Secret Sugars

24 01 2015

I’ve been mulling around in my mind the subject of sugar for quite awhile. There is so much to say about sugar – there are books on it – and internet research is endless. So how to narrow down the topic and avoid getting bogged down in all the history, chemistry, and controversy? I decided to write about what bugs me – it’s not the sugar found in nature, but all the sugar added to processed foods, and even “healthy” foods that is the problem. I consider sugar in store-bought food “secret” because I’m always so surprised at the number of grams of sugar on the labels.

Now, I don’t want to rain on your food parade, or mine for that matter, because you can’t avoid sugar and sugar tastes good! You know the old adage, “everything in moderation;” well the problem is there is so much more sugar in foods than we realize, it’s easy to go way past moderation. I just want to raise my sugar IQ (and yours) and be more conscious of it in our food choices.

The Best And Most Thorough Article on Sugar

One of the reasons I kept putting off writing about sugar is that there is SO MUCH to cover. Then I found this website, and I realized I didn’t need to write an article on everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-sugar-but-were-afraid-to-ask. That article already exists! Steve Kamb has written an engaging, interesting, and easy to read article on SUGAR. Please read it – it really covers all the bases!! I thought I’d hit some of the highlights:

Sugar has many aliases. Agave nectar, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, organic evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, syrup. Whew! No wonder it’s hard to avoid. And that doesn’t even count all the simple carbohydrates we consume that the body converts to sugar!! Highly processed foods such as white bread and french fries have almost the same effect on blood sugar as regular sugar. Basically, the more refined (processed) the food, the more likely it’ll be to get converted quickly to sugar in our body.

High fructose corn syrup IS worse than other sugars. There isn’t that much difference between regular sugar (equal parts fructose and glucose) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS – 55% fructose and 45% glucose), but the body metabolizes glucose and fructose differently. Glucose goes right in to the bloodstream and every cell can use it; fructose causes fat to accumulate in the liver. In this case, “a calorie is a calorie” does not compute. (Steve Kamb does not have this specific info in his article although he is right about HFCS being worse than other sugars.) I learned more about sugar from The Great Cholesterol Myth (see below).

Fruit juice is sugar-water. In my commissary where I do most of our food shopping, there is one whole side on a row, from beginning to end, filled with all kinds of fruit juices. All loaded with sugar! Why is there so much fruit juice for sale? Technology is the simple answer. Once pasteurization came along, fruit juice was able to last longer and ship far distances without spoiling. Personally, we’ve cut orange juice from our diet – even the Not from Concentrate! It’s sugar-water.

I know I wrote an article on juicing, but now we’ve even cut down on that! While you’re getting lots of nutrients, the sugars in fruit and veggies aren’t left behind with the pulp. More hidden sugar! Of course, it makes sense because one time I tried making soup from all the ground pulp and no amount of spices could make it taste good – we had drunk all the sugars! Obviously, some fruits are better than others in terms of sugar content, but whole fruits are better than juice any day because at least you get the fiber, too. Apples, pears, blueberries, and grapefruit have much less sugar than pineapple, cantalope, and mangoes.

Sugar is Addicting. As Steve Kamb says, the short answer to the question if sugar is addicting, is, yes it is! Basically, we are not genetically designed to consume the amount of sugar that we are currently eating.  For that reason, our brains get that ‘happy feeling’ from sugar and it can override the “I’ve had enough” mechanism. Don’t despair – he offers tips on how to get control of the sugar in your diet.

It Has How Much Sugar?

Looking at my cupboard, here is a sampling of what I found:

Bertolli Organic Traditional Spaghetti Sauce: 7g/1/2 cup

100% Pure Maple Syrup: 47g/1/4 cup (we do have pancakes occasionally)

Pace Medium Picante Sauce: 2g/2 tsp (multiply that for sure!)

Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans: 12g/1/2 cup (the 3-serving can would feed 2 people – multiply that)

Heinz Ketchup: 4g/1 TBSP (multiply that! – contains HFCS)

Pomegranate Juice: 32g/1 cup (justify that because I use half that in a smoothie and it’s high in anti-oxidants)

Original V8 Juice: 6g/1 cup (replaced OJ in our house many moons ago)

Haagen Dazs Sea Salt Caramel ice cream cup: 26g (rare occasions!)

A really interesting list is on the Summer Tomato blog – she highlights the amazing amount of sugar in popular foods!

How Much Sugar is Okay?

If a food contains more than 15 grams per serving, you can consider it dessert according to Marion Nestle! Oops! In the old days, Americans consumed about 9 grams of sugar per day (1822); in 2012, Americans consume on average 150 grams of sugar per day! Can you believe Americans eat over 130 pounds of sugar a year? The American Heart Association recommends that women limit their sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons per day, which provides about 100 calories (25 grams), and men should limit sugar intake to no more than 9 teaspoons, or about 150 calories (37.5 grams).

The Institute of Medicine, a charter of the National Academy of Sciences, provides sugar recommendations different from those of the American Heart Association. The IOM states that added sugars should account for no more than 25 percent of the calories you eat. If you are on a standard 2,000-calorie diet, this means that you should be eating no more than 500 calories from sugar, or 125 grams. That seems pretty high to me and out of step with what I’ve been reading.

It’s not apples to apples, but the USDA recommendations state that the combination of added sugars and solid fats — which include butter, lard and margarine — should provide no more than 5 to 15 percent of daily calories (about 75 grams). Fat is not as evil as we’ve been led to believe by the way, but that’s for another article.

I think there’s a realistic, happy medium in there somewhere.

Why is Sugar Such a Big Deal?

Part of the problem with sugar is that it contains no minerals, no fiber, no enzymes, no vitamins. Nothing. It just tastes good. And, basically, too much sugar makes us fat, diabetic, gives us rotten teeth, and is a MAJOR cause of metabolic disease, including heart disease. Here is a pretty intense list of all the problems too much sugar can cause according to Dr. Nancy Appleton:

Since I started this article many months ago, I have read the book The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin-Free Plan That Will. Drs. Bowden and Sinatra make a very well-documented argument about the true causes of heart disease. There are four major causes of  heart disease and sugar is one of them! I’ll be reviewing the book in another article – it is excellent! I gave this book to everybody in my family for Christmas! There’s an Amazon link below if you’re interested – especially if you’re on a statin!

Bottom Line

Basically, we’re cutting our sugar intake in an effort to stay healthy and trim. The consumption numbers they recommend sound tough, but I think cutting out candy, sodas and fruit juices knocks that number way down. I’m not over worrying about sugars from fruits and vegetables, but we’re reading labels for added “secret” sugars and just trying to be more conscious and aware. You gotta pick your poison! Haha!


I did not get into the discussion of wine and alcohol and sugar content – mainly because the fact that there is sugar in alcohol is not a secret. However, you should definitely calculate the amount of sugar you’re drinking at the cocktail hour in to your overall diet. If you’re curious about sugar content in wine, here’s a good article from The Washington Post:


Bread . . .And Other Processed Foods

18 06 2013

I guess I shouldn’t have expected a simple definition for something as complicated as processed foods. In searching the internet, Livestrong uses the FDA’s definition of processed foods which defines every food as processed if it isn’t raw. By that definition, if you cook some vegetables and add spices, you just processed your food. The subject of processed food is much more convoluted than that!

I got interested in the subject when I read  Melanie Warner’s book, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. What an eye opener! She defines processed food as “something that could not be made, with the same ingredients, in a home kitchen. In your home kitchen.” I’m not going to do a book report or give away all the juicy details, but I am going to hit some highlights. Warner also states that “processed foods are designed to be irresistibly delicious and appealingly convenient, but the more you know about the story of food additives, the more hollow the appeal seems.” According to Warner, it’s food preparation and food additives that determine if foods are processed. Her book gives new, real meaning to the phrase “avoid the middle aisles of the grocery store.”

Labels Make For Some Interesting Reading!

