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From Farm to Fork — How Safe Is Our Food?


Food safety cartoonThe very food that we need to help us grow and live, could also cause us to become ill and die.   Food — we cannot live without it, but it can pose great danger.   Let’s look at cold hard reality.  Our food supply, our food storage systems and our cooking and eating habits may be responsible for a great deal of misery.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that contaminated food sickens approximately 76 million Americans, leading to some 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

Food safety is particularly important to anyone with a take proactive measurescompromised immune system because we just don’t have the ability to fight infections whether they are bacterial or viral.  Certainly people who have had organ transplants fall into that category.  Transplant recipients must be especially careful.

As I started to research this posting the first question that popped into my mind was, “Which foods are most likely to make me sick. I found this list of the top ten from the Center for Science in the Public Interest as reprinted in the Fiscal Times

1) Leafy Greensleafy greens

Lettuce and spinach may be on the top of most nutritionists’ lists, but they’re also among the foods most linked to outbreaks of illness. The contaminations often starts at the farm through contact with wild animals or manure.

*Source: The Center for Science in the Public Interest

– See more at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Media/Slideshow/2013/12/02/10-Foods-Most-Likely-Make-You-Sick#sthash.CTYjKR8I.dpuf

2) Eggs

The risk for salmonella makes eggs the second-most popular source of food-based illnesses. Consumers can protect themselves by fully cooking all eggs and eating or storing eggs promptly after cooking.

3) Tuna

tunaIf not properly stored immediately after being caught, tuna begins to decay and can release scrombotoxin, which can cause food poisoning.

4) Oysters

Raw or undercooked oysters can breed vibrio bacteria, which can cause mild food poisoning in healthy individuals and life-threatening illness among those with a weakened immune system. Best practices in preparing oysters is to discard any open shells before cooking, and any shells that didn’t open while cooking.

5) Potatoes

Baked potatoes become breeding grounds for botulism when they’re wrapped in foil and left out to cool too long. Unwrap potatoes after baking them, and store them in a cool, dark place before cooking.

6) Cheesecheese

Sticking with pasteurized cheese greatly reduces the risk of bacteria, but some soft cheeses—even those made with pasteurized cheese—are vulnerable to contamination during the cheese-making process.

7) Ice Cream

Everyone may scream for this summer treat, but when it’s made with undercooked eggs the cold stuff can become dangerous. Even store-bought ice cream can breed bacteria when it’s put back in the freezer after unfreezing.

8) Tomatoes

Salmonella can contaminate tomatoes on the farm via the roots, flowers or cracks in the skin. If an infected tomato is eaten raw, it has a high risk of infecting the person who consumers it.

9) Sprouts

utsThe humid settings ideal for cultivating sprouts are also model conditions for salmonella, listeria and E. Coli. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts all together.

10) Berries

Strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries have been linked to a number of food-borne illness outbreaks in recent year. Last summer, a hepatitis A outbreak the sickened 150 people was traced back to frozen organic berries.

The Importance of Temperature

thermometerInadequate food temperature control is the most common factor contributing to food borne illness. Disease causing bacteria grow particularly well in foods high in protein such as meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, cooked vegetables such as beans, and cooked cereal grains such as rice. Because of the high potential for rapid bacterial growth in these foods they are known as “potentially hazardous foods.”

Temperature Danger Zone

The temperature range at which bacteria grow best in potentially hazardous foods is between 41F. and 140F. The goal of all temperature controls is to either keep foods entirely out of this “danger zone” or to pass foods through this “danger zone” as quickly as possible.

So now you know which foods may pose the greatest threat to your health, but there are other factors that should concern us as well.  For example:

America’s food safety system has not been fundamentally modernized in more than 100 years.

Twenty states and D.C. did not meet or exceed the national average rate for being able to identify the pathogens responsible for foodborne disease outbreaks in their states.

Ensuring the public can quickly and safely receive medications during a major health emergency is one of the most serious challenges facing public health officials.  Sixteen states have purchased less than half of their share of federally-subsidized antivirals to use during a pandemic flu outbreak.

