Nutrition Supplements: Vitamins, Minerals, and More
Not all honeys are created equal, recent research shows. University of Illinois scientists have found that honey created from nectar collected from Illinois buckwheat flowers has twenty times more antioxidant content than honey produced by bees that eat the nectar of California sage. Clover honey scored in the middle.
Researchers analyzed nineteen samples of honey from fourteen different floral sources. Given antioxidants’ health benefits, researchers concluded that source flowers should be considered when evaluating honey’s antioxidant potential.
The research was recently published in the Journal of Apicultural Research. Researchers were May Berenbaum, head of the University of Illinois entomology department; Gene E. Robinson, director of the school’s bee research facility; and plant biology graduate student Steven M. Frankel.
“We’re not proposing that honey can replace fruits and vegetables,” Berenbaum says, “but we are suggesting that honey could replace sugar in a lot of contexts. Sucrose, or table sugar, is totally devoid of antioxidant phytochemicals, and replacing sucrose with honey might be an improvement in total dietary intake of antioxidants.”
Antioxidants eliminate free radicals in the human body. Free radicals are created through the process of metabolism and are believed to contribute to several serious diseases when left unchecked, says Sue Percival, an associate professor in the University of Florida Food Science and Human Nutrition Department.
So, what kind of honey should one buy to get the maximum benefit? Berenbaum stresses that human diet studies have yet to be done. “But I can tell you what I would do, personally,” she adds. “Stick with buckwheat honey, which has an extremely high antioxidant content relative to other honeys.”
The study also showed a relationship between color and antioxidant content, although this is only a correlation, Berenbaum says.
“In general, darker honeys will be higher in antioxidant content than lighter honeys,” she says, “but not every dark honey is higher than every light honey.”
The scientists’ report concludes that certain one-flower honeys may make a unique contribution as “a palatable supplementary source of plant antioxidants.” In other words, some kinds of honey may help supplement the diets of people who don’t eat enough fruits and veggies.
Honey contains trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, including vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, says Sue Percival, an associate professor in the University of Florida Food Science and Human Nutrition Department.
Percival recently completed a review of literature on the nutritional benefits of honey.
“Honey has more nutrients than table sugar,” she says. “There are not huge quantities, but they are there. It’s better than having none at all,” which is what regular table sugar has—none.
Honey is also a good source of energy because it contains both fructose and glucose. These two simple sugars can be absorbed and utilized quickly, Percival says. Although research has yet to be done on honey specifically, studies show that the mixture of sugars that honey contains allows the body to use honey for energy without storing it.
The ever popular New Year’s resolution: Lose weight. Millions make this pledge each year. But how many start a fad diet, lose a few pounds, then gain back the weight? How many spend money on weight-loss programs or diet pills, lose a few pounds, then despair as the numbers rise on the bathroom scale?
No quick fix exists. The key to losing weight and maintaining the loss is changing habits—for a lifetime.
“‘The best diet is not a diet,” says Ralph Wiktor, a registered dietitian with the Detroit Medical Center. “Diet implies eating changes that are short term. Eating is a habit, and habits can only be changed if they are changed for life through a slow, gradual, and individually acceptable process.”
“One of the first places a change has to be made is in your head,” says Edith Hogan, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “You really have to make a commitment that you’re going to do it.”
Then, if you’re in good physical health, you can begin looking at your dietary approach, says Richard Cotter, Ph.D., an expert in nutrition science with Whitehall-Robins Healthcare in Madison, New Jersey. However, if you have any health problems—especially those involving blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol—check with your doctor or registered dietitian before changing your eating habits.
Next, take stock of your lifestyle, Cotter says. Consider keeping a food-intake and activity diary for at least five days. Note what you do in the normal course of a day and the patterns you see.
“When you have what you take in and what you expend in perfect balance, you won’t gain weight—you’ll lose it,” Cotter says. “If you increase your food intake and maintain your energy output, your weight will go up. These are simple equations.”
Also, take small steps. Each week, set one or two obtainable goals. One to two pounds of weight loss per week is reasonable. Thirty pounds in thirty days is not, Wiktor says.
And the goals can be minor. Cotter suggests that if you’re eating a lot of mayonnaise, for example, make a change to mustard. Then move on to the next step—less meat, more vegetables.
Changes should be gradual, not radical, and don’t concentrate on the scale.
“Don’t focus on your body image,” Hogan says. “By eating in a more healthy manner and by exercising, you will in fact end up with a better body.”
And get your metabolism running efficiently.
“People forget why we call breakfast ‘breakfast.’ We’re breaking our fast,” Hogan says. “If you skip breakfast, your metabolism isn’t running efficiently all day long.”
Focus on food first, but also consider a multivitamin. “Vitamin and mineral intake is important,” Cotter says. “Look at your diary. That will key you to whether you’re getting enough. If not, it’s appropriate to take a multivitamin supplement.”
Eating right is just part of the formula, though.
