Saturday, July 30, 2011

To Supplement Vitamin B-12...Or Not?


I was asked recently about the wisdom of taking mega doses of vitamin B-12.  Websites promise these supplements will increase energy and metabolism, boost thyroid function, cure depression and prevent Alzheimer's disease. Some weight loss programs even provide inject able B-12 as a diet aid. With claims like that, why wouldn't you take it?

First things first: don't believe everything you read on the Internet! Inaccurate information from questionable sites are abundant. Google searches of vitamin and mineral supplements often end up taking you into sites simply trying to sell their products. Others are known to stretch, twist, or even avoid scientific evidence to make a point or sale. Look for reputable sites: Harvard Health, WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and government sites such as USDA and FDA.

It's always better to get to get vitamins and minerals from foods whenever possible. Supplements can't replicate all the wonderful things the whole food package provides: fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals, which may protect against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Taking large or mega doses of some supplements can be dangerous. These can act as a medication, interact with medications you already take, or create a toxicity. Always check with your doctor before taking anything more than 100% of the Daily Value (DV) to make sure it is safe and advisable for you.

What about vitamin B-12?  B-12 is important for healthy nerve cells, red blood cell formation, and for development of neurotransmitters in the brain. This currently popular vitamin is water soluble and found naturally in fish, poultry, meat, dairy, and eggs, and in some fortified breads and cereals. Most people who eat at least some animal products have no trouble consuming plenty of B-12.

People who are at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiencies include vegetarians who eat not animal products (vegans) and those with nutrient absorption problems due to surgery, disease, or aging. Vegans, women who are pregnant, nursing, or those on a reduced calorie consumption are encouraged to take vitamin supplements that include B-12. Your doctor can order a blood test to check this out if problems are suspected. Long term deficiencies can increase the risk of anemia, fatigue, depression, and maybe even heart disease. These are the only group of people who will really benefit from Vitamin B-12 supplements, and will often experience more energy, happier mood, and better memory.

And those miraculous B-12 claims? Studies at this point have shown that B-12 does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve memory, slow the decline of cognitive function in Alzheimer's patients, improve exercise performance, increase energy, lessen depression, increase metabolic rate, delay aging or even help with weight loss. One piece of good news: mega doses of B-12 are considered safe for most people. But, as one of my professors used to say, taking more vitamins than your body needs only creates expensive urine. And with the cost of some of the pills, very, very expensive urine.!

Try to eat a wide variety of good, nutritious foods every day, including lean meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
If you are at risk for low levels of vitamin B-12, talk with your doctor about the right supplements to take and foods to eat to help you feel your best.

Vitamin B-12 in Foods

Micrograms (mcg)
per serving
Percent DV*
Liver, beef, braised, 1 slice
Clams, cooked, breaded and fried, 3 ounces
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving
Trout, rainbow, wild, cooked, 3 ounces
Salmon, sockeye, cooked, 3 ounces
Trout, rainbow, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces
Cheeseburger, double patty and bun, 1 sandwich
Haddock, cooked, 3 ounces
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving
Yogurt, plain, 1 cup
Beef, top sirloin, broiled, 3 ounces
Tuna, white, 3 ounces
Milk, 1 cup
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce
Beef taco, 1 taco
Ham, cured, roasted, 3 ounces
Egg, large, 1 whole
Chicken, roasted, ½ breast

Try a Recipe for a Frozen Yogurt, Vitamin B-12 Loving Smoothie:

Put in blender:
      6 - 8 oz light, any flavor or plain fat-free yogurt (lemon is my favorite)
     1/3 cup orange juice
Put cover on securely and blend.
While still going, add until thick:
     1/2 - 2/3 cup frozen berries or other fruits

165 calories, 0 g fat, 250 mg calcium, 1.4 mcg vitamin B-12, and 100% yum
Counts as 3 Units

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Dad, My Inspiration

I'm sitting next to my Dad while he sleeps in his hospital bed.  He had hip replacement surgery on Monday, and Mom and I are providing the support team.

Dad's 82 years old.  And he's amazing.  Other than his hip, he's in great shape. Low blood pressure, great heart, lungs, and blood sugar. He never thought his hip hurt that much, at least not enough to do something about it until two months ago.