The main culprits are familiar. They include:

  • lmonellaSalmonella, bacteria that cause over 1.5 million illnesses per year. These commonly reside in uncooked poultry and eggs. Recent outbreaks have been linked to peanut butter, alfalfa sprouts and tomatoes.
  • E. coli 0157:H7, a dangerous bacterial strain that can cause kidney failure, turns up disproportionately in ground beef. Lately it’s been linked to spinach and pre-made cookie dough. (For a complete list, see the full report, which details also the geographical distribution of food-borne illnesses in the U.S.) You can read and learn more here http://tinyurl.com/k64har2

There are three types of hazards in a food manufacturing process: physical, chemical and biological. Foreign objects are the most obvious evidence of a contaminated product and are therefore most likely to be reported by production or by consumer complaints. However, they are also less likely than chemical or biological contaminants to affect large numbers of people.

Attributing illness to foods is a challenge for several reasons.  There are thousands of different foods, and we eat many varieties prepared in different ways, even in a single meal.  For the vast majority of foodborne illnesses, we simply don’t know which food is responsible for an illness.

One way to develop a fairly accurate estimate is to use  data collected during investigations of a food illness outbreak.   These investigations provide direct links between foodborne illnesses and which foods are responsible for them.

According to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, there are more than 250 known foodborne diseases. They can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Natural and manufactured chemicals in food products also can make people sick. Some diseases are caused by toxins or poisons from the disease-causing microbe or germ, others are caused by your body’s reaction to the germ.

foodborne diseaseTypes of Foodborne Diseases as supplied by the National Institutes of Health (click on each one for details including symptoms and treatment or click this link for the NIH website http://www.niaid.nih.gov/)

Botulism, Campylobacteriosis, E. coli, Hepatitis A, Norovirus Infection, Salmonellosis, Shigellosis, Prevention

So how do you avoid these unpronounceable diseases?  Besides the information provided on the links to each disease, you might also want to make note of the following helpful suggestions

No matter how busy you are, from top to bottom, a clean kitchen is a main line of defense for your family and the prevention of food poisoning.  You simply must eliminate the breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria.

  •  Wash your hands often – front and back, between fingers, under fingernails – in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds (or two choruses of “Happy Birthday”) before and after every step in preparing or eating foods. That includes your kitchen helpers, such as children.
  • Clean all work surfaces often to remove food particles and spills. Use hot, soapy water. Keep nonfood items – mail, newspapers, purses – off counters and away from food and utensils. Wash the counter carefully before and after food preparation.
  • wash dishesWash dishes and cookware in the dishwasher or in hot, soapy water, and always rinse them well. Remember that chipped plates and china can collect bacteria.
  • Change towels and dishcloths often and wash them in the hot cycle of your washing machine. Allow them to dry out between each use. If they are damp, they’re the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Throw out dirty sponges or sterilize them by rinsing the sponge and microwaving it for about two minutes while still wet. Be careful, the sponge will be hot.

Pay close attention to the refrigerator and the freezer – shelves, sides and door – where foods are stored. Pack perishables in coolers while you clean or defrost your refrigerator or freezer.

Splatters inside your microwave can also collect bacteria, so keep it clean.

Physical Hazards

We’ve talked a lot about diseases and illnesses but our health is also subject to physical hazards.  You can view a University of Nebraska Slide show on the subject here: http://tinyurl.com/k6k4qow

What is a physical hazard?

We’ve all heard the stories about Rocks, insects and other things showing up in soda and beer cans.  While those instances are rare, they still happen.  Any extraneous object or foreign matter in food which may cause illness or injury to a person consuming the product is a physical hazard. These objects include bone or bone chips, metal flakes or fragments, injection needles, BB’s or shotgun pellets, pieces of product packaging, stones, glass or wood fragments, insects, personal items, or any other foreign matter not normally found in food.

The 8 most common food categories implicated in reported foreign object complaints are bakery products, soft drinks, vegetables, infant’s foods, fruits, cereals, fishery products and chocolate and cocoa products.  Below you will find a list of hazards, their effect and the treatment.  You can find more detailed information by clicking on this link http://tinyurl.com/mbktawq

These materials have been found in food and can cause severe trauma, bleeding, cuts and even death.  In many cases surgery is required to correct the damage caused by; Glass, wood, stones, bullets, BBs, needles, jewelry, metal, .Insects and other contaminated material, building materials, bone, plastic and personal effects

As with any topic it is sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction.  There are so many rumors, old Wives tales and myths people often think they are doing the right thing when in fact they may be making matters worse.  We can’t dispel all the rumors, but we can address a few.

Food Safety Myths Exposed

http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/myths/

We all do our best to serve our families food that’s safe and healthy, but some common myths about food safety might surprise you.