Melanie Warner’s definition becomes clear when you start reading ingredient labels. After you read her book, I predict you will read the labels of everything you buy. Let’s take bread for an example. A couple years ago, I gave up white bread (empty food and calories) and felt good about my switch to whole wheat bread high in fiber. I read the part of the label identifying the amount of fiber, protein, etc. and I honestly didn’t give it much more thought than that. I trusted Pepperidge Farm to bake a healthy product. Well here is the label for Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Whole Wheat bread: Unbromated stone ground 100% whole wheat flour, water, wheat berries, wheat gluten, sugar, yeast, raisin juice concentrate, soybean oil, wheat bran, contains 2 percent or less of: unsulphured molasses, wheat flakes, honey, lower sodium sea salt, cultured whey milk, distilled vinegar, salt, enzyme modified soy lecithin, wheat flour. It doesn’t seem that bad but with all the additives, it’s definitely processed. Now compare the ingredients of Great Harvest‘s whole wheat bread: fresh-ground whole wheat flour, water, yeast, salt, honey. The same ingredients you would use at home. Definitely simpler, and definitely not processed. So I am frequenting Great Harvest more often now. Or, if you’re Uncle Ed (my sister’s husband), you make your own bread! He’s taught all the cousins, too! Or, if you’re lucky and live on the West Coast, you can get Dave’s Killer Good Seed Bread.

I also took a new look at those Chi Chis whole wheat flour tortillas I have been buying for years, too (instead of the white flour tortilla). Ouch. Ingredients: Whole wheat flour, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin and folic acid), water, soybean oil, salt, sodium bicarbonate, mono & diglycerides, sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate, fumaric acid, potassium sorbate, corn starch, soy flour, sodium propionate, calcium sulfate, monocalcium phosphate, guar gum, cellulose gum, arabic gum, sorbic acid, l-cysteine. Ugh. All in order to create a consistent, pliable, soft tortilla that won’t mold. Guess what I did? I made my own flour tortillas the other night. They were easy and pretty good. Ingredients? Organic wheat flour, salt, baking powder, lard, and water.

One more example: Packaged shredded cheese. This is another instance where I have enjoyed the convenience without paying attention to the ingredients. Safeway’s Essential Everyday Mexican style Cheddar Jack cheese contains: mild cheddar cheese (cultured pasteurized mil, salt, enzymes, annato (color)), monterey jack cheese (cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes), potato starch and powdered cellulose added to prevent caking, natamycin (a natural mold inhibitor). These may not be bad for you, but there’s certainly more in the bag than cheese. I’ve already started using my grater again! And the word natural? According to Warner, “no legal definition exists for what’s natural and what’s not. The FDA has never defined the term, despite its unbridled use and a dozen court cases where food companies have been sued for using it.”

Soy. Soy. Soy.

Soy is a huge subject in her book. The reason why is that soybeans, and specifically soy protein, are fundamental to today’s food processing. Soy is planted all over the United States and it is big business. For example, those chicken nuggets in the freezer section are up to 25% soy protein infused. She states that Tyson’s 100% Natural chicken nuggets are made with 18 ingredients. You can certainly make more chicken nuggets if you start adding stuff to them. Plus, the chemical processes used to make soy additives are fascinating and alarming. Tofu and edamame are okay, but look out otherwise. And those fake soy hot dogs for vegans? I looked at the label the other day. After reading Pandora’s Lunchbox, I wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole – not that I ever did!

Fast Food.

Obviously, everybody knows fast food is generally thought to be unhealthy. I haven’t had a McDonald’s cheeseburger in eons, nor a Wendy’s cheeseburger, or other fast food (okay, twice a year I get a sourdough breakfast jack at the Jack in the Box in Idaho). However, I did think I was making a healthy choice by going to Subway and getting the 6″ turkey sub with no cheese, salt and pepper, spinach, tomato, banana peppers, olives, and red hot sauce on a honey oat roll. Uh oh! When you go to Subway anywhere in the country, you want the same Subway sandwich you order at home, right? Well, in order to guarantee that consistency, it turns out Subway is just another fast food joint! For example from Pandora’s Lunchbox, “In order to get dough to survive all this puffing up and thrashing that happens inside machines, “dough conditioners” are needed. Subway’s bread contains five of them: sodium stearoyl lactylate, monoglycerides, diglycerides, ascorbic acid, and dactyl tartaric ester of monoglyceride, known as DATEM. Without these ingredients, Subway’s dough would break down, losing its elasticity and sticking in gooey clumps to the machines.” Get her book and read the whole Subway story, including all about the turkey!

Why Should We Care?

In our modern world, we are bombarded with chemicals. I don’t think we should be expected to be bombarded with chemicals and additives in our food. If you check Warner’s index for Pandora’s Lunchbox, here are the listings under cancer: “aldehydes, BHA, chemical interactions, fiber, Kellogg’s views about, omega balance, phytomins, soybeans, sweeteners, vitamins and minerals, Wiley’s concerns.” Let’s look at BHA on the index list in her book. It’s a preservative, “short for butylated hydroxyanisole, and is on California’s Proposition 65 list of cancer- or birth-defect-causing chemicals. The Department of Health and Human Services has placed it on a list – a relatively short one – of substances ‘reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.’ Manufacturers have switched to BHT (also on the list), but you can find BHA in Tang, tropical punch, Kool-Aid lemonade, DiGiorno pepperoni pizza, and McDonald’s sausages and breakfast steak.” We can’t control everything, but we can control the food we eat. Obviously, the more we create in our own kitchen, and avoid all those food additives, the better it has to be for us. Warner does use an example of a family who tried the 10-day food challenge from the 100 Days of Real Food program. You don’t have to do a challenge to get a lot out of this website. It is loaded with ideas, tips, and recipes to help reduce and eliminate our dependence on processed foods. If you’re interested, it’s the perfect place to start. Another great website that I was recently introduced to by Doc Newman (a former Navy doctor) is It’s loaded with food, nutrient, and cooking information and ideas. He recommends it to all his patients.

You CAN Find Healthy Convenience Foods in the Grocery Store

It’s not my intention to turn you off of grocery store food. While I am trying to cook more from scratch, and as much as we try to eat more healthily everyday, we all give in to convenience foods and fast food – that’s life in the fast lane. However, all is not lost if you don’t feel like cooking and want to be healthy! There are a lot of companies making the effort to produce good foods without a lot of processing and additives including Bertolli, Mariani, Dr. Praeger, Amy’s, La Pasta, many Trader Joe’s items, and more. Below is a sampling of some of the prepared foods I’ve found.

Feeling like pizza? I like Amy’s Cheese Pizza. Ingredients are: organic unbleached wheat flour with organic wheat germ and organic wheat bran, filtered water, part-skim mozzarella cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, culture, salt, enzymes (without animal enzymes or rennet)), organic tomato puree, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic honey, sea salt, organic red onions, expeller-pressed high oleic safflower and/or sunflower oil, yeast, spices, organic garlic, black pepper. Add fresh spinach, mushrooms, red onion, chopped tomatoes, shredded carrots, and chopped peppers and you have a delicious, filling veggie pizza. She also has a vegan No Cheese Pizza.

Mary’s Gone Crackers are truly delicious and contain: organic short grain brown rice, organic whole quinoa, organic brown flax seeds, organic brown sesame seeds, filtered water, organic black pepper, sea salt, organic wheat free tamari (water, whole organic soybeans, salt, organic alcohol or organic vinegar). Yummy with cheese or hummus!

When I don’t feel like making my own (I make my own pasta, too), I buy Michael Angelo’s Vegetable Lasagna. The box label reads: Tomatoes (tomatoes, salt), vegetable blend (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, spinach), mozzarella cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), ricotta (whole milk, whey, vinegar, salt), past (durum semolina), water, imported romano cheese (pasteurized sheep’s milk, cultures, rennet, salt), olive oil, honey, salt, garlic, spices. Not bad for packaged, frozen food!

Since I don’t grill hamburgers anymore, I’ve turned to veggie burgers. Amy’s California Veggie Burger contains: organic mushrooms, organic onions, organic bulgur wheat, organic celery, organic carrots, organic oats, filtered water, organic walnuts, wheat gluten, organic potatoes, sea salt, expeller-pressed high oleic safflower and/or sunflower oil, organic garlic. Believe it or not, they taste delicious!

Read All About It!!

Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal is a quick read and it is comprehensive. Melanie Warner leaves no stone unturned in the history of food and food processing in America. With meticulous detail and thoroughness, in an interesting and readable format, she describes food processing techniques (she personally visited plants), takes an exhaustive look at soy and soy protein in processed foods, interviews food experts, and uses name brand foods and fast food chains to illustrate her points.

