Even the best dietary supplements and vitamin products cannot replace what we get from food

Food As Medicine: Vitamins, Supplements & Other Dietary Products

EVEN THE BEST DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS AND VITAMIN PRODUCTS CANNOT REPLACE WHAT WE GET FROM FOOD

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

Those of us who believe a long life is related to a good diet have something to celebrate this year. In 1912 the term vitamin was first used to describe the compounds in food necessary to prevent nutritional deficiencies.  Now our use of the word vitamin, and the supplements and dietary products they’re found in, is 100 years old!

A Brief History of Food

Before the isolation of the first vitamin and recognition of its importance to health, all people had to worry about when it came to food was getting enough to eat to stay alive. Food choice was based solely on availability. We ate what we could hunt, catch or gather, and when the “local” food supply diminished, we moved on to find food in other places.

Eventually, the ability to grow plants and raise animals made it possible to stay in one place a bit longer, but did not insure there would always be enough food to go around. Unpredictable changes in the weather and other environmental conditions made a feast or famine existence a way of life for most of the world right into the 20th Century.

Advances in agricultural practices in the mid-1900s resulted in bigger crop yields while improvements in storage and distribution allowed more food to reach more people. Finally, there was enough food to allow the nutritional quality to become a point of distinction when making food decisions.

Is the Food Supply Getting Better or Worse?

Many people today think our food is not as good as it used to be. There is no doubt in my mind that what I eat now is quite different from what I ate in my childhood, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the goodness of the food.

An increase in the variety and quantity of food available explains, in part, why what we eat has changed over time. Another reason is the increased information we have about food composition and our nutritional needs. It certainly has become easier to question the quality of our food since we started seeing Nutrition Facts on labels. They weren’t always there.

But I don’t blame the food industry for making food more appealing, convenient, and inexpensive. I also don’t blame them for using all of the technology at their disposal to develop new products and market them so people will want to buy them. That’s their job.

It’s my job to decide what I want to eat. At the end of the day, the quality of my food choices rests entirely with me.

That is why when people ask me what are the best dietary supplements, I always say choose your food wisely. Thirteen unique vitamins have been identified in the last 100 years. The most recent discovery was in 1941 for Folic Acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9. Other possible vitamins to be added to the list are currently under review.

The only way to be sure you are ingesting everything you need for optimal health is to consume a varied diet, because that is where the nutrients are. Vitamins and other dietary products can supplement what you eat, but cannot be relied on to replace food.

 

Diet plays a major role in protecting eye health

Food As Medicine: Nutrients for Eye Health

DIET PLAYS A MAJOR ROLE IN PROTECTING EYE HEALTH

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

Which of your five senses do you most fear losing? I know it’s my sight, and apparently 55 percent of other baby boomers feel the same way. Concerns about eye health are right up there with worries about heart disease and cancer according to a survey by the Ocular Nutrition Society done in 2011.

So why aren’t we doing more to protect our vision?

Nearly half of the survey respondents said they don’t typically have an annual eye exam and even fewer were aware of the ways to keep their eyes healthy. This is a problem we need to focus on (pun intended) since the National Eye Institute projects the number of eye health issues among Americans will double over the next 30 years due the aging of the population.

Nutrients That Protect Your Eyes

Four of the biggest causes of vision trouble – cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy – are linked to good nutrition. Do you know if your diet and supplements are meeting all of your visual needs?

Most people know that Vitamin A is important for good vision after hearing all those carrot jokes growing up. But three other equally important nutrients are less familiar: Omega 3 fatty acids, lutein and zeaxanthin.

The percentage of survey respondents not aware of the role of these nutrients in maintaining eye health were:

  • 60% for Omega 3 fatty acids
  • 66% for Lutein
  • 89% for Zeaxanthin

Omega 3 fats are the ones in oily fish, like salmon and sardines, and in walnuts and flax seeds. Lutein and zeaxanthin are plant pigments most abundant in leafy green vegetables, but also found in pistachio nuts, corn, and egg yolks. A diet including two 3-ounces servings of fish each week 2-3 cups of vegetables every day is a good way to get the needed amounts of each.

If your diet is not that consistent, a dietary supplement may be needed to fill the gaps. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for Omega 3 fatty acids is 1.6 grams/day for men and 1.1 grams a day for women. The National Academy of Sciences has not established aDRIfor Lutein/Zeaxanthin, butcurrent recommendations are 6-10 mg/day for adults.

