven brought up feelings that couldn’t be explained simply by how good they tasted.

Smells have a lot to do with what we think of as comfort food. This visceral reaction to smell is one of the reasons that it is so hard to change the way we eat.

The texture of food, which we experience through our sense of touch, is also an important part of our culinary experience.  Crunchy or smooth, chewy or tough, the feel of food is also associated with pleasure or repulsion.  Some of us enjoy smooth while others need crunchy or chewy to feel there is substance to their food.  A good example of personal preference for texture is peanut butter. Everyone seems to have a definite preference for either crunchy or smooth.

The problem with enjoyment of food in affluent societies.

The problem with enjoyment of food is that those of us, who live in affluent societies, where there are a myriad of choices, can become so obsessed with enjoyment that we forget that food is also for nourishment. Our pleasure-seeking has become dominant and our bodies suffer the consequences.

Our natural attraction to food should ensure that we eat enough to keep us well nourished. But is our food nourishing?  Are we getting enough of the things our bodies really needs?  Nature has provided everything we need for good health, but our food suppliers have tampered with nature.  Processing and refining of foods has disrupted the natural balance.

Some food cravings are like addictions.

Sugar, salt and fat added to foods in excess can impel us to eat more than we need.  We can get control of our addictions to them by gradually reducing the amounts we eat.  We can’t eliminate them, as with drug, alcohol or smoking addictions, because they are an essential part of our food supply.  But we can cut back substantially.

Choosing whole, unprocessed foods and moderate amounts of healthy fats are great ways to cut the excess sugar and fat in our diet. Using herbs and spices to season food in creative ways can improve the quality of our food while reducing the amount of salt, sugar and butter we use.

Enjoyment and nourishment don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

A fresh filet of grilled grouper is just as delicious as a grilled steak, and roasted vegetables can be tastier than French fries.   When we use really fresh foods, we don’t need salt and sugar.  Their natural taste is delicious. This is especially true for locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables picked before they are ripe and transported over long distances, aren’t nearly as tasty.

You can have the best of both worlds.  You can have great taste and great nutrition at the same time.  And having both is essential for a truly great quality of life.  Bon Appetite!

Hunger: How To Avoid It While Losing Weight

May 19, 2010

Hunger is a necessary part of our body’s regulatory system that sustains life.  When someone loses their natural inclination to want food when their body needs it, they may lose weight to an extent that threatens their life.  This often occurs near the end of life in elderly people.  Most of us have the opposite problem.  We desire food in excess of our body’s needs, which has resulted in a dramatic increase in obesity world-wide.

The body’s systems for regulating hunger and satiety (see earlier post) are complex.  It is designed to make sure normal energy metabolism is maintained.  Hunger signals result from psychological, social and conditioning factors, nutrient levels, metabolic processes and gastric contractions.  The body’s signals to prevent under-eating are much stronger, unfortunately, than those that prevent over-eating.

Severe hunger resulting from the lack of food is akin to pain, in terms of the misery and dominance of your attention.  It is difficult to keep up a voluntary state of caloric deficit necessary for weight loss for any length of time.  Here are some tips that will help you cut calories without hunger.

1.  Eat plenty of lean protein with meals. Protein slows the emptying of the stomach, making the meal digest over a longer time, which slows the return of hunger.  Whey protein is particularly effective at reducing intake at the next meal.

2.  Eat foods that are high in soluble fiber every meal.  Soluble fiber slows the rise in blood sugars after meals. If blood sugars rise rapidly after a meal, insulin levels rise rapidly in response. This can cause low blood sugars, or hypoglycemia, to follow, resulting in hunger. Some good sources of soluble fiber are oats, fruit, beans and brown rice.

3.  Eat nutritious snacks between meals, preventing hypoglycemia resulting in hunger.  Frequent eating has been found to reduce overall calorie intake. Your snacks should follow the same principles as your meals.  Nuts, seeds, whole fruit and yogurt are good snack choices. Avoid sweet drinks, including juices, for snacks.

4.  Add a little healthy oil to your meal, such as olive oil, or eat fatty fish, which contain omega 3 fatty acids, or meats that contain more omega 3s such as grass-fed beef or bison. Fats also help extend the time that a meal “lasts”, delaying hunger. Healthy fats don’t delay hunger better than unhealthy fats but they protect your heart.

5.  Low carbohydrate, ketogenic diets help reduce hunger in the short run and result in more rapid weight loss initially, but they tend to have a lower nutritional value, therefore you should not stay on them for long periods of time.