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.

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.

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.

Dr David Katz - total added sugar.

I appreciate the work of Dr David Katz. He has a recent article that has much to say about sugar. The second point he makes is about 'total added sugar'. We've been posting recently about food labels a couple different times. This section from Katz highlights the efforts by the food companies to make the product look healthier than it is. Sugar can come in many forms with many names and by separating them into the various names, it is possible to make the product look like it has less sweetener in it than it really does. Katz argues for simplifying things and forcing the label to have a line: "total added sugar". Makes good sense.

The other stuff he says in the article is helpful also, as is his NuVal food scoring system and the work he does with Lifestyle Medicine. I commend his work to you for keeping up on what is healthy - or not. (Other helpful approaches to medical care are called Integrative Medicine andFunctional Medicine.)

Addictive food

Here is a very interesting article about addictive foods.  It tells about a number of things. First, it recounts the story from back in 1999 when an executive from Pillsbury, James Behnke, gathered the top execs from the eleven companies who ruled the processed food market and were battling each other for what they called "stomach share". The agenda was the growing childhood obesity problem. James was a scientist by training and "...In the months leading up to the C.E.O. meeting, he was engaged in conversation with a group of food-science experts who were painting an increasingly grim picture of the public’s ability to cope with the industry’s formulations — from the body’s fragile controls on overeating to the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still. It was time, he and a handful of others felt, to warn the C.E.O.’s that their companies may have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns..."  He led the executives through 114 slides that detailed the growing crisis. His hope was to get some movement as a group in a healthier direction.

Reports are that Steve Sanger, head of General Mills (who was taking over large sections of the grocery store shelves and "stomach share" spoke up and responded along these lines: "...he reminded the group that consumers were “fickle.” (Sanger declined to be interviewed.) Sometimes they worried about sugar, other times fat. General Mills, he said, acted responsibly to both the public and shareholders by offering products to satisfy dieters and other concerned shoppers, from low sugar to added whole grains. But most often, he said, people bought what they liked, and they liked what tasted good. “Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he reportedly said, taking on the voice of the typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good...General Mills would not pull back. He would push his people onward, and he urged his peers to do the same.” That essentially ended the meeting.

The author goes on to say: "...So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive..."

The article continues with a description of the rise of Dr Pepper, what is called the "bliss point", Oscar Mayers bologna crisis, and Frito-Lay's search for a designer sodium. It also shares results from a 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that describes the problem with potato chips, and of course, what discussion about junk food/addictive food would be complete without a story about Coca-Cola.

The individual consumer is hardly able to compete with the cash and resolve to make money displayed by the few companies that rule the processed food aisles... which is most of the store!

Did you fall for these?

Speaking of food labels, as a general rule it is best to pay very little attention to what the front of the box says. It is mostly hype and designed to change our minds/get us to buy the product.  They can easily say things that are 'not-a-lie' but, when you look at all the information, not really accurate or helpful in making an informed decision. Here is a good article about just that trick used to sell cereal.