Wondering about Vitamin D?

Here are a few questions about Vitamin D that I hear on a regular basis.

Is sun exposure the only way to get Vitamin D?

No, there are a few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D. Among these are:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Caviar
  • Some fatty fish (such as some types of herring, mackerel, and salmon)
  • Sun-exposed mushrooms
  • Eggs

Doesn’t Vitamin D occur naturally in milk?

No, calcium occurs naturally in milk. Milk is fortified with Vitamin D.

Are there different kinds of Vitamin D?

Yes, there are several types of Vitamin D that have been identified ranging in number from 1 to 5. Each has a slightly different chemical makeup. The type of Vitamin D that comes from sun exposure is D3 and the type found naturally in plants and animals as well as in nutritional supplements is D2.

Is one type of Vitamin D better than another?

Vitamin D through skin exposure to the sun is considered the best way to get the vitamin. However, supplements and food sources are adequate for those who cannot or do not wish to be exposed to the sun.

How much sun exposure is enough?

For most people 10-20 minutes of sun exposure, a couple times a week during sunny months is enough to carry for adequate levels of Vitamin D. A person should use sunscreen if prolonged exposure to the sun occurs.


Hartford County Farmers’ Markets

We are at the beginning of Farmers’ Market season in Connecticut. For those who live locally (in Hartford County), here is a list of where and when to find the nearest one.

For the 2011 season:

Bloomfield: July-Oct. Saturdays, 9 am-1 pm. 800 Bloomfield Avenue.

Bristol: July-Sept. Wednesdays, noon-2 pm. 164 Jerome Avenue.

Burlington: July 15-Oct 21. Fridays, 3-6 pm. Burlington Congregational Church on Spielman Highway.

Canton: May 16-Oct 2. Mon-Fri, 10 am-6 pm. Sat-Sun, 10 am-5 pm. Bristol Farms, 541 Albany Turnpike.

Collinsville: June 12-Oct 23. Sundays, 10 am-1 pm. Main Street at the Town Hall parking lot.

East Hartford: July 9-Oct 29. Saturdays, 10 am-2 pm. Main Street on the town green.

East Windsor: July 2-Oct 26. Wednesdays, 3-6 pm. On the town green.

Farmington: July 10-Oct 23. Sundays, 11 am-2 pm. 35 Mountain Road.

Granby: June-Oct. Saturdays, 10 am-2 pm. 18 Hartford Avenue.

Hartford: June 27-Oct 28. Mon, Wed, Fri, 10 am-2 pm. Old State House, 800 Main Street.

Manchester: June 29-Oct 19. Wednesdays, 11 am-5:30 pm. Manchester Community College.

New Britain: Year round. Fridays, 3-6 pm. Saturdays, 10 am-1 pm. Urban Oaks Farm, 225 Oak Street.

Newington: June 23-Oct 13. Thursdays, 3-6 pm. Saturdays, 9 am-1 pm. Rear of Market Square.

Simsbury: June-Oct. Thursdays. 3-6 pm. 540 Hopmeadow Street.

South Windsor: July 10-Oct. Sundays, 10 am-2 pm. 771 Main Street.

Southington: July 8-Oct 28. Fridays, 3-6 pm. 1003 South Main Street.

Suffield: June 18-Oct 29. Saturdays, 9 am-noon. On the town green

West Hartford: May-Dec.  Tues & Sun, 9 am-1 pm. Thursdays, 11 am-3 pm. LaSalle Road’s public parking lot.

Wethersfield: June 2-Oct 27. Thursdays, 3-6 pm. 200 Main Street.

Windsor: July 26-Nov 1. Tuesdays, 3-6 pm. Connecticut Service for the Blind, 184 Windsor Avenue.


Well-rounded detoxing

You might hear people say they are cleansing or detoxing, but what does that mean? The goal of detoxing is to help a person become more aware of how foods make the body feel. It is a way to revamp the diet and to generally be more aware of what one eats. It’s not a liquid diet or a starvation diet.

Detox for your diet

There are tons of foods that are good for detoxing your body. Generally, eating a whole food diet while avoiding processed foods is the best way to keep your body healthy. But if you’ve fallen off the healthy-eating wagon (or you are just starting to investigate healthier eating patterns) here are a few foods that are good for detoxing: lemon, green tea, olive oil, onions, cilantro, and chickpeas.

Want a quick recipe for a detoxing lunch?

Just toss chickpeas with some chopped tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. Mix with a little olive oil and lemon. Accompany the chickpea salad with a glass of green tea and a slice of lemon.

But detoxing should be about more than just food.

Besides a healthy diet, and exercise to encourage circulation, when I talk about detoxing with clients I like to mention two other key areas:

Detox for your body

It’s not just harmful chemicals and by-products we eat that can be harmful to us. Ingredients put directly on our skin (of which about 80% get absorbed by the body) influence health as well.

Remember, the FDA has no authority to regulate ingredients before they go into cosmetics, and the cosmetic industry is trusted to self-regulate the safety of its products.