My folks live in the same house on 2 1/2 acres of wooded land that they've had for 49 years. Dad mows his own lawn (albeit now with a small tractor), shovels the deck and runs the snow blower in the winter, unless it's way too deep.  His garden is considerably less than the 1/2 acre it once was when we were kids, but he still plants, weeds and hoes it by himself.  Mom pitches in occasionally for the harvesting process. They both volunteer everywhere, including Dad's work at the 4-H farm. And to top that off, they both go to senior exercise class twice a week at the local university.  Heck, these two eighty-somethings even park far away and walk to their class!

When Dad's doctor came to check on him the first night after the surgery, he mentioned that the whole surgical team couldn't believe he was almost 83. He really does look much younger, he's fit and he's kept his weight at a healthy level for as long as I can remember.  Not too many hip replacement patients can say the same.

Exercise isn't new to him.  He was one of the first wave of health conscious Americans. Around 1968, Dad would come home from work and take my brother and me jogging. Dad recalls reading a book about jogging.  I would wager it was written by Bill Bowerman, University of Oregon track and field coach, who is credited with getting people running for health. Along with the millions of people started jogging in the 60's, others were getting fit with the help of "Aerobics," a book written by Air Force physician Kenneth Cooper.  My dad was on the cutting edge of fitness. He kept running until he could do it no more. At that point, he and my mom walked together.

They always ate plenty of vegetables from the garden, fruits, and lots of milk, cheese and ice cream---Dad was a professor of Dairy Science (nutrition for cows!)  Mom was a home economics major. Between the two of them well balanced meals were simply their way of life.

As I think about all of this, I realize that he has been my inspiration. Perhaps without ever really thinking about it, his interests influenced mine as I went into dietetics and exercise physiology. And looking at him now, it should be very apparent to anyone that making healthy choices in life really can make a difference. When he's fully recovered from this surgery, you can bet he'll be right back out there doing everything he had been doing, and probably more.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"One Big Puff Ball"

Anne doesn't like it when her hands and feet swell up in hot weather. She lives in a more southern state, and its summertime---she knows heat. Her hands and legs seem to gets worse when she's exercising. I'm sure many of you can relate to her!

At any temperature, consuming too little fluid can also cause water retention. It also happens when the thermometer rises higher than what your body is accustomed to. One of our MM groupies describes swelling up like, "one big puff ball." She's obviously not a fan of the effect. At first glance, water retention in hot weather doesn't seem to make sense. When it's hot and humid, it seems like you'd sweat off all that extra body water. What's going on?

Water is a critical part of the body's cooling mechanism. When your body heats up from activity, exercise or when temperatures rise---you sweat.  Evaporation of sweat from you skin helps to cool the body.

The human body is a brilliant machine. When it gets hotter, a little safety switch goes on warning of potential danger. The body reacts by holding onto extra water--- like a sponge. In fact, blood plasma (the water part of the blood) can increase 10% when an athlete works out in a hotter environment. The secret is to drink plenty of fluids and to have a little patience. After your body acclimates to the heat and it's sure that plenty of fluids are coming in, your cells will release all that excess fluid-- squeezing out the sponge. Blood plasma volume goes back to normal within a few days as the body adjusts to the heat.

But, don't go over board drinking way too much water. If an extremely high amount is consumed, a potentially life threatening condition may develop called hyponatremia.  In this case, too much water swells up in the cells, causing the electrolytes to become diluted, including sodium and potassium. Normal sodium levels are vital for proper muscle contraction and relaxation, transfer of nerve impulses and kidney function.  When cells are water logged and are abnormally low in sodium, blood volume increases making the heart and kidneys work harder. Brains cells can also swell. Headache, mental confusion, fatigue, convulsions, hallucinations, coma and even death can occur.

To avoid hyponatremia, be sure to consume a small amount of sodium when significantly increasing water consumption. Athletes who work out over an hour and/or in hot, humid environments are encouraged to drink beverages with electrolyte replacement such as Gatorade. This is also recommended when you are faced with anything that may raise your body temperature: higher heat index, fever, etc.  Another way to handle this would be to use a bit more salt on foods, though most Americans consume well over the recommended 2300 mg of sodium each day. Good potassium sources include oranges, tomatoes, bananas, yogurt, dried beans and leafy greens. Eating 5 fruits and veggies a day goes a long way to assure good potassium levels.

