The Supplement Pyramid: a new book & giveaway

It’s a question I commonly get: “Do I really have to take supplements? I eat a healthy diet.” The simple answer is “yes.” In addition to eating a healthy diet.  True, my focus is on diet, and how to maintain and manage your health with real food, however, I agree with the reasoning outlined in this book, that depleted soil health, increased toxicity of our environment, daily stress, food additives and unavoidable processed food have worked together to create a situation in which it is nearly impossible to obtain all the nutrients your body would like on a daily basis. That’s where supplements come in.

The more complex answer involves the personalization of what and how much you should take.  The process of personalization can seem overwhelming, and indeed you are certain to come across misleading and conflicting information along the way. To try to simplify the process, I often recommend the Life Extension Foundation (LEF) for well-researched information as well as high quality products.  It is certainly not the only source of independent research and reliable information, but it is one (of several) I use both personally and professionally.

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The Supplement Pyramid, written by Dr. Michael A. Smith, Senior Health Scientist with Life Extension Foundation, and Sara Lovelady, provides a very accessible, easy-to-read explanation of why supplements are necessary, and how to determine which ones are right for you.  The book includes numerous health quizzes so it doubles as a workbook to help with the personalization process.  The quizzes allow you to evaluate and reevaluate the best combination of supplements through out your life, since your ideal supplement package is likely to vary as you age and health conditions change.  It offers short discussions of many common health conditions (from diabetes to irritable bowel syndrome to cancer) with suggestions for supplements and blood tests to determine your personal needs. Later, the authors guide the reader through four case studies. The book concludes with two useful appendices: a list of eleven recommended nutritional supplement companies (including, but not limited to LEF), and a long list of recommend nutrients with online links for even more information.

Here’s a video sneak peek:

The pyramid structure takes into account three levels of importance when it comes to taking supplements: foundational, personal and optimal.  If you can’t take the full pyramid of supplements (for financial or other reasons), this format clearly illustrates which to forego first.

LEF supplement pyramid

The Supplement Pyramid effectively explains which supplements fall into the Foundational level (for everyone). The next chapter guides the reader through quizzes (personal history and medical evaluations) to determine which supplements best fit into your Personalization level. The final level is about health optimization.  It includes recommendations for supplements which could help you live longer and healthier, such as additional antioxidants, amino acids, or a newly discovered longevity herb.Build Your Pyramid
If you prefer information online, the book’s authors provide an accompanying website, My Supplement Pyramid, with nutrient information and health quizzes where you can take, store and retake (when necessary) your personal information digitally.

In this book, the pyramid shape provides a beneficial structure with which to organize and prioritize your personal supplement regimen. Following the recommendations found on its pages, may result in improved health and/or extended longevity in a solid, long-lasting way not unlike the ancient pyramids (although it is generally believed that pyramids served as monuments to the deceased).

Until recently, the pyramid format was also used by the USDA to help us assemble our meals in balanced combinations from the various food groups.  That graphic was updated to a plate (with the clear visual cue in place), in the hopes of encouraging greater numbers of people to make healthy eating choices. Even if you typically fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables (which, according to Smith, is only true for 1 in 10 Americans), it is still unlikely that all of your nutrient needs will be fully met. That is where this very readable guide brings the pyramid back to the table, and aids you in making the best choices for your dietary supplements.

Dr. Michael Smith has kindly given me a second book to offer as a giveaway.  This easily digestible, handy reference will be sent to one lucky reader (randomly chosen) who leaves a comment. We are eager to hear about your favorite supplement – the herbal or nutritional supplement you wouldn’t want to go without. I have two at the moment: kelp and chia seeds. Please share yours in the comments below, and good luck!

 

Life Extension Foundation sent me two free copies of this book through the Life Extension Blogger Program, with the understanding that I would read and review one and offer the second copy as a giveaway to my readers. The opinions in this piece are all mine.  Other than being a part of their Blogger Program, I am not affiliated with Life Extension Foundation, nor am I being compensated. 

Sharing Flu-free Tips (with Dr Susan Rubin)

Dr. Susan Rubin recently wrote a two part post about staying healthy despite what is being called a particularly bad flu season.  She has kindly allowed me to post them here (as one post).  I’ve added a few additional tips, just to make sure you have plenty of options.

The news media and the CDC are at it again. They are saying that this year is a bad one for the flu (here’s a map of current outbreak levels in the US). Hurry hurry, go and get your flu shot!  I’m not here to convince you one way or the other on flu shots, the choice is yours to make. (For a more international perspective on flu vaccination, see CNN article here). Shot or no shot, there is plenty you can do to help avoid the flu. More than washing your hands and sneezing into your elbow as the CDC keeps telling us to do.

Here are a few things that can be done for little or no cost.

SLEEP I consider sleep to be a nutrient that we need every day. Scientists have shown that sleep is when we grow and when we heal. Parents know this first hand with their kids. When you’re sick, you sleep! Well, why not make sure you get adequate sleep BEFORE you get sick? This is one reason I have a zero sleepover policy, I want my kids home to sleep in their own beds at a reasonable time. Regular sleep hours are shown to be helpful in boosting immunity, and also in better brain function: retaining what you learn. Make regular, restful sleep a priority in your home and you’ll have happier healthier kids to show for it.  

DARKNESS We are supposed to be in the dark in the winter. The more you can align with the rhythms of Mother Nature, they better off you’ll be health wise. Stay away from your computer and TV screens at night, turn down the lights, and get serious about getting to bed a little earlier. Start with 10 minutes earlier, build up to 30. It will make a huge difference in your energy level, your outlook on life and your resistance to illness.

SUGAR We all love sugar, and the holidays are full of it. Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s time to face the not so popular truth: refined sugar can deplete your immunity and can drain the body of much needed nutrients. I could show you all sorts of articles and studies to prove this point. The bottom line is, we all need to look at decreasing our consumption of refined sugar. Replace juices and other sugary drinks with water, preferably filtered, from the tap and you’ll be saving loads of money and helping the planet. Take a good long look at how much refined sugar you and your kids eat over the course of a day or a week. Get conscious and cut back on the white stuff!

GOOD BUGS One thing that many non-science people might not realize is that our bodies consist of all sorts of microorganisms living together in harmony. Bacterial cells outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1. One group of bacteria that I’m particularly fond of is the Lactobacillis family of bacteria that lives in your gut. You can add to this happy family of bugs that helps your digestive and immune systems to work optimally by enjoying foods that naturally contain these beneficial bacteria. Miso soup, Kim Chee, Sauerkraut, Kefir and Yogurt come to mind. You can also take probiotic supplements. This is one thing I get my family going on when there is a flu bug going around. I think of it as a tonic, a small action taken once a day that will make a big difference over time.

DE-STRESS  You absolutely must find ways to decrease your stress level. This is a big ask in these trying times but it is essential.  Meditation, taking a regular walk, doing daily yoga, remembering to plant your feet on the ground and breathe. Reducing stress levels will help build up your resistance to illness and can also help you let go of unwanted weight.

LAUGH I heard a physician speak about this just last week when I was at a comedy show, of all places. Laughter lowers blood pressure, improves blood flow to the heart and other organs, and has shown to help improve resistance to disease. I set time aside every day for chuckles watching The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

GET OUTSIDE We weren’t meant to be indoor creatures. Acclimate to the colder weather by making an  extra effort to get outside a little every day. