Five for Fridays – Feb 5, 2010

by Naveen Agarwal

in Five For Fridays

Greetings! Here are 5 nutrition related articles that caught my eye this week. Enjoy and drop me a comment to share your thoughts.

Vitamin D is big business these days

According to the Nutrition Business Journal quoted in a recent New York Times article, consumers gobbled up $235 million worth of vitamin D supplements in 2008 compared to a mere $41 million in 2001! Also, more physicians are ordering vitamin D tests for their patients and prescribing supplements to correct for low vitamin D levels.

This is incredible! Clearly, there is a buzz about vitamin D these days. Screaming headlines about low levels in children and adults followed by all kinds of studies claiming a “role” of vitamin D in diabetes, heart disease and cancer are creating a mass hysteria. The message is – pay attention to your vitamin D level and start loading up on it just in case because otherwise you will have a high risk of getting these terrible diseases. This is quite misleading in my opinion.

I am not against taking a vitamin D supplement. But there are  few things you should consider before you take that step.

There is a reason why the current recommendation of 400 IU per day of vitamin D has not been revised. A lot of people believe that this amount is too low. Still, there are no clinical studies which show a prevention or treatment effect of vitamin D for these diseases. Taking high doses of vitamin D (like 1000 or 2000 IU per day) is no guarantee of good health and prevention of diseases if the overall nutrition and lifestyle is poor. Supplements are not a drug folks, even though some people may try to sell them to you like that.

Bottom line – rely on food sources for your vitamin needs first, not on supplements. And if you do have a medical condition, talk to your doctor and ask for a pharmaceutical grade vitamin supplement. Here are 5 ways to tell if our child may have a vitamin D problem.

Tax soda like cigarettes – here we go again

The state of New York is on a mission to tackle the problem of obesity. While it is a worthwhile goal, which will surely have a positive impact on long term public health and healthcare costs, their approach to solving this problem is not smart at all. In fact, I think it is driven purely by politics and motivated by their deficit problem.

Tax sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) including soda they say, because that will cause people to drink less of it, which means they will not become overweight or obese since SSB’s are known to cause obesity. They have released a sugar sweetened beverage tax toolkit to provide a rationale for this tax, which in my opinion is a lot of mumbo-jumbo and twisted logic. Still, it makes an interesting read and gives you an insight into the limited range of creativity among public health officials and regulators.

I no fan of soda. But I am totally against another tax in the name of trying to improve public health when the real motivation is to fix the deficit problem. I continue to believe that soda tax will do nothing to reduce its consumption, at least not in any significant way. There are many other ways to discourage soda makers to produce healthier products or encourage the public to limit their soda consumption. But then they are not as easy as slapping another tax!

Manage salt for better health

Salt is something we can’t live without. It is also something we consume too much of and – if we continue this way – there is little doubt that most of us will not live long enough to enjoy it for long. Dr Ayala has a nice article this week on her blog about how too much of (cheap) processed food in our diets is causing us to consume way too much than just a pinch of salt we need for good health. It is a great reminder because this week is world salt awareness week.

The food industry is taking notice. Many companies are quietly working on reducing the sodium content of their products while preserving taste and texture. New salt reduction technologies are being developed and deployed in these products. Some may still have an issue with it; but I have a more pragmatic approach. There is a reason why processed food sells – it offers convenience at a reasonable price. There is no reason to completely eliminate it, just balance it with more cooking at home, read the nutrition facts labels and select the right products. Try to limit daily sodium to less than 2300 mg (1 tsp of salt) and avoid products where a single serving has any more than 15 – 20% of this daily value. Another thing you can do is to reduce the portion size of these foods both at home and in restaurants.

5 out-of-the box ideas for helping your kids eat well

Jenna of KidAppeal has a great blog post this week with a few out-of-the box ideas for you if you need help getting your kids to eat well (who doesn’t!). I really liked her idea of “making food relevant” and “having fun”, because you do need to be able to engage them at the table. We have recently discovered that story telling works with our twins in capturing their attention long enough for them to try the food at the table. Talking about diesel food for a diesel engine does not make sense to an adult, but it captures my son’s attention! You can also play a game, read from their favorite book, solve a puzzle or simply have a conversation about what they did at school or daycare. It will help if the TV is off so they can focus on you and the food.

By the way, Jenna has a weekly feature Big Words Little Foodies every Tuesday where she invites parents to share funny things their kids say about food. Check it out and share your funny stories!

Food rules from Michael Pollan

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. This is the essence of Mr. Pollan’s message in his new book Food Rules – An Eater’s Manual which gets a nice review in this week’s New York Times. I think this is sound advice, one that was commonly practiced as late as just a few generations ago prior to the modern day (processed) food revolution. But it also requires not only a change in your mindset about food but also a change in lifestyle. Giving up the western diet (meat, refined sugars, fat and salt via processed food) may sound simple in a book, but difficult to accomplish and sustain unless you make significant changes in your lifestyle.

What food rules do you live by these days? What changes, if any, do you plan on making in the near future?

Enjoy and let me know what is on your mind.

Photo Source: adactio on Flickr via everystockphoto

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