Reading labels on cosmetics is as important as with food. Here are a few ingredients that are recommended to avoid due to safety concerns: butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, methylparaben, propylene glycol, propylparaben, triclosan. In addition, sodium laureth suflate is a skin irritant but a very common ingredient in soaps and shampoos for its lathering properties.

Detox for your home

The average home contains over 500 chemicals, and indoor air is typically more polluted than outdoor air.

Some products that contribute to poor indoor air quality are: air fresheners, dry cleaning, scented candles, plastics, household pesticides, art supplies, automotive products, carpet cleaners, and flea and tick collars. Consider reducing your usage/storage of these products. Or you might want to look for more natural versions of these products.


Brains like the Internet more than books

Libraries around the country are offering more computer classes for older Americans. Partially, this is due to the fact that it’s becoming more difficult to exist completely without computer skills. But, it may also be due to recent research that finds older adults benefit cognitively from Internet searching.

In a study, conducted by UCLA, older adults’ brain activity when reading books was compared to brain activity when sitting at a computer and searching the Internet.

Both activities activated memory, vision, and language centers in the brain. However, when searching the Internet, participants were also engaging the decision-making and complex reasoning parts of their brains. And the researchers found the more experienced a person, the more intensely brain areas were engaged.

Pam Kelly, a reference librarian at the Wethersfield Public Library has noticed more older adults are becoming interested in learning about Internet searching. The library offers monthly classes and even includes one directed at social networking.

Keeping your brain active has been linked to staying healthier longer. Computers seem to help brain function similar to games and puzzles. But, not everyone has a computer at home, so the library can be an easy, friendly way to learn about computers.

So, this summer, to keep your brain healthy, read a few books but find some time to look up some information on the Internet, as well.


USDA drops pyramid for plate

The food pyramid is no more. The USDA recently unveiled what it calls a nutrition plate. How does it differ from the pyramids? Besides the obvious, there are no more specific foods displayed as in the earlier incarnations.

The plate is divided about evenly into four quadrants: fruits, vegetables, protein and grains. Dairy is off to the side.

The nutrition plate is a vast improvement over the food pyramids but a few things still seem to be missing. There is no mention of fats (healthy or otherwise) and the dairy circle seems like a subliminal Got Milk ad. There is also no mention of greens (a great source of calcium) and the category most overlooked in the standard American diet. And for the extra picky, the grains category would better be labeled whole grains.

But, it’s progress in the right direction and something everyone who works in the food and nutrition field is glad to see. What do you think?


Have you tried this unique fruit?

There is a berry that is native to Africa but is little known in the United States. Well, not completely unknown. It is grown and used in Florida and is growing into wider appeal. It is called miracle berry. This berry is unlike any other fruit you’ve ever eaten. What has everyone from foodies to cancer patients curious to try this berry?

The proteins in the berry bind in a certain way that makes everything eaten taste sweeter than is normally possible for about 30 minutes. Therefore, a lemon tastes like lemonade and vinegar like apple juice. The protein is called Miraculin and is perhaps part of what gives the fruit its unusual name.

The berry has a very short shelf life, so is usually sold in tablet form. It seems to helps cancer patients who have lost the ability to enjoy eating and foodies who are just curious for a new taste experience. It is also popular in Japan among people with diabetes.

Back in the 1970s the Food and Drug Administration labeled miracle berries as a food additive instead of recognizing it as a natural product. In somewhat counter intuitive logic, the FDA categorizes artificial sweeteners as sugar substitutes making them easier to be bought and sold commercially.

If you are interested in learning more about miracle berries, read this CNN article. If you are interested in trying the berry stop by Pelton’s in Wethersfield where they can be purchased in packs of 10.


Who’s on your wellness team?

A conversation I had yesterday reminded me that many people see wellness as that time when you get sick, go to the doctor and get a prescription to feel better again. Wellness, then, is the absence of pain. And getting well becomes a journey back to a time before thinking about that pain or injury.

But everything we do impacts our health and wellness. Our goal shouldn’t be to return to a state of blissful unconsciousness. It should be to take steps to create a life, relationships, and a physical environment that support our healthy goals.

Photo credit: Marcy Kellar

To that end, is it enough to have a doctor and a dentist? A separate conversation yesterday brought up this question. I have long felt people do need more but I never conceptualized the idea until Laura Wald, director of The Green Life Health called it a wellness team yesterday. A wellness team is all the people who support your health.

“We need to get away from the idea that wellness is for the affluent,” she said. And you know, we really do.

Besides a doctor and a dentist who would you include in your wellness team?

Maybe it’s a chiropractor, or a health counselor, or spiritual leader. Maybe it’s a green beauty salon or a local community garden group. Maybe it’s a networking group or a weekly massage. Maybe it’s a particular friend who makes you feel energized or a yoga studio with inspirational members. You decide what your wellness circle would look like, but the important thing is to be mindful of wellness and how relationships and professional services impact your health.