It will change the way you shop and the way you cook. Guaranteed.

Virgin Coconut Oil: Miracle Oil?

4 03 2013

It’s amazing when you are researching a subject on the internet and one thing leads to another and then you learn about something you’ve never heard of before – it’s like pulling a thread on an old sock. I got interested in the subject of this post – coconut oil – when I wrote about fats and oils. There is so much to learn about coconut oil and I found it all fascinating. For example, I was wowed by what I learned about the possible relationship between coconut oil and Alzheimer’s. Maybe you will be too. Shall we get started?

Coconut Oil is Bad For You Isn’t It? NO!

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the corn and soybean industry led a propaganda campaign against coconut oil and bad-mouthed it as a highly saturated fat (which it is) and that it was making everybody fat and was bad for the heart, etc. Of course it turns out that’s not true, and the vegetable and seed oils they were pushing turn out to be trans fats, which really are bad for you. I remember checking labels and being very wary of coconut oil. Every so often, I would make Thai food and had to use coconut milk in the recipes – it tasted delicious but I knew it wasn’t good for me. So, I guess the soybean/vegetable oil business won the oil war! How wrong they were – and they knew it! It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that people started asking questions.

There are Fats and Then There are Fats

The saturated fat in coconut oil contains fatty acids called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. In fact, coconut oil is nature’s richest source of medium-chain triglycerides. In contrast, most vegetable and seed oils contain fatty acids called long-chain triglycerides or LCTs. What’s the difference? Basically, LCTs end up stored as fat in the body and as cholesterol in the arteries. MCTs, on the other hand, are quickly digested and go straight to the liver where they are converted to energy and are never stored as fat. With a reduction in carbs, coconut oil consumption can actually help with weight loss!

Let’s take a closer look. Coconut oil consists of more than 90% of saturated fats with traces of some unsaturated fatty acids, such as monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Here’s a breakdown:

Saturated fatty acids: Lauric acid (more than 40%), followed by capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids: Linoleic acid.
Monounsaturated fatty acids: Oleic acid.
Polyphenols: Coconut contains gallic acid, which is phenolic acid. (responsible for the fragrance and the taste)
Certain derivatives of fatty acids like betaines, ethanolamide, ethoxylates, fatty esters, fatty polysorbates, monoglycerides and polyol esters.
Derivatives of fatty alcohols like fatty chlorides, fatty alcohol sulphate and fatty alcohol ether sulphate.
Vitamins: Vitamin-E and Vitamin K and minerals such as iron.

Lauric Acid is the Secret Ingredient

Lauric acid is in abundance in coconut oil and . . .breast milk! Lauric acid turns in to the compound monolaurin when it is processed through the liver. Monolaurin is responsible for strengthening our immune systems to help keep us healthy and to resist disease. A lot of research has been done on lauric acid and monolaurin but basically it disrupts the fatty membranes of “offending” or invading organisms which deactivates them or kills them. So, the same substance in mother’s milk that protects infants from viral, bacterial or protozoal infections is also found in coconut oil to help adults fight disease! Coconut oil is the best source of lauric acid, but it is also found, in lesser amounts, in milk and bay leaf.

The Health Benefits of Coc0nut Oil

The health benefits of coconut oil are too numerous and the research too vast to cover in detail in this post. The most comprehensive review of coconut oil that I’ve read is Dr. Bruce Fife’s book, The Coconut Oil Miracle. In a very readable fashion, he explains coconut oil, the chemistry of fats, and discusses in detail all the health benefits of coconut oil and how to use it in your life. ( Coconut oil is not a panacea for all ills and if you’re not exercising or you’re eating a lot of junk food, it is definitely not going to help. I consider coconut oil to be one part of a good health care regime. Generally speaking though, coconut oil (ingested or applied topically) is thought to:

– Support killing viruses (flu, herpes, measles, etc.), bacteria (ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, etc.), and fungi and yeast (candidiasis, athlete’s foot, diaper rash)
– Support and aid immune system function.
– Provide a nutritional source of energy
– Improve digestion and absorption of nutrients
– Improve cholesterol ratio and protect against atherosclerosis and other heart disease
– Function as a protective antioxidant
– Support thyroid function
– Form a chemical barrier on the skin to ward off infection and reduce symptoms associated with psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis, and dry skin in general
– Promote healthy looking hair and complexion; and help control dandruff

Coconut Oil and Alzheimer’s

One of the most compelling things I stumbled upon in my research was Dr. Mary Newport’s personal story about her husband’s early onset Alzheimer’s and coconut oil. It’s definitely controversial, but because of the possible relationship between insulin, synapses, brain, and memory, some are actually calling Alzheimer’s Type 3 diabetes. Scientists say  that Alzheimer’s patients’ brains have lower levels of insulin and are insulin resistant. It’s kind of technical, but simply put, scientists at Northwestern discovered that a certain protein (ADDL) binds to synapses in the brain wrecking the receptor for insulin. With the synapses closed off, insulin can’t get in to the brain and convert to glucose, which feeds the brain, and memory fails. Basically, the brain is starving. This is where Dr. Newport’s story comes in. It turns out there is an alternative fuel for the brain in the form of ketone esters, organic chemical compounds. A study from the 1960’s showed that the brain easily switches over to using ketone bodies during starvation when glucose supplies are used up. And guess what? Ketones are metabolized in the liver after you eat medium chain triglycerides – found in coconut oil! Ketone esters can be manufactured in the laboratory but it’s very expensive to produce large quantities and since they come from “nature”, can’t be patented, and therefore pharmaceutical companies can’t profit (an old story). Research and fundraising is going on now, but until they find a way to produce the needed quantities at optimum strength levels, the next best thing is coconut oil.

In short, Dr. Newport’s husband went for testing and couldn’t draw a clock. She stumbled on coconut oil and started putting it in his oatmeal. Two weeks later, he drew another clock but it actually started to look like a clock. And two weeks later, it was an even better clock. His story may be an anomaly, or it may mean real help for Alzheimer’s patients. To be clear, he’s not cured; but he is better. Research is ongoing.

The videos listed below are of this couple’s experience with early onset Alzheimer’s. They take some time to watch, but I found them fascinating. Also, google “Alzheimer’s and coconut oil” and other videos will pop up to view about other people’s experiences.

Coconut Oil Basics

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and melts at 76 degrees.

The chemical makeup of virgin coconut oil is pretty standard but depending on how it’s processed, the amount of lauric acid can vary from brand to brand. As stated above, most virgin coconut oils contain at least 40% lauric acid. Manufacturers of extra virgin coconut oils claim to have 50% or more lauric acid.

There are approximately 117 calories per TBSP of coconut oil. As far as dosage is concerned, I found this on the Livestrong website: “No recommended dose of coconut oil exists, but Pacific Islanders’ traditional diet provides several grams of lauric acid, or at least 1 tbsp. coconut oil, daily. Between 10g to 20g lauric acid daily may benefit your health, suggests lipid biochemistry expert Dr. Mary G. Enig. Coconut oil contains 50 percent lauric acid, so 1 tbsp. coconut oil provides around 7g lauric acid. This means 1 to 3 tbsp. daily is an appropriate dose.”

When you are shopping for coconut oil, you want to be sure to buy virgin coconut oil as opposed to plain coconut oil. In general, plain coconut oil may have been cleaned with chemicals before processing, and is then put in a centrifuge which removes the smell and flavor. You want to avoid consuming this type of coconut oil as it doesn’t contain all the fatty acids you want and may actually contain some trans fats. Look for Virgin Coconut Oil or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil when you go shopping. Also, in my experience, they are all organic as well.

Coconut oil does not form harmful by-products, such as trans fats, when heated to normal cooking temperature like other vegetable oils do. I have replaced all oils except olive oil with virgin coconut oil in my cooking. I use it on baked asparagus, homemade french fries, frying eggs, a big glop in my smoothie, in fish marinades, in my oatmeal, popping popcorn, in all baking that calls for oil – you name it. At first I noticed the gentle, slightly sweet flavor, for example when eating eggs; but now I don’t notice it at all anymore. Actually, I regularly take a spoonful and eat it just like candy and let it float around and melt in my mouth. It’s good! I still use olive oil in salad dressings and when a recipe must have it, or for dipping. Remember, olive oil only develops trans fats when it’s cooked.