MYTH: Food poisoning isn’t that big of a deal. I just have to tough it out for a day or two and then it’s over.

FACT: Many people don’t know it, but some foodborne illnesses can actually lead to long-term health conditions, and 5,000 insectAmericans a year die from foodborne illness. Get the FACTs on long-term effects of food poisoning.

MYTH: It’s OK to thaw meat on the counter. Since it starts out frozen, bacteria isn’t really a problem.

FACT: Actually, bacteria grow surprisingly rapidly at room temperatures, so the counter is never a place you should thaw foods. Instead, thaw foods the right way.

MYTH When cleaning my kitchen, the more bleach I use, the better. More bleach kills more bacteria, so it’s safer for my family.

FACT: There is actually no advantage to using more bleach than needed. To clean kitchen surfaces effectively, use just one teaspoon of liquid, unscented bleach to one quart of water.

MYTH I don’t need to wash fruits or vegetables if I’m going to peel them.

FACT: Because it’s easy to transfer bacteria from the peel or rind you’re cutting to the inside of your fruits and veggies, it’simportant to wash all produce, even if you plan to peel it.

poultryMYTH: To get rid of any bacteria on my meat, poultry, or seafood, I should rinse off the juices with water first.

FACT: Actually, rinsing meat, poultry, or seafood with water can increase your chance of food poisoning by splashing juices (and any bacteria they might contain) onto your sink and counters. The best way to cook meat, poultry, or seafood safely is tomake sure you cook it to the right temperature.

MYTH: The only reason to let food sit after it’s been microwaved is to make sure you don’t burn yourself on food that’s too hot.

FACT: In FACT, letting microwaved food sit for a few minutes (“standing time”) helps your food cook more completely by allowing colder areas of food time to absorb heat from hotter areas of food.

MYTH: Leftovers are safe to eat until they smell bad.

FACT: The kinds of bacteria that cause food poisoning do not affect the look, smell, or taste of food. To be safe, use our Safe Storage Times chart to make sure you know the right time to throw food out.

MYTH: Once food has been cooked, all the bacteria have been killed, so I don’t need to worry once it’s “done.”

FACT: Actually, the possibility of bacterial growth actually increases after cooking, because the drop in temperature allows bacteria to thrive. This is why keeping cooked food warmed to the right temperature is critical for food safety.

MYTH: Marinades are acidic, which kills bacteria—so it’s OK to marinate foods on the counter.

FACT: Even in the presence of acidic marinade, bacteria can grow very rapidly at room temperatures. To marinate foods safely, it’s important to marinate them in the refrigerator.

MYTH: If I really want my produce to be safe, I should wash fruits and veggies with soap or detergent before I use them.

FACT: In FACT, it’s best not to use soaps or detergents on produce, since these products can linger on foods and are not safe for consumption. Using clean running water is actually the

cookie doughMYTH: Only kids eat raw cookie dough and cake batter. If we just keep kids away from the raw products when adults are baking, there won’t be a problem!

FACT: Just a lick can make you sick!
No one of any age should eat raw cookie dough or cake batter because it could contain germs that cause illness. Whether it’s pre-packaged or homemade, the heat from baking is required to kill germs that might be in the raw ingredients. The finished, baked, product is far safer – and tastes even better! So don’t do it! And remember, kids who eat raw cookie dough and cake batter are at greater risk of getting food poisoning than most adults are.

MYTH: When kids cook it is usually “heat and eat” snacks and foods in the microwave. They don’t have to worry about food safety – the microwaves kill the germs!

FACT: Microwaves aren’t magic!
It’s the heat the microwaves generate that kills the germs! Food cooked in a microwave needs to be heated to a safe internal temperature. Microwaves often heat food unevenly, leaving cold spots in food where germs can survive. Kids can use microwaves properly by carefully following package instructions. Even simple “heat and eat” snacks come with instructions that need to be followed to ensure a safe product. Use a food thermometer if the instructions tell you to!

MYTH: When kids wash their hands, just putting their hands under running water is enough to get the germs off.

How to wash handsFACT: Rubbing hands with water and soap is the best way to go!
Water is just part of what you need for clean hands! Washing hands properly is a great way to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Here’s how: Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap. Rub them together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails. Continue rubbing for at least 20 seconds. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to time yourself! Rinse hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel, paper towel, or an air dryer.

MYTH: My kids only eat pre-packaged fruits and veggies for snacks because those snacks don’t need to be washed before they eat them.