“Exercise, exercise, exercise . . . take care of the energy output,” Cotter says. Do activities you can tolerate—not ones that are so exhausting you don’t want to do them anymore. And do what’s enjoyable. If walking on a treadmill bores you, then don’t do it. Ride a mountain bike in the woods if that’s more appealing, he says.
But just get moving. “Any type of aerobic activity is beneficial, whether it be walking, swimming, or an aerobics class,” Wiktor says.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has declared war on fad diets. AHA nutrition experts instead advocate embracing healthful eating habits permanently.
Fad diets or weight-loss plans usually fail to provide the hands-on eating experience people need for the rest of their lives, Hogan says.
“They generally use a host of methods that attempt to fool the body into short-term weight loss through diuresis or ketosis, or most frequently, a combination of the two,” Wiktor says. Ketosis (a starvation response), he adds, is an inappropriate metabolism of nutrients.
And Cotter says fad diets are too extreme. “They make radical changes in nutrient content. Any of these diets are going against nutritional sciences.” When there are “unplanned compensation mechanisms,” unplanned results may happen, he says, which could mean weight loss, but could also mean energy loss.
When choosing a weight-loss program, Hogan suggests asking whether the program takes individual differences into account.
“I think the core question or the bottom-line question to ask is to what extent does it teach you: Does it educate you in nutrition and in modifying behavior? Does it teach you to exercise?” Without this information, she says, “I don’t care—it’s not going to work.”
Wiktor says that although some people may get results from a weight-loss club, these usually don’t last.
“Attempts to lose weight should not be made on a short-term basis, and they certainly shouldn’t be made on a ‘crash’ basis,” he says. “This only leads to loss of money, dissatisfaction, and failure at best—and at worse compromised health status or even death.”
Instead, look to books and websites created by health professionals or registered dietitians—“people who are not trying to sell you something that goes along with their ‘diet,’ ” he says.
Prioritizing health means prioritizing happiness.
“You’ll experience an improved quality of life,” Cotter says. “You’ll have more energy, you’ll feel better—and you’ll feel a lot better when you look in the mirror.”
Remember to choose methods with which you are comfortable and can use the rest of your life.
“Focus on being happy with yourself and comfortable with getting toward a thinner you, whatever your body allows that to be,” Wiktor says.
Call the ADA, toll-free at (800) 877-1600, if you have dietary questions. The ADA also can refer you to a registered nutritionist in your area.
People with low dietary levels of vitamin C and those who had too little calcium growing up have nearly twice the risk of contracting periodontal disease than people with higher dietary amounts of either nutrient, according to two studies by researchers at the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine.
Both studies used information from National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys conducted from 1971 to 1975 and 1988 to 1994. The results were presented at the 1998 meeting of the International Association for Dental Research in Nice, France.
A comparison of calcium intake with periodontal disease revealed that men and women with low levels of the mineral in their diets were 50 percent more likely to develop periodontal disease than those who met or exceeded the recommended dietary allowance for calcium. Results from participants between the ages of twenty and thirty-nine showed that low calcium intake doubled the risk of periodontal disease.
“This is a new piece of evidence,” Sara Grossi, director of the UB Periodontal Research Center, states in a press release. ”We never knew people so young were at risk of gum disease and of losing bone around their teeth. It points out how important it is for children and teens to get enough calcium during those formative years to reach their peak bone mass in the jaw and everywhere else.”
The two survey periods show that women consumed less than the minimum recommended dietary intake of 800 mg of calcium, while the average for men was slightly more than 800 mg. A similar risk for periodontal disease was found among people with dietary levels of vitamin C lower than the recommended intake. That study showed that people with the lowest intake were at the highest risk; the association was especially strong among smokers. Grossi says that a lack of vitamin C, important for maintaining and repairing healthy connective tissue and containing antioxidant properties, was most likely responsible for the association for both smokers and nonsmokers.
Protect yourself from flu and colds by . . . keeping your hands clean.
“Wash your hands a lot,” says Ellen Speare, a clinical nutritionist with Wild Oats and Alfalfa’s markets in Colorado. “Viruses live on surfaces for about three hours. We are all inside, and we are all touching these surfaces.
“You can have all the nutrition you want, but it won’t do any good if you don’t wash your hands.”
She says, however, that you can still build a strong immune system by eating a balanced diet with enough protein and antioxidants and by taking a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.
“High nutrition is the number one priority,” Speare says.
Eating enough protein is important for building antibodies, which help the immune system become strong and fight infection. Good sources of protein include fish, eggs, and poultry. Speare also suggests making a blended smoothie with a good protein supplement such as soy or whey protein powder.
Fresh fruits and vegetables contain vitamins A and C, antioxidants that increase white blood-cell production, which help fight and prevent flu and colds. Other immune-boosting items include the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium.
Speare says, too, that grapeseed extract has been found to make vitamins E and C more available to the body.
