Supplements/Vitamins - yes or no?

I'll start with the 'full disclosure': my wife and I take supplements (we have for 25 years, since Becky's first round of cancer, through two additional rounds, and now through advanced heart failure resulting from the cancer treatments), and starting less than a year ago, we also sell them. Just wanted to let you know of my bias up front.

Half the people in this country think they are a good enough idea that they buy and take them.  Is it worth it? That depends...

First it depends on if you think we even need them.  Some say we can get all we need nutritionally from the regular food we eat.  Others beg to differ.

Second, if you believe supplements/vitamins are helpful, even necessary, then you are stuck with the challenge of finding good ones. The industry is basically unregulated - it is 'buyer be ware' and a bit like the 'Wild West'.

I believe we need them and I know from experience you can get high quality supplements (that dramatically improve health) at an affordable price.  Here is my thinking process:

First - nutritional levels in food, and reasons to supplement.  Here is a short version of why I don't think we are getting all we need from our food.

  1. Distance from production and changes in characteristics of the food to accommodate long distance travel. (eg: tomatoes much tougher skin than before, to withstand hauling - farther from the vine; has the change affected nutritional level? Time to the grocery store shelf has increased.
  2. Production methods and fertilizers - synthetic vs natural. Study finds pesticides in the urine of Chicagoland school age students.
  3. Picking early so they are not over ripe at the store, (distance is longer) and the plant is leaving nutrients behind that only go into the fruit/vegetable right as they ripen on the vine.
  4. Lots of post harvest handling and bruising.
  5. Processing and packaging is much more common - the more of it, the less nutrients that are left; plus added irradiation and coatings.
  6. Lifestyle: While we could do better, our fast paced life makes that very difficult. We need to fill the gaps.
  7. The added problem for people like Becky - compromised health means they have a much higher need for nutrients (the bodies tools to repair and heal) and can't eat enough volume of food to get the nutrient level their bodies need.

Second - I do believe that all supplements/vitamins are not created equal.  The quality varies significantly.  Our suggestions:

  1. Stick with 'whole food' sourced supplements. "Natural" can mean many things that have never been in the human food chain. The body often doesn't recognize or utilize synthetic versions.
  2. History of the company; how long in business, track record, references, etc.
  3. Do you know anyone who uses them and is it making a real difference. (we used to get all our food from someone we knew and could look them in the eye if we had a problem.)
  4. Affordability - (there are factors...) Cheap and ineffective is not much of a bargain.

We've seen many real life examples of what a strong nutritional boost can do for as simple a thing as warding off the common flu and cold to dramatic and long term weight management, migraine headache control, diabetes management, quicker healing from surgery, and much more.  The body is designed well. We just need to give it the best of, and enough of, what it needs.

Want more info? Look over our web page and contact us.

More on Food as Medicine.

I posted about this recently. Here is another look at the subject, this time an M.D. in the Minneapolis - St Paul area who is taking the health benefits of good nutrition seriously. Great to see. She is essential 'prescribing' food to do what she used to prescribe pharmaceuticals to accomplish.

My favorite quote is: "My patients' cholesterol levels and blood pressure numbers were good, but they all looked and felt awful," she said, "and I realized that what I was doing was just making numbers look good and not treating the underlying problems of diet and nutrition."

Yes! I've experienced that myself. Encouraging to see this approach. Hope others will follow the lead. Check out this post to see a growing wave of pros who are doing just that.

Is there a 'better' sugar?

Thanks to Dr Katz for this link about sugars (a good advantage of following some people you know who are professionals and are watching for the same kinds of things you are).

Are Sugar Really That Different? This article walks us through a wide variety of the options (note they are all natural sweeteners) and gives us the low-down on how healthy they are.  Turns out the basic bottom line is "choose your favorite" and "limit your consumption" - No, REALLY limit your consumption.

From the article:  "Ultimately, at the digestive level, your body doesn’t differentiate the food sources of any of these simple sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that most men and women limit their intake of added sugars to no more than 150 calories for men and no more than 100 calories for women. That’s not a lot.  For example, one tablespoon of table sugar has approximately 48 calories and about 12 grams of sugar. So women should limit their intake to two tablespoons (six teaspoons) max and men, three tablespoons (9 teaspoons). How much sugar do you add to your morning coffee? How much is in the cereal you eat for breakfast? Many people are already in excess of their daily sugar intake before their mid morning snack!"

One teaspoon of granulated sugar is about 4 grams (since most of the labels give portion size in grams). A little detective work in your grocery store can quickly show how fast sugar adds up. Raisin Bran for breakfast is already 18 grams of sugar in one serving (assuming you only take the one and one quarter cup serving!). That is already 4.5 teaspoons of sugar... almost all of what women need for the day and fully half of what men need, just at breakfast!

So what about artificial sweeteners? You can check out a Harvard study for some insight.  Generally, the research I read says replacing natural sugar with artificial sugar is the classic 'jumping from the frying pan into the fire'.

Helpful Health Professionals...

I've posted about Dr David Katz before. He is worth paying attention to when it comes to prevention for health care.  Another one I just bumped into is Dr Tom Rifai. He has two facebook pages - one for himself and one for his RealityMeetsScience 'prevention' approach to medicine.  Both are helpful to track.  And I also saw him on a Fox 2 News (Detroit) news segment called: "The Dr Is In" as he spoke with Deena, the host, about Calorie Density (which I've posted on before as well).