Coconut oil is excellent for hair care and skin care. I keep a jar of virgin coconut oil in the bathroom. After showering, I take a glob in my hand, it melts quickly, and I rub it on my legs and arms. It absorbs quickly and is another way to get it in to your system. I have not tried it on my hair yet. I just discovered a product called Capriclear. Capriclear is a spray-on skin care product that is fractionated coconut oil (see Wikipedia below) and is supposed to help with dry skin and eczema. ( It’s especially good for people who find they are allergic to coconut oil but need skin care help.

It is possible to be allergic to coconut oil and you’ll just have to determine that for yourself.

Shopping for Coconut Oil

Virgin coconut oil is pretty common on most grocery store shelves now, even at the commissary. In the beginning, I ordered online, then I found it at the commissary but I don’t think it’s the best (Spectrum), and I’ve also purchased it at the Vitamin Store. But now, I’ve found it at Costco! Costco sells extra virgin coconut oil in a big tub and it is comparatively inexpensive and delicious. I currently have Nutiva Extra Virgin Coconut oil that I brought home from the Costco in Seattle which my sister found. I checked our Costco here in Virginia and they have it too – but a different brand.

Spectrum now makes a spray coconut oil which replaces the Pam-type sprays. It’s worked out great for baking – you do have to run it under hot water each time because the nozzle gets clogged when the can is cold.


Obviously, there is so much to know and learn and discover about coconut oil. Also, there’s so much to know scientifically about diet, oils and how they break down in cooking, and the chemistry of it all. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to do another post (aside from travel and a couple other issues – with a little procrastination thrown in there) – it’s easy to get bogged down on how to present so much information briefly and accurately! SO, I highly recommend you checking out Dr. Fife’s book, mentioned above, and all of my resources below! You’ll start pulling that sock thread too!,8599,1673236,00.html

A Big, Fat Oily Mess

1 05 2012

I have searched the internet for articles and information on oils and have read many articles. Trying to filter out what is right, what is wrong, what is good, and what is bad is truly an “oily mess.” It would be easy to just say virgin coconut oil is the best or never eat margarine, and that would be that. But there is so much more to understand about fats in oil, cooking with oil, uses of different oils and your health. So, sorry to say, this will be a slightly exhaustive look at fat and oils. I will try to keep it as short and sweet as possible and provide lots of links so you can read further on your own. I want to say upfront that I copied big parts liberally from Dr. Ben Kim (see link below). Here we go!

The Basics of Fat

Fat that is found in food is composed mainly of fatty acids. Fatty acids are classified into three major groups: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. All fatty acids are made up of a chain of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms filling in the spaces around each carbon atom.

Saturated Fatty Acids: When the spaces surrounding each carbon atom are filled, or saturated with hydrogen atoms, you have a saturated fatty acid. Because each carbon atom is completely surrounded by hydrogen atoms, saturated fatty acids are compact and extremely stable, even under high temperatures. Saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature and are found mainly in animal fats such as butter, other dairy, red meat, and tropical oils. Your body makes some of its saturated fatty acids from carbohydrates in your diet.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids: When a fatty acid is missing two hydrogen atoms, it has a double bond between two of its carbon atoms. This type of fatty acid is called a monounsaturated fatty acid, mono, because there is only one double bond, and unsaturated because the two carbon atoms that share a double bond are not saturated with hydrogen atoms. Monounsaturated fatty acids are usually liquid at room temperature are relatively stable, even when exposed to some heat. The most common type of monounsaturated fatty acid found in food is called oleic acid. Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in olive oil, avocados, peanuts, almonds, pecans, and cashews. Your body can also make monounsaturated fatty acids out of saturated fatty acids.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: When a fatty acid chain is missing several hydrogen atoms, it has two or more double bonds. These fatty acids are called polyunsaturated fatty acids, poly, because there is more than one double bond. Because each double bond represents a kink in the fatty acid chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more kinks, and therefore are less saturated, and remain liquid even in the refrigerator. The most common polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods are omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are considered to be essential fatty acids, because your body cannot make them – they must be obtained through your diet. See more discussion below.

Oils high in polyunsaturated oil include corn oil, soy oil, grape seed oil, regular safflower and sunflower oils (i.e., not “high oleic” oil – more on this below), and cottonseed oil and are highly unstable, and go bad quite easily when exposed to heat and light. You don’t want to cook with them. When polyunsaturated fatty acids go bad, free radicals are created. Free radicals are compounds that travel around in your blood, causing damage to just about everything that they come into contact with. Consistent exposure to free radicals has been strongly linked to the development of tumors, cardiovascular disease, premature aging, autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and cataracts.

The Dangers of Polyunsaturates – An Excerpt: From Enig and Fallon’s important paper on The Oiling of America: (see link below): “Because polyunsaturates are highly subject to rancidity, they increase the body’s need for vitamin E and other antioxidants. Excess consumption of vegetable oils is especially damaging to the reproductive organs and the lungs—both of which are sites for huge increases in cancer in the US. In test animals, diets high in polyunsaturates from vegetable oils inhibit the ability to learn, especially under conditions of stress; they are toxic to the liver; they compromise the integrity of the immune system; they depress the mental and physical growth of infants; they increase levels of uric acid in the blood; they cause abnormal fatty acid profiles in the adipose tissues; they have been linked to mental decline and chromosomal damage; they accelerate aging. Excess consumption of polyunsaturates is associated with increasing rates of cancer, heart disease and weight gain; excess use of commercial vegetable oils interferes with the production of prostaglandins leading to an array of complaints ranging from autoimmune disease to PMS. Disruption of prostaglandin production leads to an increased tendency to form blood clots, and hence myocardial infarction, which has reached epidemic levels in America.”

The Importance of the Omega-6 and Omega-3 Ratio in Polyunsaturates

One of the essential keys to excellent health is to maintain a good balance between the two most common polyunsaturated fatty acids – omega-6 and omega-3. An optimal ratio is about 1:1. Vegetable oils like safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed all contain at least 50 percent omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and very little amounts of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, putting their omega-6 to omega-3 ratios as high as 20:1 which is why you want to avoid them.

Why is this ratio so critical to your health? If you have too much omega-6 compared to omega-3, you will have imbalances at a cellular level that will contribute to generalized inflammation, high blood pressure, digestive passageway disturbances, depressed immune function, sterility, weight gain, increased tendency to form blood clots, and even cancer. The excerpt above from Enig and Fallon’s article supports this.

How can you get a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids?  The best way is to eat a well balanced diet of whole, relatively unprocessed foods. A diet that is abundant in vegetables with smaller amounts of fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and organic or wild animal products including cold-water fish will very likely result in a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. If you prefer not to use animal products, or are unable to locate organic or wild sources of animal products, you should consider using a high quality cod liver oil. Cod liver oil has an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Without supplementation, it is extremely difficult for strict vegans to obtain adequate quantities of DHA from only plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids like flax seeds and walnuts. This nutrient is particularly important for those with cardiovascular disease, any condition that is accompanied by chronic inflammation, and women of child-bearing status, as DHA is critical for proper development of the nervous system. Cutler and I have been taking cod liver oil and DHA since I discovered Dr. Sherry Rogers in November. I order ours from Carlson Labs (www.

An Oil Primer

Now we get to the nitty gritty and the original purpose of this post! All fats and oils from animal and plant sources are made up of a combination of all three types of fatty acids. In general, animal fats such as butter and fat found in beef and chicken have around 40-60 percent saturated fatty acids. Vegetable oils from low temperature climates tend to have a higher percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids and vegetable oils from warmer climates, like coconut oil and red palm oil, have high percentages of saturated fats because the saturated fats impart necessary stiffness to the leaves of plants in tropical climates. The following is a quick review from Dr. Kim’s guide to oils ( Oils are listed starting from best to use and go down to those to avoid completely.

Coconut Oil: 91.9% saturated, 6.2% monounsaturated, 1.9% polyunsaturated. This is the healthiest cooking oil. Also great for skin care. Learn more about coconut oil here:
I have ordered some Garden of Life organic coconut oil from Amazon and am going to give it a try. (Read the reviews.)

Palm Oil: 51.6% saturated, 38.7% monounsaturated, 9.7% polyunsaturated. Excellent for cooking because it remains stable, but apparently may have a “different” taste and odor. It’s common in peanut butter and microwave popcorn.

