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Supplement Use Increases - Good News?

More than half of adults in the United States now take at least one dietary supplement, usually a multivitamin, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report, which examined surveys of 18,504 adults between 1988 and 1994 and 9,432 adults from 2003 to 2006, showed an increase in supplement consumption between these two periods from about 40 percent to more than 50 percent. In particular, the survey found that use of calcium supplements had increased from 28.2 percent in 1988-94 to 61 percent in 2003 to 2006. The report noted that most adults and teenagers (with the exception of girls between the ages of nine and 18) likely receive enough calcium through their diets and from supplements. The survey also found an increase in the number of Americans who are taking vitamin D supplements - according to the report, 56.3 percent of women over 60 take vitamin D.

My take: It's gratifying to learn that more people are becoming health conscious and are attempting to improve their well being through micro-nutrition. But it's important to remember that the rationale for taking supplements in the first place is as insurance against nutritional gaps in the diet. Ideally, a well balanced diet should supply most of your nutritional needs, but many people, for a variety of reasons, don't eat optimally on a regular basis. Also, modern, chemically intensive growing methods may deplete nutrients. If you use drugs like alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine or if you're sick or under stress, your body's requirements for some micronutrients and protective phytonutrients may be higher than your diet can supply. Because of these variables, a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can help ensure that you are getting what you need. 

On the flipside, it is also important to remember that vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements won't make up for a diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. If you take supplements, think of them as insurance, not as a way to excuse unhealthy eating habits.

Learn what vitamins I take: Dr. Weil's Personal Vitamin Routine


Canola Oil and Colon Cancer

Using canola oil for cooking might help protect against colon cancer, according to a new study. Researchers from South Dakota State University have reported that canola oil apparently reduced the incidence of cancer in lab rats to by almost two thirds. The study showed that a diet containing canola oil inhibited both the size and incidence of colon tumors in lab rats, cutting neoplasm size by 90 percent and inhibiting the average number of tumors per rat by 58 percent. Based on their findings, the investigators suggested that if consumers replaced polyunsaturated oils and butter with canola oil for cooking, they might protect against colon cancer and possibly nudge dietary intake of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids to a healthier ratio. At present, Americans consume far more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids, an imbalance that promotes inflammation. The study was published in the February 2011 issue of Nutrition and Cancer. Canola oil is primarily a monounsaturated fat and, as such, is healthier than saturated fats or polyunsaturated oils. When buying canola oil, look for organic, expeller-pressed brands.

More on choosing canola oil.


Celebrating Sauerkraut!

Naturally fermented sauerkraut is a healthy, living food: low in calories, high in fiber and packed with vitamin C and friendly flora. The important work done by the Lactobacillus bacteria that impart sauerkraut’s tart, refreshing taste ensures that the nutrients are easily absorbed.

If you are used to canned, store-bought sauerkraut, the good news is that homemade sauerkraut is simple to make, keeps for weeks in the refrigerator and is one of the most economical healthy foods you can eat. I make it from scratch using cabbage from my garden, but store-bought cabbage will work just as well.

Learn how to make homemade sauerkraut.


Your Weight and Your Brain

We know that obesity is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, dementia and stroke, so if you want to keep your wits about you as you age, you might want to pare some pounds now if you're overweight or obese. A study at Kent State University found that overweight patients who had gastric bypass surgery scored much better on tests of memory and cognitive function after shedding about 50 pounds in the months following the operations. The investigation included 150 patients all of whom were tested initially to assess their mental abilities; then 109 participants underwent the surgery. Cognitive tests 12 weeks later showed that patients in this group scored much better than they had before their weight loss. A decline in mental function was seen among the 41 patients who didn't have surgery (the researchers aren't sure why). The investigators suggested that the improvements after weight loss might be due in part to lower blood pressure. The same team will next study whether comparable improvements occur as a result of losing weight via diet and exercise.

Visit my Exercise & Fitness center and start paring pounds.


Turmeric in Your Diet? (Poll)

Here's a Q&A from my site about turmeric and its most active component, curcumin. Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory spice, and I recommend it in both its whole and supplement form.

How do you incorporate turmeric in your diet? If not one of the following, please share in the comments!

Curious about turmeric tea?


Daily Apple for Heart Health

Eating an apple each day may help to keep the cardiologist away. Daily apple consumption appears to help lower cholesterol, according to a small study at Florida State University. Researchers randomly assigned 160 women between the ages of 45 and 65 to eat 2.7 ounces of dried apples or dried plums (prunes) prunes every day for a year. Afterward, the investigators found that the women who ate the dried apples had reduced their total cholesterol by 14 percent and their LDL ("bad") cholesterol by 23 percent. They also saw a four percent increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol. Even though the dried apples added 240 calories to the women's daily diets, they lost an average of 3.3 pounds over the year - possibly because the apples and their fiber content provided a sense of fullness. Another benefit: a drop in levels of C-reactive protein, a substance in blood that is a marker for inflammation. High levels of CRP are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. The Florida State investigators also reported a drop in levels of lipid hydroperoxide, another substance that may indicate heart disease risk. Slight reductions of cholesterol and the other substances occurred among the women who ate prunes as well, but not to the extent seen among those who ate the dried apples. 

My take? Apples really are good for you - as long as they're fresh and organically grown. In addition to the encouraging results of the Florida State study, other research has shown that eating apples may reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, liver, prostate and lung (thanks to the flavonoids they contain). In addition, studies have shown that eating apples may reduce chronic cough and other respiratory symptoms, that people who eat the most apples (and pears) have the lowest risk of asthma, that eating an apple a day may reduce the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in smokers, and that for every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily, you may be able to lower your risk of developing heart disease by 14 percent and your risk of dying from heart disease by 27 percent. A single apple gives you five grams of fiber. Learn more about my own heart health measures.


Inspirations for Mind, Body and Spirit

Want to connect with yourself? Find balance from within? Learn about new therapies? Then sign up for the new, free Mind, Body, Spirit Newsletter! From the benefits of yoga and planting your own garden to breathing exercises and natural, effective ways to relieve stress, this weekly newsletter provides tips, inspirations and more.

Sign up today!


Are You Getting Enough Zinc?

Want to encourage healing, boost your immune system, and help protect against vision loss? Then consider zinc. This mineral plays an important role in cell production, including creating new skin cells, but how much you take is important - moderate doses of zinc can enhance immunity, while high doses can actually depress it and should be avoided. In general, I recommend supplementing with 15 mg of zinc daily for most of us - or up to 30 mg daily if you follow a vegetarian diet or simply don’t eat many foods of animal origin (vegetables and fruits provide very little zinc).

The best plant sources of zinc are legumes (dried beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, lentils and peas), soy products and whole grains. Red meat and cooked oysters are good animal sources. Some dairy products and foods high in calcium can decrease zinc absorption, while protein-rich foods can enhance it.

Because copper can be depleted when taking zinc supplements, I recommend a multivitamin supplement that includes both zinc and copper, taken with a meal to avoid stomach upset.

Try one of the legume-based recipes on my site for a zinc boost. Some of my favorites are Herb Hummus, Pink Lentil Curry and Vegetarian Chili.