Resources for Healthy Eating...

I've just posted a number of resources focused around healthy eating. Here is a quick look at them all:

1. Calorie Density by nutrition label and by food group. This is a very practical look at how to get the best combination of calories (we need those for energy) and nutrients (we need those to build and maintain our cells). This is especially helpful if you are prone to getting too many calories and want to reduce calories but not nutrient level.

2. Food labels are important... the advertising hype seldom is.  This is a quick look at how food companies try to influence us to buy their product and how to see past their efforts. And sticking with food companies (there are only about eleven of them that are responsible for all the thousands of different processed food products) this is a look at addictive food, how the companies know what they are doing and why we need to be informed. And sticking with food labels even longer, David Katz shares some very helpful info about sugar in general and "total added sugar" specifically to help us make informed decisions.

3. Sometimes the perception is that the really healthy food is just too expensive. This article gives helpful hints at buying affordable organic food. And this one takes a look at providing healthy food for the food banks and those who rely on that source of food.

4. There is an article on how to use the sense of "feeling full" to our health advantage. And also a look at exercise in the work place - specifically at the work desk - to boost productivity (and health at the same time!).

5. Plus a quick look at a very helpful book: "God, Health and Happiness" by Dr Scott Morris. Easy to read and a though-provoking look at our health care system, the church's role in that system, and a biblical view of whole person health.

God, Health and Happiness

I commend the book "God, Health and Happiness" by Dr Scott Morris of the Church Health Center in Memphis, TN.  I'm using it as the basis for a three week study on health and wellness at St Paul Lutheran in Melrose Park, IL. (A later edit: The title has been changed to Health Care You Can Live With. Same exact book, different title.)

Scott speaks from the medical pro side of things but also as a Pastor - because he is both, and has been from the beginning, more than 25 years ago. The book is very readable, with 33 very short chapters that walk you through the current state of our health care and how we got here, the church's history with health care, a biblical perspective on whole person health and suggestions for moving forward, personally and as a congregation.

Feeling Full...

Satiety is the technical term. Not hard to see other words that are related - satisfaction, saturation; satiety is the point when we feel full from eating.  Our challenge in this Western culture is that our sensitivity to that feeling has been blunted. (If you eat all they give you at a typical restaurant, you'll typically pass the healthy stopping point for satiety.)

This article gives a helpful look at 'feeling full'. They call it the 'hunger scale', rated from 0 = empty (those of us in the Western world rarely ever get here!) all the way up to 10 = Stuffed.  (So, how was your Thanksgiving dinner?).  The scale by itself is interesting and can be helpful, but the article continues with some thoughts on how to use the scale to train our ability to know when we are at a healthy state of 'satiety'. 

As an aside, if you check out the "Blue Zones" study, you learn that, in the countries/locations where people live measurably longer lives, they generally eat until they are 80% full (think 7 or 8 on the hunger scale). 

The article on feeling full gives three simple steps to see if your "fullness meter" needs re-tuning: 1. Rate your hunger before you start to eat; 2. Rate your hunger half way through the meal; 3. Rate your hunger at the end of the meal.  Just paying attention to your feeling of fullness will heighten your awareness and sensitivity. If weight is an issue for you, it may help you to tune in to the 80% full feeling more accurately.  Of course, what you are eating makes a difference in your ability to stop at 80% - check out some info on addictive food.

Food banks giving healthier food - produce

So, we are worried about our diet and eating healthier foods.  Think about those who have to rely on handouts. They do get food but often it is very unhealthy. Here is an interesting article about Doctors "prescribing" fresh produce. They only way they can do it is with a partnership with the local food bank... and the local food bank needs help from others.

Or you can find a farmer who wants to farm in the inner city, no, really!  You can read about a 1.3 acres working farm in the middle of Indianapolis that helps people who live in a food desert. This farmer turned over half of his 36 acre farm over to his non-profit and raised 420,000 lbs of food for the people who are food insecure.  While I worked for Wheat Ridge Ministries (who has given grants to congregations to start community gardens) I visited various churches who provided produce for the local food bank.  One, St John Lutheran in Napa, CA is serious about the project and at 15,000 lbs per year is the #1 provider of fresh produce for the local food banks. 

See what is happening in your area and perhaps your church could help... Lots of churches are realizing how much grass they cut each week and turning some of it into gardens for local food needs.

Can you afford organic?

I came across a helpful article on affording organic food.  Before I comment on the article a quick (I hope) word about 'why organic' in general.  I've seen articles that show that organic is "no more nutritious than non-organic vegetables". Research is mixed. Some say 'Yes'. Some say 'No'. I hope the "yes" wins out, but even if it didn't we'd buy organic anyway. We buy it mainly for another reason: pesticides in the urine. There was also a study done on suburban Chicago school-age kids (close in suburbs like River Forest) and the results were similar (sorry, I can't find that reference today.).

Back to the article - Well written and short; they give nine practical ways to cut costs and still buy organic. When they talk about becoming a member of a local farm they mean: CSA - Community Supported Agriculture; even in very urban locations you can find farmers who will sell to you this way and many of those are organic as well, plus I like to know where our stuff comes from.