FACT: Read your way to food safety!
Giving your kids healthy snacks is a big plus for them! But just because produce is wrapped, it doesn’t always mean it’s ready to eat as is. Read the label of your product to make sure it is says: “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed.” If it does, you’re good to go! If it doesn’t, wash your hands and then rinse the fruits or vegetables under running tap water. Scrub firm items, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce germs that may be present.

While federal, state and local agencies provide a valuable service with their contributions to our food safety, the primary responsibility is yours.  Too many of us become too careless with our food preparation and storage procedures and each of us needs to pay far more attention to the cleanliness of the areas in which we prepare food and to the cleanliness of the food itself.

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bob minus Jay full shotBob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over 4,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org.  And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net.  It only takes a few minutes.

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Vitamin Supplements — May Not Be Necessary and They Could Harm You


By Bob Aronson

vitamin b from bagelsThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) says Americans have been taking multivitamin/mineral (MVM) supplements since the early 1940s, when the first such products became available. MVMs are still popular dietary supplements and, according to estimates, more than one-third of all Americans take them. MVMs account for almost one-fifth of all purchases of dietary supplements.

“You have to get your vitamins.”  I’ve heard that phrase since I was a child, but why?  What are Vitamins and are vitamin pills or supplements the same as the vitamins found naturally in what we eat and in sunshine?  Vitamins are not all the same.  There can be a huge difference between those that are naturally contained in our food and the sometimes “smelly” things that come in a bottle from your Pharmacy.

Over the past several years there have been a number of news reports about vitamins. Some experts support their use, some say the supplements are worthless and others say they can actually cause harm.  What’s true?  All of the above!  We’ll try to shed some light on the subject so let’s start with their importance to our health.

Vitamin deficiencies lead to a wide range of problems spanning from anorexia to obesity, organ malfunction, confusion, depression and fatigue.  We need vitamins.  The question that must be answered is; how do you know which ones?  We’ll provide an answer.

Tough question when you consider the fact that the NIH says, “No standard or regulatory definition is available for an MVM supplement—NIH LOGOsuch as what nutrients it must contain and at what levels. Therefore, the term can refer to products of widely varied compositions and characteristics. These products go by various names, including multis, multiples, and MVMs. Manufacturers determine the types and levels of vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients in their MVMs. As a result, many types of MVMs are available in the marketplace.”

It is entirely possible that there are no standards because the vitamin industry is huge and can afford heavy lobbying to ensure that they remain free of government regulation.  The NIH says that sales of all dietary supplements in the United States totaled an estimated $30.0 billion in 2011. This amount included $12.4 billion for all vitamin- and mineral-containing supplements, of which $5.2 billion was for MVMs.  If the government set standards, every single manufacturer would have to reformulate their products to meet them.  Doing so would be costly so there is no wonder that the industry would rather not rock their very profitable boat.

vitaminsWhether your vitamins are hurting you is another story. What people are not aware of is that all vitamins are not created equal, and most are actually synthetic and the synthetic vitamins are rarely like the real thing.

The type of vitamins that benefit us most is murky but there are some.  However, a healthy diet should provide most of the nutrients our bodies need.  Sometimes, though, supplements can help. The problem is, which ones?  How do you know what to buy?

For the most part, medical science has made it clear that most vitamin supplements are either useless or cause harm and we’ll elaborate on those claims shortly.  First, though, you ought to know what’s good for you and what seems to work for some conditions.

This article in Smithsonian.com lists five supplements that can be helpful. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-vitamins-and-smithsonian.com2supplements-are-actually-worth-taking-180949735/#VsZOfYrBAkvtVYvY.99

Of all the “classic” vitamins—the vital organic compounds discovered between 1913 and 1941 and termed vitamin A, B, C, etc.—vitamin D is by far the most beneficial to take in supplement form. Researchers found that adults who took vitamin D supplements daily lived longer than those who didn’t.

Other research has found that in kids, taking vitamin D supplements can reduce the chance of catching the flu, and that in older adults, it can improve bone health and reduce the incidence of fractures.

Probiotics

A mounting pile of research is showing how crucial the trillions of bacterial cells that live inside us are in regulating our health, and how harmful it can be to suddenly wipe them out with an antibiotic. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that if you do go through a course of antibiotics, taking a probiotic (either a supplement or a food naturally rich in bacteria, such as yogurt) to replace the bacteria colonies in your gut is a good idea.

In 2012, a meta-analysis of 82 randomized controlled trials found that use of probiotics significantly reduced the incidence of diarrhea after a course of antibiotics.

All the same, probiotics aren’t a digestive cure-all: they haven’t been found to be effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome, among other chronic ailments. Like most other supplements that are actually effective, they’re useful in very specific circumstances, but it’s not necessary to continually take them on a daily basis.

Zinc

Vitamin C might not do anything to prevent or treat the common cold, but the other widely-used cold supplement, zinc, is actually worth taking. A mineral that’s involved in many different aspects of your cellular metabolism, zinc appears to interfere with the replication of rhinoviruses, the microbes that cause the common cold.

This has been borne out in a number of studies

Niacin

Also known as vitamin B3, niacin is talked up as a cure for all sorts of conditions (including high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and headaches) but in most of these cases, a prescription-strength dose of niacin has been needed to show a clear result.

At over-the-counter strength, niacin supplements have only been proven to be effective in helping one group of people: those who have heart disease. A 2010 review found that taking the supplement daily reduced the chance of a stroke or heart attack in people with heart disease, thereby reducing their overall risk of death due to a cardiac

​Garlic

Garlic, of course, is a pungent herb. It also turns out to be an effective treatment for high blood pressure when taken as a concentrated supplement.

A 2008 meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials (in which similar groups of participants were given either a garlic supplement or placebo, and the results were compared) found that, on the whole, taking garlic daily reduced blood pressure, with the most significant results coming in adults who had high blood pressure at the start of the trials.

On the other hand, there have also been claims that garlic supplements can prevent cancer, but the evidence is mixed.

Vitamin Supplements are unnecessary and may cause harm.

In December of last year, the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that, “Not only are the pills mostly unnecessary, but they could actually doAnnals of internal medicine logo harm those taking them. We believe that the case is closed—supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful.  These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.”  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/multivitamin-researchers-say-case-is-closed-supplements-dont-boost-health/

Based on three studies examining multivitamins’ links to cancer prevention, heart health, and cognitive function, the research is a blow to the multi-billion dollar industry that produces them and to the millions of Americans who religiously shell out their dollars for false hope.

The doubts about vitamin supplements are not new.  In his 2013 book Do You Believe in Magic, Dr. Paul Offit pointed to a handful of major studies over the past five years that showed vitamins have made people less healthy. “In 2008, a review of all existing studies involving more than 230,000 people who did or did not receive supplemental antioxidants found that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease.”

Last year, researchers published new findings from the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study of more than 160,000 midlife women. The data showed that multivitamin-takers are no healthier than those who don’t pop the pills, at least when it comes to the big diseases—cancer, heart disease, stroke. “Even women with poor diets weren’t helped by taking a multivitamin,” says study author Marian Neuhouser, PhD, in the cancer prevention program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle.

That said, there is one group that probably ought to keep taking a multi-vitamin: women of reproductive age. The supplement is insurance in case of pregnancy. A woman who gets adequate amounts of the B vitamin folate is much less likely to have a baby with a birth defect affecting the spinal cord.

The problem is that many vitamin and mineral supplements are manufactured synthetically. Some estimates place the amount at 90 percent and higher and while they are made to mimic natural vitamins they are not the same. Natural vitamins come directly from plants and animals, they are not produced in a lab and — most synthetic vitamins lack co-factors associated with naturally-occurring vitamins because they have been “isolated.”

Isolated vitamins can’t always be used by the body, and are either stored or excreted. Most synthetic vitamins don’t have the necessary trace minerals either and must use the body’s own mineral reserves which can then cause mineral deficiencies.

Most synthetic supplements contain chemicals that do not occur in nature. The history of the human race is such that our bodies have grown accustomed to consuming the food we grow and gather naturally, from the earth, not food that is synthesized in a lab.

web md logoWeb MD offers this assessment.

What Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Can and Can’t Do

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrition-vitamins-11/help-vitamin-supplement 

 By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Reviewed By Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD

Experts say there is definitely a place for vitamin or mineral supplements in our diets, but their primary function is to fill in small nutrient gaps.  They are “supplements” intended to add to your diet, not take the place of real food or a healthy meal plan.

 WebMD takes a closer look at what vitamin and mineral supplements can and cannot do for your health.

Food First, Then Supplements

Vitamins and other dietary supplements are not intended to be a food substitute. They cannot replace all of the nutrients and fruits and veggiesbenefits of whole foods. 