Other Ways to Take Care of Your Eyes

  • Wear sunglasses, safety glasses and protective sports lenses
  • Replace liquid and creamy eye makeup every 3 months and whenever you develop an eye infection
  • Look away from computers screens for 20 seconds every 20 minutes

At what age did you first need help to correct your vision?

 

 

 

 

Fish oil supplements provide needed omega 3 fatty acids not found in most diets

Why You Shouldn’t Stop Taking Fish Oil Supplements

FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS PROVIDE NEEDED OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS NOT FOUND IN MOST DIETS

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

If this week’s headlines have you thinking you can stop taking your fish oil supplements, keep reading. The headlines and news coverage of the study they were based on do not tell the whole story. But as I’ve said before, it is never a good idea to make a dietary change based on a single news report unless it’s for a food recall, and here’s why.

The research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated whether people taking fish oil capsules had less risk of heart disease and death than those who did not. While the headlines said they did not, several factors limited the findings. The biggest one being that the subjects were not a healthy population, but people who had already suffered heart attacks and strokes. Since most people with a history of cardiovascular disease are taking multiple medications, it simply may not have been possible to tell what impact their fish oil supplements were having on lowering their risk factors.

Key Take-Away: This study provides no indication of how fish oil supplements benefit healthy people, but plenty of others do.

Why Take Fish Oil Capsules?

Fish oil capsules are a source of essential omega 3 fatty acids. An essential nutrient is required by the body, but cannot be manufactured by the body. That means we must get it from food or supplements.

What Types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids Do We Need?

There is not just one omega 3 fatty acid. The name omega 3 simply indicates that there is a double bond (between two carbon atoms) in a specific location on the fatty acid. For dietary purposes, we are most concerned with the types of omega 3s found in fatty fish, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and the type found in plants called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

What Role Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Play in the Body?

Omega 3 fatty acids play a role in several metabolic processes, including reducing inflammation, lowering high triglyceride (blood fat) levels, reducing the pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis, improving cognitive function with aging, aiding the treatment of depression, and enhanced brain development in infants. Research also shows omega 3 may reduce the risk of plaque build up in the arteries, inflammatory bowel disease, Attention Deficit Disorder, bone loss, and psychiatric disorders.

How Much Omega 3 Do We Need?

The Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Science establishes the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for essential nutrients for both the U.S. and Canada. The DRI are intended to satisfy the nutrient needs of most healthy people in each age group. The Acceptable Intake (AI) of omega 3 fatty acids for males and females aged 40-50 years is 1.6grams/day and 1.1 grams/day respectively.

How Much Omega 3 Do We Consume?

Eating 8 ounces a week of a variety of seafood supplies about 1.7 grams of EPA and DHA, which is enough to meet the DRI for adult men and women noted above. But the mean intake of all types of fish eaten by Americans is 3.5 ounces per week, less than half the amount needed to meet the Acceptable Intake. Plant sources of omega 3, such as seed oils, walnuts, and soybeans, supply 1.3-2.0 grams a day of ALA, but less than 5 percent of it is converted to DHA and EPA.

Do We Need Fish Oil Supplements?

All dietary supplements are meant to help fill in the gaps created when we don’t eat all the foods we need in the amounts we need to meet our nutritional needs every day. Fish oil supplement are an excellent way to get essential omega 3 fatty acids if you are not eating 8 ounce/week of seafood, such as salmon, sardines and tuna.

Are you eating all the fish you need each week to get your omega 3s?

Woman with kidney stones standing with hands on her back

Does Calcium Cause Kidney Stones?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

RESEARCH SHOWS CONNECTION BETWEEN DIETARY CALCIUM AND KIDNEY STONES IS BENEFICIAL, DOES NOT CAUSE KIDNEY STONES

The one thing everyone agrees with when discussing kidney stones is how painful they are. Having had them twice in my life I can confirm all reports about how excruciating they are. Childbirth was easier.

What is not so clear is the connection between calcium and kidney stones.

Some new research provides much needed insight into the causes of kidney stones and what we can do to prevent the pain that goes with them.

What Are Kidney Stones?

The most common types of kidney stones are composed of either calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate. Calcium, oxalate and phosphate are all minerals that are part of a healthy diet and are normally dissolved in the urine. Under certain conditions, however, they can precipitate out of solution and form small insoluble stones that are passed through the urinary tract unnoticed.

The biggest contributor to the formation of these stones is not drinking enough fluids. The more fluids we drink the more urine we produce, and the more urine we produce the more diluted the minerals will become in our urine.