“If you don’t take it in supplement form, you have to take whole grapes with seeds and blend them,” she says. Better to take a supplement.
Zinc also helps boost the immune system and can be found in meats and in pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
If you find yourself around co-workers or family members who are sick, protect yourself through extra supplementation, she says, specifically with vitamins A and C and with zinc. When you do come down with the flu or a cold, Speare says, take extra vitamins A and C. Sucking on zinc lozenges can help a sore throat, she adds. Consult a health practitioner about the correct amounts.
Other suggestions: “Eat whole grains…such as oats and brown rice, which have most of the nutrients,” Speare says. “Don’t forget beans. Bean soups such as lentil or split pea have a lot of fiber and a lot of nutrients.”
And don’t forget to wash your hands.
A cholesterol-lowering margarine scheduled to hit U.S. grocery store shelves this January has run into a snag. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has questioned whether the product, called Benecol, is a dietary supplement or a food that has been “adulterated” by an unapproved plant-derived ingredient.
The ingredient in question, a patented derivative of pine tree sterols called stanol ester, has been a best-seller in Finland for several months. Under current U.S. labeling law, such products can be sold as a dietary supplements, but not as food additives, which require more extensive testing for approval.
At presstime, Benecol manufacturer McNeil Consumer Products Co. expected to resolve its differences with the FDA and to introduce the margarine in January, said Ron Schmid, spokesman for McNeil, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson Co.
According to the Nutrition Information Center of the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, plant sterols have been recognized since the 1950s for their cholesterol-lowering capabilities. Plant sterols are structurally similar to cholesterol; unlike cholesterol, however, they are minimally absorbed into the bloodstream. At least seventeen scientific papers substantiate stanol ester’s ability to help people reach lower cholesterol levels.
Frank Sacks, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says many people can benefit from Benecol, which is based mostly on monounsaturated canola cholesterol and doesn’t contain trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids, found in standard margarine, are formed during hydrogenation; some research shows they raise blood cholesterol, though not to the extent that saturated fats do.
“People most likely to benefit are those at higher than average risk of cardiovascular disease such as those with hypertension, diabetes, or who have the disease already,” Sacks says.
A recent study on heart attacks has challenged decades of research, but some experts say they’re skeptical of the study’s findings.
Aaron Folsom, M.D., of the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study, questions whether high blood levels of homocysteine really are a predictor of heart disease as previously believed. His study appeared in a 1998 issue of the journal Circulation. Past studies have shown that too much homocysteine, a sulfur-containing amino acid, is a serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Folsom and his co-authors found that vitamin B6 was a better indicator for heart disease risk than homocysteine, according to an American Heart Association press release. People who had the most vitamin B6 in their blood had about a third of the risk of developing heart disease compared with people with the lowest levels of vitamin B6.
The distinction between this study and earlier research, Folsom says, is that his study used a random sample of healthy people and followed them to see whether they would develop heart disease. Other studies focused on people who already had heart disease, he says.
Folsom’s study is not without its critics, however.
Paul Frankel, Ph.D., co-author with Fred Madsen, Ph.D., of Stop Homocysteine Through the Methylation Process (1998, The Research Corner), is one of them.
Frankel says that Folsom’s paper notes a trend but “did not have enough data—or the power of the statistical method employed was too low, or both—to notice the effect of homocysteine enough to make a definite positive ID.”
Further, new studies consistently show a decrease in heart disease for people taking dietary supplements aimed at lowering homocysteine, Frankel says. These studies, unlike epidemiological studies (the type of study done by Folsom) relate to cause, effect, and prevention, he says.
Some folks may drink red wine for the anti-oxidant compounds found in grapes. However, there may be no need to actually drink the wine, according to a recent report in the web edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, published by the
American Chemical Society. Grape pomace—the res- idue that remains after grapes have been pro-cessed for wine-making—also may be a source of these antioxidants, reports Anne S. Meyer, Ph.D., of the Technical University of Denmark.
Meyer and her research team used a red grape pomace from a California winery and extracted compounds called phenols. In test-tube studies, the phenols notably impaired the oxidation of LDL, or bad cholesterol. Research shows that dietary antioxidants that protect LDL from oxidation may help prevent coronary heart disease.
More than four million tons of grape pomace are generated each year by the wine-making industry, but it’s usually used as cattle feed or sent to a landfill. Data obtained through Meyer’s research may lead to the use of grape pomace in the production of antioxidant concentrates, she says.
Although grapeseed extract already sells as a nutritional supplement, researchers still need to determine the exact physiological significance of the grape phenols as antioxidants with nutritional benefits, Meyer states in a press release.
“Nutrition supplement: vitamins, minerals, and more” is offered as a bimonthly supplement to Herbs for Health and is written by Lee Peck, an independent journalist from Fort Collins, Colorado. “Nutrition supplement” is intended as an educational service, not a source of medical advice or a guide for self-medication. Please consult a qualified health-care professional for treatment of any serious health problems.
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