 “They can plug nutrition gaps in your diet, but it is short-sighted to think your vitamin or mineral is the ticket to good health — the big power is on the plate, not in a pill,” explains Roberta Anding, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and director of sports nutrition at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. 

 It is always better to get your nutrients from food, agrees registered dietitian Karen Ansel.  “Food contains thousands of phytochemicals, fiber, and more that work together to promote good health that cannot be duplicated with a pill or a cocktail of supplements.”

 What Can Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Do for Your Health?

 When the food on the plate falls short and doesn’t include essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, some of the nutrients many Americans don’t get enough of, a supplement can help take up the nutritional slack. Vitamin and mineral supplements can help prevent deficiencies that can contribute to chronic conditions.

 Numerous studies have shown the health benefits and effectiveness of supplementing missing nutrients in the diet.  A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found increased bone density and reduced fractures in postmenopausal women who took calcium and vitamin D.

  Beyond filling in gaps, other studies have demonstrated that supplemental vitamins and minerals can be advantageous. However, the exact benefits are still unclear as researchers continue to unravel the potential health benefits of vitamins and supplements. 

 Web MD offers these tips to guide your vitamin and mineral selection:

  • Think nutritious food first, and then supplement the gaps.  Start by filling your grocery cart with a variety of nourishing, nutrient-rich foods.  Use the federal government’s My Plate nutrition guide to help make sure your meals and snacks include all the parts of a healthy meal.
  •  Take stock of your diet habits. Evaluate what is missing in your diet. Are there entire food groups you avoid? Is iceberg lettuce the only vegetable you eat? If so, learn about the key nutrients in the missing food groups, and choose a supplement to help meet those needs. As an example, it makes sense for anyone who does not or is not able to get the recommended three servings of dairy every day to take a calcium and vitamin D supplement for these shortfall nutrients.
  • When in doubt, a daily multivitamin is a safer bet than a cocktail of individual supplements that can exceed the safe upper limits of the recommended intake for any nutrient.  Choose a multivitamin that provides 100% or less of the Daily Value (DV) as a backup to plug the small nutrient holes in your diet.
  •  Are you a fast food junkie?  If your diet pretty much consists of sweetened and other low-nutrient drinks, fries, and burgers, then supplements are not the answer.  A healthy diet makeover is in order. Consult a registered dietitian.
  •  Respect the limits. Supplements can fill in where your diet leaves off, but they can also build up and potentially cause toxicities if you take more than 100% of the DV.
  •  Most adults and children don’t get enough calcium, vitamin D, or potassium according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.  Potassium-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat are the best ways to fill in potassium gaps. Choose an individual or a multivitamin supplement that contains these calcium and vitamin D as a safeguard.
  •  The best way to judge any supplement or medication is by reviewing clinical trials. There aren’t a lot of them done on vitamins, vitamin clinical trialbut those that have been conducted are quite revealing.  The NIH concluded that most supplements not only don’t work as intended, they actually make things worse. They examined the efficacy of 13 vitamins and 15 essential minerals as reported in long-term, randomized clinical trials and there were some positive results like:
  • A combination of calcium and vitamin D was shown to increase bone mineral density and reduce fracture risk in postmenopausal women.
  • There was some evidence that selenium reduces risk of certain cancers.
  • Vitamin E maydecrease cardiovascular deaths in women and prostate cancer deaths in male smokers.
  • Vitamin D showed some cardiovascular benefit.

Those few positives are overwhelmed by the negative findings.

  • Trials of niacin (B3), folate, riboflavin (B2), and vitamins B6 and B12 showed no positive effect on chronic disease occurrence in the general population
  • There was no evidence to recommend beta-carotene and some evidence that it may cause harm in smokers.
  • High-dose vitamin E supplementation increased the risk of death from all causes.

So what’s the bottom line?  Our research indicates that most medical authorities pretty much dismiss the usefulness of most vitamin supplements. Most revealing, though, and also dangerous is the fact that there are no standards for vitamin supplements.  The companies that make them can each have their own formulations and there is no approval process so the consumer may be at great risk.  Buyer beware.  Don’t believe the advertising.  If you are determined to take these supplements, though, google them and look for clinical trials.  If there are none, don’t buy.  If there are, read them carefully.  For the most part the best advice is, save your money because most of us don’t have a clue as to what we are buying.

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 4,000 member Organ Transplant
My new hat April 10 2014Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

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