Olive Oil: 13.8% saturated, 75.9% monounsaturated, 10.3% polyunsaturated. Olive oil is a case where there are competing “facts”. It is definitely better than vegetable oils, but it’s not necessarily as healthy as we want to believe. Because its monounsaturated fats are prone to being stored as fat, heavy use of olive oil can make it difficult to lose weight. Actually, butter is less likely to cause weight gain than olive oil (it all has to do with lengths of fatty acid chains). Interestingly, about 11 years ago, I gave up butter for a year and substituted olive oil – zero change in my cholesterol or weight. Personally, I love all my different flavored olive oils and love to use them in cooking! Hopefully the cod liver oil is keeping things right. Learn more about olive oil here:

Avocado Oil: 12.1% saturated, 73.8% monounsaturated, 14.1% polyunsaturated. Generally not used for cooking, excellent for skin moisturizing, but more expensive than coconut oil.

Peanut Oil: 18% saturated, 48% monounsaturated, 34% polyunsaturated. Relatively stable when exposed to heat, but should be used sparingly because of high calorie content.

Sesame Oil: 14.9% saturated, 41.5% monounsaturated, 43.6% polyunsaturated. Because it’s pretty even in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, it shouldn’t be used for cooking on a regular basis and should be used raw only on occasion.

Canola Oil: 7.4% saturated, 61.6% monounsaturated, 31% polyunsaturated. Canola oil (short for Canada Oil, Low Acid) does not come from the canola plant (no such thing), but is highly processed from the rapeseed. Although canola oil contains a large percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids, it should be avoided because it has a high sulfur content and goes bad very easily. It  is also highly susceptible to developing trans fatty acids during processing, making it similar to margarine and shortening. You do not want to use or buy products with canola oil whenever possible! Here is a link that will give you all the facts you need to know about canola oil. Spectrum (see link below), a maker of various oils, will refute these claims and asserts, along with others, that canola oil is perfectly safe and healthy. Personally, based on what I’ve been reading, I am staying away from it for cooking, but you must decide for yourself.

Corn Oil: 13.6% saturated, 29% monounsaturated, 57.4% polyunsaturated; Sunflower Oil: 10.8% saturated, 20.4% monounsaturated, 68.7% polyunsaturated; Safflower Oil: 6.5% saturated, 15.1% monounsaturated, 78.4% polyunsaturated; Cottonseed Oil: 27.1% saturated, 18.6% monounsaturated, 54.3% polyunsaturated. All of these oils should be avoided because of their high percentages of polyunsaturated fats and high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids.

Soybean Oil: 15.6% saturated, 22.8% monounsaturated, 57.7% polyunsaturated. The only way to avoid consuming soybean oil is to quit eating processed foods. As pointed out below in the excerpt from Enig and Fallon’s article, soybean oil has replaced natural fats in food processing. For example, a quick look in my cupboard shows that Wheat Thins and Girl Scout cookies are made with soybean oil or partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Another reason to try to avoid the middle aisles of the grocery store! More on diet recommendations from Dr. Kim below.

Hemp (10% saturated, 12.5% monounsaturated, 77.5% polyunsaturated) and Flaxseed Oils (9.8% saturated, 21.1% monounsaturated, 69.1% polyunsaturated): These oils are not recommended for cooking. Better to just eat the seeds (ground or whole).

Grape Seed Oil: 10% saturated, 16.8% monounsaturated, 73.2% polyunsaturated. Interestingly, because this oil has a high smoke point, you’ll find many websites recommending it for healthy cooking. I actually bought some based on these claims – it’s going in the trash. The high percentage of polyunsaturated fats will produce a significant amount of free radicals when exposed to heat, so you don’t want to use this oil.

90’s See the Nation Well-Oiled – An Excerpt

From Enig and Fallon’s important paper on The Oiling of America: (see link below): “By the nineties the operators had succeeded, by slick manipulation of the press and of scientific research, in transforming America into a nation that was well and truly oiled. Consumption of butter had bottomed out at about 5 grams per person per day, down from almost 18 at the turn of the century. Use of lard and tallow had been reduced by two-thirds. Margarine consumption had jumped from less than 2 grams per person per day in 1909 to about 11 in 1960. Since then consumption figures had changed little, remaining at about 11 grams per person per day—perhaps because knowledge of margarine’s dangers had been slowly seeping out to the public. However, most of the trans fats in the current American diet come not from margarine but from shortening used in fried and fabricated foods. American shortening consumption of 10 grams per person per day held steady until the 1960’s, although the content of that shortening had changed from mostly lard, tallow and coconut oil—all natural fats—to partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Then shortening consumption shot up and by 1993 had tripled to over 30 grams per person per day.

But the most dramatic overall change in the American diet was the huge increase in the consumption of liquid vegetable oils, from slightly less than 2 grams per person per day in 1909 to over 30 in 1993—a fifteen fold increase.”

Trans Fats and Hydrogenated Oils

Hydrogenation is a process that converts polyunsaturated fatty acids – which are normally liquid at room temperature – into solid fats at room temperature. The most common example is the conversion of vegetable oils into margarine and shortening. In case you’re curious, this is done because hydrogenated vegetable oils don’t go bad nearly as quickly as regular vegetable oils do, prolonging the shelf life of whatever product they are in. Remember that the large concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids in most vegetable oils are harmful to begin with, as their inherent instability leads to formation of free radicals. Hydrogenated vegetable oils are even worse. This is because the process of hydrogenation changes the configuration of hydrogen atoms in polyunsaturated fatty acids to a formation called “trans”.

The trans formation is a huge problem for your tissues, as trans fatty acids are incorporated into your cell membranes and cause serious problems in cell metabolism. More specifically, trans fats are known to cause immune system depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, sterility, birth defects, decreased ability to produce breast milk, loss of vision, and weakening of your bones and muscles. And margarine, loaded with its trans fatty acids, is promoted as a health food?

The most concentrated sources of trans fats in the North American diet are margarine, shortening, French fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, crackers, and pastries. To give you some numbers, french fries typically have 40 percent trans fatty acids, while many popular cookies have anywhere from 30 to 50 percent trans fatty acids. Doughnuts usually have between 35 to 40 percent trans fatty acids. Sad to say but french fries and doughnuts are probably two of the worst foods for your health. Not all commercial cookies are harmful – read the labels. The reason food companies use trans fats is because the food stays fresh longer and preserves flavor.

Trans Fats – Are They Still in Our Processed Foods?

I would say the answer is yes. For one thing, a serving that contains less than .5 grams of trans fat, can be listed as 0 grams by the FDA. WebMD has a great article that reveals the top ten foods with trans fats. And another reason to read the label? Many companies have switched from trans fats to canola oil – that’s not an improvement. Some cities are trying to regulate the restaurant industry and ban them from using trans fats in their kitchens. I’m not going to get bogged down in that discussion.

High Oleic Oil is Replacing Hydrogenated Trans Fat Oils in Processed Foods

The food processing industry is also trying a new type of oil called “high oleic”. Sunflower and safflower oils have been bred to be high in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated and polyunsaturated fats, and have no trans fat so they can be used in products that need a longer shelf life. Many companies, fast food chains, and restaurants have switched to these oils. If you’re going to buy packaged, processed foods then look for the term “high oleic sunflower (or other) oil” in the ingredients list.  Are they “healthy”? They’re definitely better than other oils used in processed foods, but the more you stick to whole, fresh foods, the better.

Why Do We Love Fat?

I couldn’t finish this article without mentioning why we love foods with fat and why they give us so much pleasure. There are studies out there that call our cravings for fatty foods a low-grade addiction, not dissimilar to drug addiction. Yummy fat food triggers pleasure receptors in the brain. The more often you eat fat, the less the pleasure receptors respond, so you eat more and more fat to gain that feeling of pleasure from food. Forks Over Knives has a great section that illustrates this cycle. It’s only five minutes – give it a look-see! It certainly begins to explain obesity in America. I’m sure this could be an article all on its own.

Some Conclusions and Diet Do’s and Don’ts*

1. The very best oil for you to cook with is virgin coconut oil.

2. Olive, peanut, and sesame oil can withstand some exposure to heat without becoming harmful, but Dr. Kim says it is best to avoid using these oils for cooking on a regular basis. Olive oil is best eaten raw or added to your food after it is off the stove. (This could be difficult for me.)

