Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Magnesium: The Forgotten Nutrient?


Functions of Magnesium

Magnesium is often a neglected nutrient. Low intakes are common and are associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. Along with an adequate intake of potassium and calcium, these minerals favor a lower risk of hypertension.

50 to 60% of magnesium in the body is found in bone. The rest resides inside the body cells with a small percentage in the blood. It functions in over 300 enzyme systems, many of which involve the release of energy, proper functioning of nerves and muscles including those of the heart and in the many steps of DNA, RNA and protein synthesis. It also affects the metabolism of calcium, sodium and potassium.

How Much Do We Need?

The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) is 400 mg for adults and children over the age of 4. The Upper Tolerable Level (UL) is 350 mg from non-diet sources.

An intake below the RDA is commonly seen in the population but a blatant deficiency is rare. The use of diuretics can increase urinary loss and the use of proton pump inhibitors to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD) can interfere with magnesium absorption.

Food Sources

The best food sources are:

Seeds and nuts

Garbanzo beans

Leafy greens like spinach

Processed foods are poor choices. For example, a cup of whole wheat flour contains about 166 mg. of magnesium. When that grain is refined and thus more processed, the white flour only contains 28 mg.

Magnesium Supplements

Since magnesium is not found abundantly in many foods, magnesium supplementation is popular and claimed to be beneficial for just about any disorder.

Research on the role of magnesium in other medical conditions is sparse. For example, magnesium levels in the body may alleviate the effects of osteoporosis. Dietary magnesium may have some benefit, but using supplements does not appear to have the same effect. The same may be true for its role in controlling hypertension. Its claims often include treating anxiety, ADHD, depression, and muscle cramps; however, most research does not report much help from supplements. One common side effect of magnesium supplementation is its laxative effect with some forms. Magnesium taurate and magnesium glycinate appear to not have this effect.

Always tell your doctor about any supplements you take. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so buyer beware.















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Home Cooking?


If you believe the marketing of the newer fast casual restaurants like Panera Bread or Chipolte, you are eating healthier food than if you go to the traditional  fast food places, aka McDonald’s, etc. A new study begs to differ at least with the calorie count.

Restaurant sales are on the downward trend.  An alternative may be to try the new trend of ordering dinner via the Internet from companies like Blue Apron or Home Chef that deliver to you the fresh ingredients and you do the preparation. This approach offers convenience and saves you a lot of time. You control the calories and are spared the often dreaded trip to the supermarket where you spend so much on “stuff” you really may not need.  You also are not tempted by the snack aisles or the endless display of junk foods and ultra-processed foods.

I personally have never tried these companies but will and blog about the experience soon.


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The Realities of Weight Loss?

Illustration from “Diet and Health with Key to the Calories” by Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters in 1918.


This is so true about how difficult it is to lose weight and keep it off.  Eat less, move more may hopefully work for some; however, for a large majority of obese people, sustained weight loss is extremely complex and is not so easy.  Physicians often just tell people to lose some weight and even worse, the famous advice to “watch their diet.” To be fair, medical schools just do not train most medical students how to treat weight issues, and nutrition goes by the wayside. This may lead  to more guilt and frustration for the obese patient.


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The Confusing World of Whole Grains


Recent research tells us that fiber-rich diets lowers the risk of diabetes and heart disease. This message is hyped by almost every health agency as well as the grain food industry. Although this advice is not inherently wrong, it may contain some caveats for some people.

What is a Whole Grain?

A whole grain in its pure intact, unprocessed form, it is a seed that has three major components – the outer bran (a fiber-rich coating), the inner endosperm (mainly containing starch) and the germ (a reproductive kernel).

What is a Refined Grain?

Refined grains usually only contain the endosperm as the germ and the bran is stripped away during processing. If it is enriched, some but not all nutrients are put back – thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, iron and folate.

Does a product always contain 100% whole grains?

A new definition adopted by the FDA in 2006, states “whole grain” refers to any product containing 51% by weight of a mixture of bran, endosperm and germ in the proportions one would expect to see in an intact grain can be considered a whole grain.

What are the Whole Gain Council Stamps?

A label can say “whole grain” but that does not guarantee it is all whole grain. You should look for Stamps on the front of the package.

If it bears the 100% Stamp, all of its grain ingredients are whole. These brands also contain at least 16 grams (one full serving) of whole grain per serving, according to the Whole Grain Council. If it bears the Basic Stamp, it contains at least 8 grams (a half serving) of whole grains per serving, but may also fit the FDA definition –  some refined grain or less than 51% of whole grains by weight.

What are the Health Benefits of Whole Grains?

Since products only have to contain only 51% of the separated whole grain components, they may have less fiber and lower nutrient levels so the claimed benefits may not apply to these products.

For example, for a product meeting the new definition, a person would have to eat 10 bowls of Multigrain Cheerios, 16 slices of whole wheat bread or nine cups of brown rice to get the recommended fiber intake for one day.

What Do the Critics of Whole Grains Say?

Critics say that most grains cannot be eaten in their natural state, i.e, they must be milled and ground to some degree so all grains undergo some processing. They also say that grains contain what is referred to “anti-nutrients” like phytates that can interfere with the absorption and assimilation of minerals. Oatmeal is an exception. Oats are different from wheat, rye and barley .Oats are minimally processed and retain their bran and germ that give us all the true benefits of whole, intact grains. (unless they are the instant kinds).

What About the Fiber?

As far as fiber goes, many grains are not much better than refined grains. Look at the cereals and you will find it hard to find a serving of cereal grains that provide more than 1 or 2 grams of fiber unless intact whole grains like oats or bran is present.

What are Fiber Rich Foods?

The power-house foods loaded with fiber are avocado (11 grams) or a serving of beans with 11-7 grams as well as fruits, vegetables and legumes. The endosperm of grains is starch-rich (chains of glucose) that can raise blood sugar levels very quickly, especially in diabetics.

What About Gluten?

Then there are the gluten issues found in wheat, rye, and barley. There has been an increase in the number of celiac sufferers and now there is evidence that some people may be non-celiac gluten sensitive. Wheat is also heavy in fructans that are chains of carbohydrates that may trigger symptoms in irritable bowel patients.

Should You Give Up on Whole Grains?

Of course, not – whole grains are an excellent source of calories and nutrients. However, most of these nutrients and calories are also found in other foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products. There is a slight edge in eating whole grains instead of refined grains – all the nutrients lost in processing are not put back, just the five previously mentioned that are required by law.

What If I Have Digestive Problems with Grains?

If you like them and they do not cause undesirable symptoms, eat them.  The benefits are there when the whole intact grain is present. However, most grain products- cookies, biscuits, cereals, do not contain the whole intact grain. They are not the best bet since many of them can also be high in sugar and fat.

What to Do

Read the labels carefully, especially the ingredient labels

Find an excellent guide HERE. 



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The Sensible Approach to Healthy Diets?

farmersmarketsign_tnAre you tired of being told to eat a plant-based diet? Do you find that conversion to a vegan diet impossible?  Did your doctor suggest you follow a healthy diet? Think about trying the approach of becoming a Flexitarian.  It can put you in control of your diet and at the same time start to incorporate a sensible approach to dietary health and still enjoy a moderate amount of meat, poultry, or fish without guilt.


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What is “Real Food”?

Strawberries provide lots of good nutrition and can be cancer fighters.

Strawberries provide lots of good nutrition and can be cancer fighters.

What exactly is “real food”?   The following article brings up some good definitions. In my opinion, it is food that is not highly processed. The fewer ingredients, the better. All foods contain unpronounceable chemicals, but ultra processing requires the addition of many chemicals we may not need for nourishment.