Laura is organizing a free women’s health event on Sunday, May 15 and is passionate about these kinds of issues.  She’ll be talking about issues relating to women’s health at the event called: Barbies, Bitches and the Beloved. Come talk to women and hear other women’s experiences. Registration is required, but all the details can be found on her website.


3 more ways to stay safe at the grocery store

If you caught last week’s blog I mentioned that I would be following up with three more healthy tips for grocery shopping. As I mentioned before buying organic is a good place to start, but there are other things to consider:

Milk and eggs. Whether you are on the side that thinks we drink way too much milk or not, most people agree that it’s better to buy and drink organic milk than the regular grocery store variety because of the artificial hormones. Eggs, on the other hand, are not the same story. Chickens are not, as a rule, given artificial hormones. Cage-free eggs might have more nutritional value than chickens from a factory farm, but not likely to make a dramatic difference. (I’ll be explaining the reason for this in next week’s blog.)

And it’s never necessary to buy eggs labeled vegetarian fed because chickens are not vegetarians. Chickens eat a variety of grasses, seeds, grains, bugs and gravel when they have a well-balanced diet. About 20 percent of their diet should come from live insects such as earthworms, grasshoppers, and beetles. It’s not uncommon for a chicken to eat frogs and mice (and sometimes even a snake) as well. Chickens are omnivores and should never be fed a vegetarian diet. I recommend sticking with simply cage-free and/or organic eggs.

Non-stick pots and pans. They might be convenient but they pose a health risk. The non-stick coating gives off a toxic fume when heated to high temperatures and the coating breaks down over time which gets cooked into food. I recommend using stainless steel cookware instead.

Household cleaners. When you consider that about 80% of what touches the skin is absorbed into the body, it’s important to try and minimize harsh chemicals that come in direct contact with skin. Check out some eco-friendly products. These are not just good for the environment, they are often better for your health as well. For years, I’ve been using just mild soap, lemon juice and Method Home cleaning products. Method’s formula is one of the mildest out there, but I still use gloves when I come in contact with them.

What other things do you think about when considering product safety and the grocery store?


Staying safe at the grocery store

We often hear about the importance of buying organic at the grocery store. But that’s not the only thing to remember when stepping into the market.

Photo Credit: Jenny Rollo

Consider these tips before your next shopping trip:

  • Strawberries, apples, cherries, and celery absorb pesticides readily. They are also sprayed with more variety of chemicals than many others. So always buy these organic. But you can skip the organic avocado due to its thick skin. Try to prioritize based on organic versus conventional produce costs to make your dollar go farther.
  • Microwaved popcorn. Not only are many varieties full of fats and/or trans fats, but there is a chemical used to coat the inside of the bag that is under investigation by the EPA. (The chemical is used to keep the popcorn from sticking to the sides of the bag). No conclusions have been drawn, but it’s a safer bet to get an air popper or to make your popcorn on the stove top. Also, sometimes you can find on-the-cob popcorn–something worth checking out for popcorn fans.
  • Glass bottles. Whenever possible opt for the glass bottle over items packaged in plastic. Research has shown more bacteria found in plastic containers and the BPA (plastic chemicals) leach into the food from the plastic container. Always skip the “steam in the bag” options. It’s convenient, but you’ll get a lot of BPAs from the heating process.

Next week, three more buying tips for the grocery store.


Variety, not restriction

There are so many times when I see a person’s food log, and I feel like I’m reading the same day over and over. Mainstream diets even encourage people to believe less variety is better. Sure, we’re creatures of habit, but we also have a deep-seated need for novelty. When it comes to food, a little bit of variety will give you more energy and make you feel better.

Not all food has to be salad to be nutritious, but even the ordinary salad can be created with variety.

If you eat the same cereal for breakfast, the same sandwich for lunch, and the same pasta for dinner you’re not only limiting the amount of nutrients you are consuming, but you are boring your brain. Both lead people to eat more. Here’s why:

  • Our bodies create unique amino acids based on the ways we combine foods. For example, eating an onion with broccoli and sweet potatoes will produce different amino acids than eating an onion with broccoli and white potatoes or rice or a banana for that matter. It’s the variety of food combinations we make that are just as important as the meals we choose to eat. If we don’t get the nutrition our bodies need, hunger and cravings increase because the body is searching for missing vitamins and minerals. (One caution: variety here means choosing from a wide range of whole foods, not from the kind of variety one experiences at a buffet restaurant.)
  • Food psychology also comes into play here as well. If we eat the same foods over and over, we lose interest. We start craving stronger flavors like sugars and fats more often. We want foods that will provide a counterbalance to how boring our daily diet has become. Bottom line: If we don’t feel satisfied with what we eat, we’ll want to keep eating.

Instead of restrictive diets, counting calories, eliminating favorite foods, and feeling guilty, I tell clients to focus on creating variety, color, moderation, and (yes, even) fun into their diets. I don’t know why we ever adopted the idea that food has to be boring, tasteless, and restrictive to be “good” for us because that has only made us food neurotic–and not a bit healthier.