Some people find a natural craving toward saltier foods in hot weather. It is possible your body's asking for a bit more salt for electrolyte balance, But be careful as you head for the chips. Most of these salty snack foods offer little nutritional value and a high amount of refined carbohydrate, salt and fat. Definitely not a nutritional powerhouse. Beware, as that old Lay's Potato Chip TV commercial is true for many of us, "Bet you can't eat just one!" A taste leads to a bite, and bite to a few, and an few leads to a pound...right on our stomachs!  Craving something salty?  Try a dill pickle, one of my friends favorite tricks in the heat of the moment! Keep in mind, too much salt makes many of us retain water, too, so don't go overboard.

Bottom line? If you're feeling puffy, relax. Drink plenty of fluids and give your body time to acclimate to hotter temperatures and release the excess body water. If you are sweating continually for more than an hour, sprinkle a little more salt on your broccoli, grab a banana, and be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables along with that water!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Easy Tuscan Vegetable Chowder

We have another favorite MM reader recipe to share.  This chowder is loaded with all sorts of healthy nutrients and is so filling and simple to make.  It's also very adaptable to whatever vegetables may be available at the time. Once you try this, you'll want to make extra to put in individual containers and freeze for a quick meal later. A trip to the farmer's market may be in order before you make it!

Easy Tuscan Vegetable Chowder

In a large pot, saute until tender:
     1 Tbsp olive oil
     3 cloves garlic, minced
     1 cup onion, diced
     1 cup carrot, diced
     1/2 cup celery, diced
     2 cups vegetable broth*
     2 cans petite diced tomatoes*
     1 can cannelli beans
     1 cup chopped kale
     ! Tbsp fresh thyme (or 1/4 tsp dried)
     1 cup fresh or frozen green beans
     1/2 tsp salt
     1 cup frozen veggie crumbles**
     1 tsp fennel seed
     1/2 tsp pepper
 Simmer for 15 minutes or until kale is tender.

Makes 6 servings
Nutritional Data:  128 calories, 4 g fat, 0 cholesterol, 603 g sodium,* 14 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 9 g protein.  Rich source of fiber and vitamin A, C, and K.
Count 3 Units

*low sodium is a better choice and will bring down the sodium level
**You can substitute another can of cannelli or other beans, diced lean ham or chicken breast.

I used 2 Tbsp fresh basil from my garden instead of the thyme and didn't have the fennel seed on hand, and it was still great!

Thanks, Marcia, this one is delicious!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Baby, It's HOT Outside!

savit keawtavee
I don't know what it's like where you live, but it's been really hot here. It seems to me with every passing summer, I am more thankful for air conditioning. As soon as it gets hot, many of us start craving icy and sweet foods and drinks.  If good health is your goal, you to be aware of what's in these treats before indulging.

Water is the perfect hydrator: everything liquid with zero calories. Its exactly what every cell in your body wants and needs. We certainly need to be drinking plenty on these hot days. But sometimes you may simply want something else, something with flavor.

Unsweetened ice tea is a great calorie free drink. Experiment with a variety of green, herbal or black teas for different flavors.  The green tea brings along antioxidant power, an added bonus. Get your sun tea jar out of storage and put it to use. Diet soda is option, although carbonated drinks don't seem to be as refreshing, and all contain artificial sweeteners, which some people choose to avoid.

Trouble can start brewing when we start reaching for sugary treats. With every teaspoon of sugar or syrup added, 15 calories come along with it. One 12 oz can of soda contains more than 10 teaspoons of sugar and 160 calories.  That's just a small serving in most places. Reach for a large 32 oz and you're slurping up 310 calories over ice. And, you could get that 44 oz cup. Keep in mind, if you consume just 150 calories more each day than your body needs, you could see a 15 pound body fat gain in one year.

Kids of all ages love frozen Slurpee drinks. The more vibrant colors and flavors the better.  Even an extra small 8 oz cup delivers 65 calories.  A full 44 oz icy will almost hit 400 calories. All from sugar. While unsweetened tea is fine don't forget that sweetened ice tea has 10 calories for every ounce: 320 calories for a 32 oz drink!