3. Avoid the following polyunsaturated vegetable oils: safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed and canola.

4. Never eat margarine or shortening and foods that contain them.

5. For people who use butter, it is important to use organic butter. Rich, dark yellow colored butter represents great nutritional density.

6. Avoid all deep fried foods, unless they have been deep fried in virgin coconut oil or red palm oil. You can safely bet that very few restaurants in Canada or the States use these two tropical oils to deep fry.

7. Avoid anything that is made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. This includes French fries, onion rings, tempura, doughnuts, and most processed, commercially prepared baked foods like, crackers, potato chips, cookies, chocolate bars, muffins, cakes, and pastries.

8. Avoid nuts and seeds roasted in oil.

9. Excellent, concentrated sources of fat from plant foods include: avocado, raw nuts, raw seeds, unsweetened coconut, coconut milk, virgin coconut oil, and raw olive oil. Most people should limit their intake of raw nuts and seeds to approximately one to two handfuls per day.

10. Excellent, concentrated sources of fat from animal foods include: cod liver oil, organic eggs from free-range birds, cold-water fish, organic chicken, grass-fed red meat (beef, buffalo, and lamb), and wild game. (As with all of the foods that you eat, it is important to observe your body’s feedback in order to determine which healthy foods are in fact healthy for your unique biochemistry.)

11. Processed foods are obviously difficult to avoid and who doesn’t like eating out? Based on what I’ve read, it seems to me that regular doses of cod liver oil will help you keep the right ratio between Omega 6  and Omega 3 fats, and help mitigate the effects of oils and fats you can’t control.

12. One last note: Oils (and butter) are high calorie foods so not only is it important to choose the right fats to consume, but also to limit the intake.

*Most Do’s and Don’ts are from Dr. Kim (link below)

The End! 🙂


I liberally copied and edited from Dr. Ben Kim’s article, “A Guide to Choosing Healthy Oils”

Dr. Kim’s article references an exhaustive research article, “The Oiling of America”, by Dr. Mary G. Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon. This detailed research paper will give you whole history of oil and fat in America.

Other links:

Vitamin D is Not a Vitamin!

22 01 2012

I have been all over the internet researching Vitamin D. Honestly, the information that is out there is all over the page. The main concerns of taking Vitamin D seem to be with how much is the right amount (too little you get disease, too much can be toxic). Of all the articles I’ve read, no review has been more clear, more succinct, more accurate, and more thorough than my own TopDoc, Dr. Benjamin Newman. A few years ago, he wrote a paper on Vitamin D and sent it to me. It was very powerful and I forwarded it on to family and any friends who were interested. He said I could reference his article so I have published it in full below! I could have made a “pdf” link but then maybe you all might not take the time to look at it!

Recently, I had my Vitamin D tested and my doctor wasn’t concerned with the level at all. Well, actually, maybe she should have been. It was 35 ng – barely sufficient. She had kind of scared me off it awhile back saying my Vitamin D was too high – unfortunately I don’t know what that reading was. Regardless, now that I know what it is, I am back to taking 5,000 iu per day. In March, when I get my blood work done, then I’ll take a look at it from a much more informed point of view. I have a friend that has been taking 10,000 iu per day – so far so good for her. This just underscores that you want to get your blood tested a few times when you start out on your Vitamin D regimen to make sure you are within the recommended “ng” levels. Read the article and you’ll know what I’m talking about! 🙂 I did add subtitles to break it up and help you read it!




A Short History

There are thirteen vitamins humans need for growth and development and to maintain good health. The human body cannot make these essential bio-molecules. They must be supplied in the diet or by bacteria in the intestine, except for vitamin D. Skin makes vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun. A light-skinned person will synthesize 20,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D in 20 minutes sunbathing on a Caribbean beach.

Vitamin D is also unique in another way. It is the only vitamin that is a hormone, a type of steroid hormone known as a secosteroid, with three carbon rings.

Steroid hormones such as cortisone, estrogen, and testosterone have four carbon rings. Ultraviolet B radiation in sunlight breaks open one of the rings in a steroid alcohol present in the skin, 7-dehydrocholesterol, to form vitamin D (cholecalciferol). The liver changes this molecule into its circulating form, 25-hydroxyvitamin D (calcidiol, 25[OH]D), the “vitamin D” blood tests measure. Cells throughout the body absorb 25-hydroxyvitamin D and change it into 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (calcitriol), the active form of vitamin D that attaches directly to receptors on the DNA of genes in the cell’s nucleus.

The vitamin D hormone system controls the expression of more than 200 genes and the proteins they produce. In addition to its well-known role in calcium metabolism, vitamin D activates genes that control cell growth and programmed cell death (apoptosis), express mediators that regulate the immune system, and release neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin) that influence one’s mental state.

Severe deficiencies of some vitamins cause vitamin- specific diseases, such as beriberi (from a lack of vitamin B1, thiamine), pellagra (B3, niacin), pernicious anemia (B12), and scurvy, (vitamin C). A deficiency in iodine produces a goiter, mental retardation, and, when severe, cretinism.

Rickets, a softening and bending of bones in children, first described in 1651, is another nutritionally-specific disease. It reached epidemic proportions following the industrial revolution, which began in the 1750s. In the 19th century, before the importance of exposing children to sunlight was recognized, the majority of children that lived in cities with sunless, narrow alleyways and pollution developed rickets. An autopsy study done in Boston in the late 1800s showed that more than 80 percent of children had rickets.

Early in the 20th century an investigator found that cod liver oil could prevent rickets in puppies. The nutritional factor in the oil that promotes skeletal calcium deposition was named “vitamin D,” alphabetically after already-named vitamins A, B, and C. Rickets was thought to be another vitamin-deficiency disease, and the curative agent, a steroid hormone, was mislabeled a “vitamin.”

Now, a century later, a wealth of evidence suggests that rickets, its most florid manifestation, is the tip of a vitamin D insufficiency/deficiency iceberg. A lack of Vitamin D can also trigger infections (influenza and tuberculosis), autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease), cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Practitioners of conventional medicine (i.e., most MDs) are just beginning to appreciate the true impact of vitamin D deficiency. In 1990, medical journals published less than 20 reviews and editorials on vitamin D. Last year they published more than 300 reviews and editorials on this vitamin/hormone. This year, on July 19, 2007, even the New England Journal of Medicine, the bellwether of pharmaceutically-oriented conventional medicine in the U.S., published a review on vitamin D that addresses its role in autoimmune diseases, infections, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (N Engl J Med 2007;357:266–281).

Vitamin D and Cancer

Up until 1980, doctors thought that vitamin D was only involved in calcium, phosphorus, and bone metabolism. Then two investigators proposed that vitamin D and sunlight could reduce the risk of colon cancer. A growing body of evidence indicates that they were right and that vitamin D can prevent a whole host of cancers – colon, breast, lung, pancreatic, ovarian, and prostate cancer among them. Colon cancer rates are 4 to 6 times higher in North America and Europe, where solar radiation is less intense, particularly during the winter months, compared to the incidence of colon cancer near the equator. People with low blood levels of vitamin D and those who live at higher latitudes are at increased risk for acquiring various kinds of cancer. Many epidemiological, cohort, and case control studies prove, at least on a more likely than not basis, that vitamin D supplements and adequate exposure to sunlight play an important role in cancer prevention (Am J Public Health 2006;96:252–261).

There is now strong scientific evidence that vitamin D does indeed reduce the risk of cancer. Evidence from a well- conducted, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial proves beyond a reasonable doubt that this is the case, at least with regard to breast cancer. A Creighton University study has shown that women over the age of 55 who took a 1,100 IU/day vitamin D supplement, with calcium, and were followed for 4 years had a highly statistically significant (P <0.005) 75% reduction in breast cancer (diagnosed after the first 12 months) compared with women who took a placebo (Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:1568– 1591).

Some of the genes vitamin D activates make proteins that halt cancer by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death), which destroys aberrant cells before they become cancerous, like adenoma cells in the colon and rectum. Others promote cell differentiation and reining in of out-of- control growth of cancer cells (like prostate cancer cells).

