Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Sweet Potatoes: Revisited


There is so much conflicting  information about carbohydrates  these days. The simple message is: Cut carbs, but wait- all carbohydrates are not equal. An example is easily shown between a comparison of a sweet potato with a white potato, both of which are common starchy vegetable choices.   A previous post shows us why nutrient density can be more important than simply noting just the calories and carbohydrate grams.



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The Hazards of Diet Supplements

We are a country obsessed with dietary supplements. Try taking them away and see how people resist the idea.  But do we need all those vitamins and minerals- sometimes, especially during key growth periods (pregnancy and childhood)?

So you think that just to be sure, you should take them as insurance against certain diseases. Maybe not. Sometimes excess is not the answer and may become harmful.  A famous example was a study that gave beta carotene  supplements(vitamin A) to smokers. The reason was that beta carotene was thought to be protective against lung cancer since it functions as an antioxidant. The result showed that there were more cases of lung cancer in the vitamin group than in those smokers given a placebo. Subsequent studies supported this finding.

What does the research say? You may be surprised.

Read the article HERE.




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Super Fortified : “Foods” or Supplements?

Should You Get your Nutrients from Super-fortified Foods?

The label on the orange juice container says “calcium added”. The water bottle label says “fortified with vitamin C”; the energy drink s is “fortified with 23 added vitamins and minerals.” Do you need all these extra nutrients ?

These foods may actually act like dietary supplements. If you eat nutritious unprocessed whole foods, you probably do not need fortified foods and even may go over the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL).

The UL is a set of values that are well above the needs of everyone in the population and represents the highest amount of the nutrient that will not cause toxicity symptoms in the majority of healthy people. As intake rises above the UL so does the risk of adverse health effects.

To establish a UL, a specific adverse effect is considered. For example, for niacin, the ill effect is flushing, and for vitamin D it is calcium deposits in soft tissue or kidney damage. For vitamin C it is digestive disturbances. For some nutrients, these values represent intake from supplements alone; for some, intake from supplements and fortified foods, and for others, total intake from foods, fortified food, water and nonfood sources and supplements. For some nutrients, data are insufficient to establish a UL.



“In traditional foods, the amounts of nutrients are small and the way they are combined limits absorption, making the risk of consuming a toxic amount of a nutrient almost nonexistent. On the other hand, this risk rises from eating an excess of a supplement or excessive servings of super-fortified foods.”

Young children may be particularly at risk for toxicity. “A new report says that “millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts” of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, with fortified breakfast cereals the leading source of the excessive intake because all three nutrients are added in amounts calculated for adults.”

“Outdated nutritional labeling rules and misleading marketing by food manufacturers who use high fortification levels to make their products appear more nutritious fuel this potential risk, according to the report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based health research and advocacy organization.”

For example, if you drank the recommended two to three liters of fluids as water fortified with vitamin C, niacin, vitamin E and vitamins B6 and B12, you would exceed the UL for these vitamins. Then add two cups of fortified breakfast cereal and two protein bars during the day, your risk of toxicity increases even more. In many of these products, you also could be getting a not so healthy dose of sugar. Should we be consuming super-fortified foods without a thought? I think not. For a previous post, click HERE.

Source: Lori A. Smolin, Mary B. Grosvenor, Nutrition: Science and Applications. Third Edition.

Source:  USA Today, Michele Healy, June 24, 2014.




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Pink Himalayan Salt? The Facts


Pink Himalayan salt has been claimed by its marketers as superior in health benefits compared to plain old table salt. For  example, some claims not supported by evidence include: reduces signs of aging and detoxifies the body of heavy metals. himalayan

Find out the facts HERE.

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What’s So Great About Spinach?

1 kg of Spinach leaves separated from the stem...

1 kg of Spinach leaves separated from the stems. See Image:spinach_leaves_stems.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Popeye know something? Whose idea was it that this cartoon character pulls out his can of spinach before attempting feats of strength? In every Popeye the sailor cartoon (c.1930), he invariably pulls a can of spinach from his shirt, and eats the entire contents. Upon swallowing the spinach, he displays superhuman powers and he is easily able to save the day from threatening villains.

Spinach originated in Nepal in 647 but spread around the world; by the eleventh century it had reached Europe via North Africa. Often “Florentine” is described when referring to a spinach dish which is attributed to Catherine de” Medici in Florence Italy. Catherine married a French King Henry II  where she taught cooks to prepare spinach, her favorite food.

Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. One serving (1 cup) contains 1111 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin K and 377 percent of vitamin A. It is also rich in vitamins B6, C, and E, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, calcium, thiamine, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients appear in greater concentrations in cooked and frozen spinach. A preferred cooking method is to sauté it in olive oil and pine nuts for a short time to preserve the vitamin and mineral content.

One cup serving of cooked spinach  contains only about 41 calories, 5.4 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of total fat, and 4.5 grams of fiber.

Popeye may not have known that spinach contains a compound called neoxanthin reported to help prostate cancer cells self- destruct. It contains other cancer fighters called flavonoids that in one study slowed down cell division of stomach cancer cells in mice. Another study reported that women  who ate more spinach, the less incidence of breast cancer.

One problem: The Environmental Working Group listed spinach as one of the top twelve foods most contaminated with pesticides. If this is true, eating the organic varieties may be prudent.




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Vitamins and Minerals A-Z

English: These multivitamin tablets contain so...

English: These multivitamin tablets contain some 26 vitamins and minerals. Pack of 250 pictured. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A nice info graph on where to find these valuable vitamins and minerals – and it’s not supplements.