Another contributor is a high salt diet. When we have excess sodium in our bodies the kidneys must use all available fluids to dilute the sodium so it can be excreted in the urine. That increases the risk that other minerals will precipitate and form stones.

If stones do form and they become too big to pass easily, they can cause the notorious back pain. This, along with the other tell-tale signs of a kidney problem blood such as blood in the urine and pain while urinating, should send you straight to the doctor.

Does Calcium Cause Kidney Stones?

Even though too little fluid and too much sodium are the leading causes of kidney stones, it was widely believed that calcium was the problem since most kidney stones contain calcium. But studies have shown calcium is not the culprit.

People who have the most calcium in their diets are much less likely to suffer from kidney stones than those who eat very few calcium-rich foods. Here’s why.

We need calcium to remove oxalate, the other half of what makes up most kidney stones. Oxalate is found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and soy products, plus cocoa and black tea. There’s really no avoiding it and maintaining a healthy diet. But the more calcium we have in our digestive tracts, the more it can bind with oxalate and remove it from the body before it can settle in the kidneys.

If we cut back too much on calcium, oxalate can accumulate in the kidneys and create stones with the available calcium.

The key here is that it is dietary calcium that helps, such as that found in dairy products and other calcium-rich foods. Calcium supplements are not as effective and may contribute to stone formation if taken in large quantities.

What Else Can Cause Kidney Stones?

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) has an Information Clearinghouse that answers all of the questions you may have about kidney stones, and more. The key takeaways for anyone wondering what their risk might be are these:

  • Family history of hypercalciuria, a condition of high calcium levels in the urine
  • Personal history of kidney stones
  • Personal history of gout or high uric acid levels in blood or urine
  • Regular use of diuretics (medications to help the kidneys remove fluids from the body)
  • Regular use of calcium-based antacids
  • High dose calcium supplements in people who don’t have osteoporosis (more than 2000 mg/day)
  • High dose vitamin D supplements in people who are not deficient (more than 2000 I.U/day)

Check back here for my next blog about another stony issue, gall stones.

If you take dietary supplements, follow these guidelines for best results.

Dietary Supplements Use Increases as We Age

FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES IF TAKING DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS

More than one half of American adults take dietary supplements. Women are bigger users than men and the use of dietary supplements is steadily rising among those over age 60. If you are among the crowd that takes a daily multivitamin or any self-selected nutrient, herb or related product, there are some important guidelines you should follow.

First, you must remember that no matter how compelling the advertising for dietary supplements may be, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require that the manufacturers prove the safety and effectiveness of their products before they are brought to market. That is left up to the consumer to decide. Do you have money to waste on products that don’t work or can do you harm?

The best way to know if you even need to take supplements is get a thorough dietary assessment from a registered dietitian to find out if there are nutrients missing from your usual diet. A dietitian can then help you decide whether they can be obtained by changes in what or how much you eat or if a supplement is recommended. Why take pills you don’t need?

If you are advised to take a supplement or are doing so on your own, follow these guidelines.

Guidelines for Dietary Supplement Users

  • Bring a current list with you to every doctor’s appointment naming all of the nutritional supplements you take, including the brand, how much of each and how often you take them. Bring it to each of the specialists who treat you as well as to visits with your primary care physician. You may not see a connection between your supplements and your skin condition, but your dermatologist might.
  • Provide a current list to your pharmacist of all of the supplements, over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications you take every time you get a new prescription filled. Ask for advice about potential interactions, side effects or contra-indications for their use.
  • Make a copy of the label for any multivitamin-mineral supplement or other combinations containing herbal and botanical products so the exact amounts of each item in it can be viewed, and offer it to your healthcare professionals. Copies can often be printed from the website for the brand.
  • Don’t assume more is better. Once you are consuming nutrients, herbs or botanicals in amounts that would not be possible if getting them by eating foods, they can be toxic.
  • Beware of the compounding effect that can occur when taking individual vitamin or mineral supplements, plus multivitamins, plus highly fortified foods, like some breakfast cereals, or meal replacement shakes and bars.
  • Don’t take all of your supplements and medications at one time and assume they can sort themselves out in your stomach. You may be canceling out the effectiveness of some and increasing the chance for complications with others.
  • Read the literature that comes with each medication and dietary supplement you take to learn when is the best time to take each, what to take with them and what not to take with them. Make a chart to help keep track of that information.

Would you like to cut down on the numbers of pills you take each day?