Vitamin D-expressed genes inhibit angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels that malignant tumors need to grow, as studies on lung and breast cancers show. Other genes inhibit metastases, preventing cancer that arises in one organ from spreading its cells to other parts of the body, as studied in breast, and prostate cancers.

Vitamin D and Other Disease

Vitamin D also expresses genes that curb cardiovascular disease. One gene controls the renin-angiotensin system, which when overactive causes hypertension (high blood pressure). Others stifle the immune system-mediated inflammatory response that propagates atherosclerosis and congestive heart failure (Curr Opin Lipidol 2007;18:41– 46).

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurologically devastating disease that afflicts people with low vitamin D levels. Its victims include the cellist Jacqueline Du Pré, whose first symptom was loss of sensation in her fingers, and some 500,000 Americans who currently suffer from this malady. MS is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own cells. With multiple sclerosis, T cells in the adaptive immune system, Th1 cells (CD4 T helper type 1 cells), attack the myelin sheath (insulation) of the axons (nerve fibers) that neurons (brain cells) use to transmit electrical signals. The Vitamin D hormone system regulates and tones down the potentially self-destructive actions of Th1 cells. These cells make their own 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D if there is a sufficient amount of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) circulating in the blood. Researchers have shown that the risk of MS decreases as the level of vitamin D in the blood increases (JAMA 2006;296:2832–2838). People living at higher latitudes have an increased risk of MS and other autoimmune diseases. Studies show that people who live below latitude 35° (e.g., Atlanta) until the age of 10 reduce the risk of MS by 50% (Toxicology 2002;181–182:71–78 and Eur J Clin Nutr 2004;58:1095–1109).

In a study published earlier this year, researchers evaluated 79 pairs of identical twins where only one twin in each pair had MS, despite having the same genetic susceptibility. They found that the MS-free twin had spent more time outdoors in the sun – during hot days, sun tanning, and at the beach. The authors conclude that sunshine is protective against MS (Neurology 2007;69:381–388).

New research suggests that influenza is also a disease triggered by vitamin D deficiency. Influenza virus exists in the population year-round, but influenza epidemics are seasonal and occur only in the winter (in northern latitudes), when vitamin D blood levels are at their nadir. Vitamin D-expressed genes instruct macrophages, the front-line defenders in the innate immune system, to make antimicrobial peptides, which are like antibiotics (Science 2006;311:1770–1773). These peptides attack and destroy influenza virus particles, and in human carriers keep it at bay. (Neutrophils and natural killer cells in the innate immune system and epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract also synthesize these virucidal peptides.) Other vitamin D-expressed genes rein in macrophages fighting an infection to keep them from overreacting and releasing too many inflammatory agents (cytokines) that can damage infected tissue. In the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed 50 million people, of which 500,000 were Americans, young healthy adults (as happened to my 22- year-old grandmother) would wake up in the morning feeling well, start drowning in their own inflammation as the day wore on, and be dead by midnight. Autopsies showed complete destruction of the epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract due, as researchers now know, to a macrophage-induced overly severe inflammatory reaction to the virus. These flu victims were attacked and killed by their own immune system, something researchers have found vitamin D can prevent (Epidemiol Infect 2006;134:1129–1140).

Randomized clinical trials need to be done to test the vitamin D theory of influenza. With what we know now, however, perhaps an annual shot of 600,000 IU of vitamin D (Med J Aust 2005;183:10–12) would be more effective in preventing influenza than a jab of flu vaccine.

Vitamin D and Latitude 35N

Our species evolved in equatorial Africa where the sun, shining directly overhead, supplies its inhabitants with year-round ultraviolet B photons for making vitamin D. Our African ancestors absorbed much higher doses of vitamin D living exposed in that environment compared to the amount most humans obtain today. A single mutation that occurred around 50,000 years ago is responsible for the appearance of white skin in humans. It turns out that a difference in one rung, or base pair, in the 3 billion-rung DNA ladder that constitutes the human genome determines the color of one’s skin (Science 2005;310:1782–1786). White skin, with less melanin, synthesizes vitamin D in sunlight six times faster than dark skin. People possessing this mutation were able to migrate to higher latitudes, populate Europe, Asia, and North America, and be able to make enough vitamin D to survive.

The majority of the world’s population now lives above latitude 35° N and is unable to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight for a period of time in winter owing to the angle of the sun. At a large solar zenith angle, ozone in the upper atmosphere will completely block UVB radiation. In Seattle (47° N) and London (52° N), from October to April UVB photons are blocked by the atmosphere so one’s skin cannot make vitamin D. (The half-life of circulating vitamin D is approximately one month.) Making matters worse, even when UVB radiation is available in sunlight, health authorities, led by the American Academy of Dermatology, warn people to shield themselves from the sun to avoid getting skin cancer.

How Much Vitamin D

Except for oily fish like (wild-only) salmon, mackerel, and sardines and cod liver oil – and also sun-dried mushrooms – very little vitamin D is naturally present in our food. Milk, orange juice, butter, and breakfast cereal are fortified with vitamin D, but with only 100 IU per serving. One would have to drink 200 8-oz. glasses of milk to obtain as much vitamin D as skin makes fully exposed to the noonday sun.

The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board in the Institute of Medicine puts the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D at 200 IU for children and adults less than 50 years old, 400 IU for adults age 50–70, and 800 IU for adults over the age of 70. Most multivitamin preparations contain 400 IU of vitamin D. These guidelines are directed towards maintaining bone health and are sufficient to prevent rickets – but not cancer, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, or influenza. Without evidence to support it, the board arbitrarily set the safe upper limit for vitamin D consumption at 2,000 IU/day.

Vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) blood levels, the barometer for vitamin D status, are measured in nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) or nanomoles per liter (nmol/l), where ng/ml = 0.4 nmol/l. Children and adults need a vitamin D blood level >8 ng/ml to prevent rickets and osteomalacia (demineralization and softening of bones) respectively. It takes a concentration >20 ng/ml to keep parathyroid hormone levels in a normal range. A level >34 ng/ml is required to ensure peak intestinal calcium absorption. Finally, neuromuscular performance steadily improves in elderly people as vitamin D levels rise up to 50 ng/ml. Accordingly, a vitamin D blood level <8 ng/ml is regarded as severely deficient; 8–19, deficient; and 20–29, insufficient, i.e., too low for good health. A level >30 ng/ml is sufficient, but experts now consider 50–99 ng/ml to be the optimal level of vitamin D. Levels 100–150 ng/ml are excessive and >150 ng/ml, potentially toxic.

A majority of Americans have insufficient or deficient vitamin D blood levels. In veterans undergoing heart surgery at the Seattle VA hospital, I found that 78% had a low vitamin D level: 12% were insufficient; 56%, deficient; and 10% were severely deficient.

In order to enjoy optimal health, we should maintain a vitamin D blood level of ≥50–99 ng/ml. Without sun exposure, to reach a level of 50 ng/ml requires taking a 5,000 IU/day vitamin D supplement. There are two kinds of vitamin D supplements: vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), the kind our skin makes, and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), a synthetic variant made by irradiating plants. Vitamin D2 is only 10–30% as effective in raising 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood levels compared to vitamin D3, leading the authors of a recent study conclude, “Vitamin D2 should not be regarded as a nutrient suitable for supplementation or fortification” (Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:694–697).

Concerns about vitamin D toxicity are overblown, along with those about sun exposure. As one researcher in the field puts it, “Worrying about vitamin D toxicity is like worrying about drowning when you’re dying of thirst.” The LD50 of vitamin D in dogs (the dose that will kill half the animals) is 3,520,000 IU/kilogram. One can take a 10,000 IU vitamin D supplement every day, month after month safely, with no evidence of adverse effect. (Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:842–856). A person must consume 50,000 IU a day for several months before hypercalcemia (an elevated calcium level in the blood, which is the initial manifestation of vitamin D toxicity) might occur. Vitamin D in a physiologic dose (5,000 IU/day) prevents the build up of calcium in blood vessels. (Circulation 1997;96:1755–1760). If one takes 10,000 IU of vitamin D a day and spends a lot of time in the sun, it would be prudent to check vitamin D blood level to ensure that it does not exceed 100 ng/ml.

