Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tidbits: Getting the most Bang for your Vitamin D Buck

Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin”, because skin exposed to the sun can produce vitamin D for you.  If you live nearer to the equator, it is more likely that you have OK blood vitamin D levels, because the sun is at the right angle most of the year to produce vitamin D via skin exposure.

But in the U.S., if you live above the 42nd parallel (roughly a line from Boston to Chicago to Portland, Oregon), the sun is at the correct angle only from mid-March thru mid-October. This means that for over half of the year, people above this line cannot produce their own vitamin D, even if you were outside in the sun all day. (More quick facts about Vitamin D here.)

It was not common to be tested for Vitamin D levels until fairly recently. And if you were found to have a low vitamin D blood level, your provider often recommended supplementation with vitamin D, such as 1000 to 2000 units of vitamin D daily, or if the levels were very low, a prescription for 50,000 units vitamin D weekly.

(By the way, it is not very wise to take extra vitamin D “just because”, as it can build up in the body to toxic levels. To be safe, it’s best to ask for a blood test to see if you even need extra vitamin D.)

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Bone Clinic noticed that some of their patients did not achieve optimal vitamin D levels despite taking large doses of vitamin D for months.  They noted that many patients took the supplement either on an empty stomach or with a light morning meal.

Because vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning that it is better absorbed into the body with a fat-containing meal, they asked the study participants to take the vitamin D with the biggest meal of the day, thinking it may help improve absorption.

Sure enough, after two to three months, average blood levels of vitamin D in the participants jumped 50 percent, from about 30.5 nanograms per milliliter, to 47.2 ng/ml.

So the lesson to be learned: If  you need to take vitamin D to correct a deficiency, you are likely to get the most benefit from vitamin D if you take it with your biggest meal of the day (and be sure the meal contains some fat).

Monday, September 17, 2012

What's For Dinner: Vegetable, Beef and Barley Soup

It's getting cooler in the midwest, so time to get out the soup pans. My Vegetable, Beef and Barley soup is tried and true, and easy to whip up in a flash if you keep the ingredients on hand.
Vegetable, beef and barley soup

3/4 cup quick barley
4 cups water
1/2  tablespoon beef base (or 2-3 beef bouillon cubes)
24 to 32 ounces low-sodium V-8 or tomato juice (or add 3-4 cups more water if  you are out of tomato juice)
1 pound lean ground beef (or ground turkey)
3/4 to 1 cup chopped onions
1-2 clove garlic, minced  (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 pound package frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots)
14 ounces canned diced tomatoes           
1 tablespoon chili powder (2 tablespoons if using ground turkey)
1/2 cup chopped celery tops and leaves (optional, but a good addition)

In large soup pan (Dutch oven size) bring  4 cups water to boil and add barley. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile in large nonstick fry pan, brown ground beef, then drain well on paper towels. Sauté the chopped onions and garlic over medium heat in the ground beef pan, just until they start to turn translucent (don’t brown them).

Add the tomato juice, ground beef, sautéed onions and garlic, mixed vegetables, chili powder and celery tops to barley in Dutch oven.  Simmer for 30 minutes (or at this point, you can add the ingredients,  then put in the refrigerator for tomorrow – the frozen vegetables help cool the soup and the soup tastes better the second day, just like a lot of things).  When reheating, add more water as needed to get the consistency you like (barley keeps soaking up liquid and makes the soup thick).

Serves 6 hungry people. Serve with grainy rolls and salad. 

Nutrition information per serving: 338 calories, 24 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 41 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams fiber, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 527 milligrams sodium.

Cook’s notes:    I usually double this recipe, but use a large stock pot.

This soup can feed a crowd, and it’s also perfect to give half away to a friend, or to someone recovering from surgery, or half can be frozen for a later meal. Also, if desired, add a can of drained black beans or another bean to the soup for more protein.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Q & A: Using Green Coffee Beans to Lose Weight?

Green, unroasted coffee beans.

Q.            My mother told me that she saw a TV medical show that was talking about using a special green coffee bean extract to lose weight. Is that anything you’ve heard of? I’m rather skeptical of the idea, but is there any merit in trying it? M.L. Wyoming, Michigan

A.            There is scant information available for people to use to decide yes or no on this type of product. The one study that was done had very few participants (less than 20); the study truly should be repeated with a larger group to see if there is validity to the weight loss claims (it’s bad science to make recommendations or change your life habits based on one study).
            So in the meantime, what can you do? If you do decide to try this up-and-coming fad (yes, it’s looking like a fad to me), be aware that you will be conducting an experiment on yourself. Is it worth the 30 or so dollars a month to see if it will work?
            If you’d like to read a more detailed analysis of why this new diet plan may not be the best, check out the article at the Science-Based Medicine blog.