Monday, October 24, 2011

The Vitamin Debate: Con (Part 1)

Do you need to take a daily multivitamin (MVI)?  Is there validity to doubling up on vitamin C when a cold is on the horizon?  The debate regarding dietary supplements is controversial and not exactly clear cut.  I decided to approach this topic as a 2 part series to cover all the sides.  I’m not going to tell you what to do because everyone is different and requires individual plans to meet one’s daily nutrient needs.  Look at all the sides and talk to your Doctor if you have special medical concerns.

 If you walk into the average American home you are bound to find a variety of vitamins and minerals lining the cabinet shelves.  Dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and botanicals, have become quite trendy these past few years.  Truthfully, people have been using herbs and botanicals for over 2000 years as forms of alternative medicine but the amount of processed “bottled” herbs has grown notably in popularity.  Some examples of botanical supplements are Echinacea, Black Cohosh, Fenugreek, and Ginkgo.  Popular vitamins/minerals include D, E, K, C, and calcium.  

 Keep in mind regarding the negatives of dietary supplements:
  • They don’t have the same rigorous standards as prescription drugs i.e. they don’t have to be tested for effectiveness and safety before they are sold so it’s hard to know if and how they’ll work.  Dietary supplements are only required by the FDA to list the contents, amount of active component per serving, and any added ingredients like flavoring or fillers.  Unlike prescription drugs, these specifications don’t tell us much.
  • They may interact with your medications i.e. Coumadin and vitamin K; St. John’s Wort may reduce the effectiveness of some drugs for depression or seizures.
  • If a health claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 
  • Some vitamins have toxicity levels such as vitamin A, D, E, and K so make sure those vitamins on the label are less than 100% and don’t take a MVI and a separate pill of those vitamins
  • The added fillers and colorings in MVIs make it hard for the body to absorb so most of the vitamin is excreted in the urine
  • Excessive supplementation may have side effects i.e. too much vitamin C may cause diarrhea; extra calcium and vitamin E may raise the risk of prostate cancer
  • Make sure there is no phosphorus in your MVI since it interferes with calcium absorption and is abundant in the American diet

These are some of the reasons supplements may not be the best way to get your nutrients.  Sign up on the right to receive notifications of new blog posts via e-mail and stay tuned for the second part on supplements.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Food Safety: From Shopping to Storing

In my clinical nutrition background, food safety was only a topic broached with immunosuppressed patients (i.e. cancer, HIV, and post-transplant).  There have been several foodborne illness outbreaks in the past week that makes me think there is a broader audience here in need of food safety education.  Here are a few tips to keep you and your loved ones safe from shopping to storing.

  • Purchase perishable items last
  • Take food straight home to the fridge or freezer

  • Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf so it can’t drip on anything: this may take a couple days so plan ahead
  • Run meat under cold water until thawed and cook immediately
  • Thaw in microwave on defrost setting making sure to rotate regularly

  • Avoid cross contamination: use separate cutting boards for meat and produce.  I love the flexible cutting boards with different pictures to help keep food separate.
  • Scrub all produce with warm water and soap or vinegar using a veggie brush.  They also sell veggie washes.  Even melons need to be washed because once you cut into the melon, the knife brings the exterior dirt or bacteria to the interior of the fruit.
  • Don’t place cooked food on a plate that previously had raw meat: this happens often at a BBQ

  • Cook ground beef to at least 160oF
  • Cook poultry to 165oF
  • I suggest investing in a meat thermometer like this one which has a timer that alarms you when the food has reached the correct temperature. Thermometers should be placed in the thickest area of the meat, but not in fat or near bone. 

  • Refrigerator should be no higher than 40°F and the freezer 0°F
  • Refrigerate/Freeze food within 2 hours of purchase or preparation
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within 4 days or freeze them right away
  • Leftovers may only be reheated once so it is advised to divide leftovers into smaller containers so you don’t have to throw out the excess once reheated.  I recommend quart-sized containers.  For example, you make a pot of meatballs for dinner and freeze the leftovers in a large container.  When you reheat the meatballs the next week for dinner, you must throw out any leftovers since you can only reheat once. The reason for this is that passing food through the "temperature danger zone" (41°F to 135°F) more than once increases the risk for the growth of spore-forming or dangerous bacteria.
Keeping these food safety tips in mind will help keep foodborne illness out of your homes.   
Have fun in the kitchen but clean up afterwards!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Eating To Fast

I recognize that fasting is meant to bring us to a higher spiritual plane and help us concentrate on what’s important about the day.  The intensity of atoning for a year of sins should make anyone forget about their hunger right?  For some perhaps, but I usually have a hard time thinking about anything else.  It’s not even that I’m in immense pain or suffering from extreme fatigue.  It’s more that I really want a slice of pizza.
This year I’ll try to approach it from a science perspective.  It takes roughly 1 month for a person to die from starvation but a only 1 week to die from dehydration.  Water is the key.  How many pre-fast dinners has your mother warned you to keep drinking water?  You just stuffed your belly with chicken, roast veggies, rice, and salad and she wants you to keep drinking? So you do and you go into the fast strong and full.  By the morning though, you feel just as hungry as usual so where did you go wrong?
True, it’s crucial to hydrate properly prior to a fast but overeating is a common mistake.  You should eat to feel satisfied and make sure to drink water the whole day before.  Overeating requires use of stored water to aid in digestion so you’re depleting your water stores before the fast even starts! 
Additionally, carbohydrates help store water so make sure your meal has a higher amount of starch than protein.  The protein will help with the first 4 hours of the fast but the carbs will help keep you hydrated into the next day.  That’s why endurance athletes “carb-load” before a marathon.  They follow a low carb diet in the days leading up to the event, than have a big pasta meal the night before.  Some even claim to be able to see their muscles expanding!
Some good meal ideas are beef and potato stew, fish with brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes, or chicken vegetable stir fry served with brown rice.  Watermelon makes a great dessert because of its water and high sugar content.  If you’re not a water person, try a sports drink (Gatorade, PowerAde) or juice to help provide fluid and extra carbs but avoid any caffeinated beverages.  You should limit the added salt but the meal doesn’t have to be bland: try fresh herbs, dried spices, or lemon juice for flavor.
 I wish you all a tolerable and meaningful fast and remember to give thanks for all the good in your lives. For more on Yom Kippur, click here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Grocery Maze

Like any other business, supermarkets are set up to make a profit.  Knowing your way around the place will give you a better chance of buying healthier items and wasting less time.  Since grocery stores are somewhere most of us visit weekly, it’s definitely in our best interest to learn some navigation tips!  I made this map to illustrate a common layout of a supermarket.  This map is actually based on the Stop & Shop I use.    

Keep to the Perimeter (green areas on the map)- this is where the healthiest freshest foods are found.
  • Choose a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Opt for whole grain baked goods i.e. whole wheat, rye, multi-grain
  • Select lean (low fat) meats
  • Go for low fat dairy products (skim or 1%)
  • If you like juice once in a while, choose 100% fruit juices
The dry food aisles (red area on the map)  have some nutritional foods but be careful and read the labels:
  • For breads, make sure the first ingredient is whole wheat flour
  • Choose cereal with at least 3g fiber per serving and watch the added sugar
  • Frozen veggies and fruit are just as good as fresh (and sometimes better since they’re usually picked at their prime).  Make sure the ingredients are just fruit with nothing added.  I always have frozen produce on hand!
It is helpful to know what you need going in and try to stick to your shopping list.  This will ensure a quicker healthier trip.  Healthy shopping!

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