More fun arrives when we head out for ice cream: soft serve or hand dipped.  A small McDonald's vanilla cone is 150 calories while same size DQ is 230.  Small cones can be a bit easier to fit into your healthy eating program. Reaching for the sundae can pack on 330 - 650 calories, depending on the size.  Shakes, smoothies and frappes may sound healthier, but beware.  That sweet, creamy, cold large hot fudge shake at McDonald's brings with it 1020 calories.  The small DQ cookie dough Blizzard is 420 and the large 1420 calories. That can be all the calories provided in a day for some women on weight loss programs!

The bottom line:

  • In hot weather, it's important to stay well hydrated throughout the day.
  • Reach for water most often. 
  • Use non-caloric beverages for variety if you wish.
  • For the occasional icy or frozen treat keep on key word on your lips: small.  Smaller size servings deliver fewer grams of sugar and calories, and may even end up delivering a smaller you!


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fruity Baked Oatmeal

This is a favorite "go-to" recipe from Marcia, one of our MM Groupies.  It's easy to make ahead, refrigerate in individual servings, and grab and go for a quick breakfast or snack. Reheating is as easy as using the microwave.  In fact, Marcia likes to double this and bake it in a 9" x 13" pan so she is sure to have plenty on hand.

Fruity Baked Oatmeal

Preheat oven to 325.
Coat a 8" square pan with cooking spray.
Stir together in a large bowl:
     2 cups quick rolled oats
     1 1/2 tsp baking powder
     1/4 tsp salt
     1/4 cup chopped walnuts
     1/3 cup dried cherries, cranberries, or golden raisins
     1 firm pear, chopped into 1/4" pieces
Whisk together in another bowl:
     1 1/2 cup nonfat milk
     2 eggs
     3 Tbsp. brown sugar
     1 Tbsp. canola oil
     1/2 - 1 tsp. cinnamon
     1/2 tsp vanilla
Stir liquids into dry ingredients until just moistened.
Bake until all liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes.

Cut into 12 pieces.
Each serving is 133 calories, 5 g fat, 87 mg sodium, 20 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, and 4 g protein.
Count this as 3 units and 1 whole grain.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Say "Yes!" To the Farmer's Market

We packed up our cloth shopping bags this morning and headed to our local farmer's market.  Even though it's early in the growing season around here and not all the farmers were there to sell their wares, just wandering up and down the booths was a delight for all senses. The fragrance of fresh basil, beauty of red, green and blue produce, the feel of a perfectly ripe, firm blueberry, the taste of that first luscious strawberry picked this morning---all amid the happy strings of a fiddler and the busy buzz of shoppers.

I love the farmers market. Some will argue that foods at grocery store chains are cheaper and that getting to the market is yet another stop.  But, the advantages of buying produce locally are many...

Every fruit and vegetable at the farmer's market is picked at peak ripeness. This means peak flavor and peak nutritional value. The strawberries that I bought in the grocery store last week were good, but the berries we bought today were grown in the town right next to ours and are absolutely amazing. Juicy. Sweet. Wonderfully delicious. Since they were picked this morning, they are also richer in nutrients.  Most produce we buy at grocery stores are picked greener so they can travel better. This means fewer nutrients have developed at that point.  After that, with each day that that goes by some nutrient value is lost. The air, water from the sprinklers, and light all diminish different nutrients. Don't get me wrong. I still want you to eat your fruits and veggies. We still get lots of good healthy things in our fresh produce, just not as many as if we ate them fresh from the garden.

Organic farmers are a staple at most markets allowing good options for those of us who wish to have fewer chemicals in our food. Most farmers are practicing sustainable agricultural methods which help preserve rich farm lands.

Another thing to consider is the fossil fuel necessary to transport produce to us. If we buy things locally grown, far less fuel is necessary to get the food to us than when California strawberries are shipped to the mid west. Shopping at your local farmer's market supports local farmers, which helps to strengthen your local economy. This also eliminates the middleman, so our money goes straight to the farmers.

One drawback is availability and variety.  If I want an item that is out-of-season or produce that are not grown in our area, like bananas, I am out of luck at the market. We just need to accept that. The trick is to flow with what's in season.

The best plan is to wander through the farmer's market once a week.  Pick up only what you'll eat for the coming week. Plan your meals around these wonderfully fresh foods. Then, make your grocery list to fill in what you need to buy at the grocery store to make those meals happen. This gives you the best of both worlds.

Your homework for the week?  Go to the farmer's market and say "Yes!" to the fresh you're walking away from that crowded kettle corn booth!