Sensible sun exposure should be encouraged, not maligned. If one avoids sunburn, the sun’s health-giving benefits far outweigh its detrimental effects. A large body of evidence indicates that sunlight does not cause the most lethal form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma. A U.S. Navy study found that melanoma occurred more frequently in sailors who worked indoors all the time. Those who worked outdoors had the lowest incidence of melanoma. Also, most melanomas appear on parts of the body that are seldom exposed to sunlight (Arch Environ Health 1990;45:261– 267). Sun exposure is associated with increased survival from melanoma (J Natl Cancer Inst 2005;97:195–199). Another study showed that people who had longer lifetime exposure to the sun without burning were less likely to get melanomas than those with less exposure (J Invest Dermatol 2003;120:1087–1093.)

The rise in skin cancers over the last 25 years parallels the rise in use of sunscreen lotions, which block vitamin D- producing UVB radiation but not cancer-causing ultraviolet A radiation (UVA). (Newer sunscreen lotions also block out UVA.) Each year there are 8,000 deaths from melanoma and 1,500 deaths from nonmelanoma (squamous and basal cell) skin cancer. Surgical excision of nonmelanoma skin cancers cures them, except in rare cases where the growth has been allowed to linger for a long time and metastasize. Dr. John Cannell, Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council, makes this point: 1,500 deaths occur each year from non-melanoma skin cancer, but 1,500 deaths occur each day from other cancers that vitamin D in optimal doses might well prevent. (The Vitamin D Council website is an excellent source of information on vitamin D.)

The U.S. government and its citizens currently spend $2,000 billion dollars ($2 trillion) on “health care,” i.e., sickness care, each year. The cost of taking a 5,000 IU supplement of vitamin D every day for a year is $22.00. The cost for 300 million Americans taking this supplement would be $6.6 billion dollars. The number and variety of diseases that vitamin D at this dose could prevent, starting with a 50 percent reduction in cancer, is mind-boggling. If everyone took 5,000 IU/day of vitamin D, the U.S. “health care” industry would shrink. It would no longer account for 16 percent of the gross domestic product.

Health food stores typically do not sell vitamin D3 in 5,000 IU tablets, but they are readily available online. BIO-TECH Pharmacal produces both 5,000 and 50,000 IU tablets of Vitamin D3, which online sites sell. Some people prefer to take one 50,000 IU table a week (equivalent to 7,100 IU a day) and a three-day course of 150,000 IU vitamin D at the first sign of a cold.


Magnesium – The “Miracle Mineral”

30 11 2011

About a month or so ago, and before I went down this blogging road, Doc Newman, our Navy Flight Surgeon friend in Maine, sent me an excellent and thorough article about magnesium (recent studies, benefits, etc. – see below). I immediately forwarded it to my family and then did nothing about it (my excuse is we were getting ready to travel)! While on the trip and reading Is Your Cardiologist Killing You?, I was reminded of the article and the role magnesium plays in a healthy life. Anyway, I thought magnesium would be a good place to start on my blog because it is such an important key to good health for EVERYBODY – regardless of your age or current health condition.

What Is Magnesium and . . .

Magnesium is one of six major minerals the body requires and is an essential “enzyme co-factor”. It is responsible for two of the cell’s most important functions: energy production and cellular reproduction. Because of this, it  affects electrolyte balance, metabolism, and hundreds of other biochemical reactions in the body. The body does not make magnesium, so you must get it through diet and/or supplements.

. . . What Does it Do?

The short answer: Just about everything.

The long answer: Because it operates on a cellular level, it helps in the formation of healthy bones and teeth, regulates body temperature, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, helps detoxification, improves parathyroid function, aids in absorbing calcium, reduces symptoms of asthma, boosts the bio-availability of Vitamin B6 and cholesterol, improves muscle functions, and helps prevent osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attacks, stroke, diabetes (affects insulin), insomnia, fatigue, constipation, migraines, kidney stones, and gallstones. Dang, I can’t believe I’m just now learning about its significance!

For example, let’s take calcium absorption. What happens to unabsorbed calcium? “It gets stuck in your muscles where it can cause cramps and even fibromyalgia; it gets stuck in your joints where it can cause arthritis; it gets stuck in your kidneys, where it can form kidney stones; it gets stuck in your arteries, where it can cause the plaque that contributes to heart disease”! Magnesium helps get the calcium absorbed so it doesn’t get stuck.

Sadly, You’re Probably Deficient!

In the old days, the average daily intake of magnesium was around 500 mg/day. Today, it’s around 175-225 mg/day. The current U.S. adult recommended allowance is 320-420 mg/day. The optimal amount is 500-750 mg/day, although Dr. Rogers thinks 1,000 mg is a bare minimum. (see links below) It’s estimated that three-quarters of Americans don’t get sufficient magnesium. Some of the symptoms of deficiency include muscle cramps (you lose magnesium when you exercise and sweat), eye twitches, irregular heart beat, fatigue, etc.

Why Aren’t Magnesium Deficiencies More Widely Recognized?

1. Well, in general, accurate magnesium tests are not widely available. The current accepted method for testing human magnesium deficiency is by a blood test. The problem is that only about 1% of the magnesium found in the body is in the blood – the other 99% is in your cells. So while your blood may test “normal”, your cells could be vastly depleted of magnesium. An RBC magnesium test will check the magnesium in your red blood cells, but it’s not usually included when you are getting your blood work done. You have to specifically ask for it and I think it might be expensive. I don’t know how easy or hard this is to get.

2. Because magnesium influences so many of the body’s systems, magnesium deficiency is hard to pinpoint as the exact cause of symptoms of disease – it could be an alternate cause or it could be the cause. It hasn’t necessarily been the first place doctors look to treat some diseases. However, more and more experts are investigating magnesium supplementation as a possible treatment before starting other treatments for disease.

3. This is kind of cynical but I’ve read in a couple of places that since magnesium can’t be patented, there’s no money in it – no big pharmaceutical company investing in research or advertising, no sales representative visiting doctor’s office to market it, no lobbying, etc. As well, one article said doctors are trained more in how prescription medications work than in basic nutrition. However, research is continuing and awareness is on the rise.

How Can you Get Magnesium?

It’s very difficult to get all your magnesium daily requirements from just food. Supplements are a necessity. Doctors recommend anywhere from 400 mg/day up to 1,000 mg/day. Check with your doctor. The problem with taking too much magnesium at one time is that it can give you the runs (ever heard of Milk of Magnesia?).

Diet-wise, you can get magnesium from nuts (especially almonds and cashews), whole grains, wheat germ, buckwheat flour, fish, and green leafy vegetables (spinach is great). For example, when whole grains are refined in to white flour, 80% of the magnesium is lost. Diet just won’t give you your daily nutritional dose.

Supplement-wise, these are the two most common types:

1. Capsules and Tablets – easy to add to your daily vitamin regimen.

2. Powder Form – have to take the time to mix it up. However, it has better absorption rates than capsules or tablets. It comes in Magnesium Chloride form (tastes bad) or Magnesium Citrate (tastes better) also known as CALM – you can find it at various health supplement websites. May take a few times to figure out what is the right amount to take without having to race to the bathroom.

Caveat: Always check with your doctor before trying anything new. Everyone is different and what might be good for me might not be good for you, considering your medical history and medications. For example, if you’ve got kidney problems, you should definitely check with your doctor.

What Am I Doing?

I have started taking 400 mg/day of magnesium by Nature Made that I bought at Costco. Doc Newman and Dr. Rogers (of the books) both recommend the CALM. Once I am done with the magnesium capsules, I will probably give the CALM a try. Taking the capsule is easy for me and the CALM may require more time and effort, but I am willing to give it a shot.

Diet-wise I have always eaten raw almonds so that is easy. I have recently switched to “brown bread” and have just decided to like whole grain bread with no high fructose corn syrup or trans fats, etc. So far so good. The coolest thing I am doing is juicing. Love it. Every night we are drinking juice from our Jack LaLanne Power Juicer – I shove in combinations of kale, collard greens, spinach, cabbage, cucumber, tomato, carrots, sweet potato, etc. and always an apple to keep it sweet and drinkable. It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals and I really notice a difference. An article on juicing is coming up!


Well, I haven’t made this stuff up. Below are the links I referenced and they will give you more detailed information of how magnesium works and what it actually does for various body functions.

Is Your Cardiologist Killing You? by Dr. Sherri Rogers

Detoxify or Die by Dr. Sherri Rogers

This link is really specific about magnesium’s role in various diseases: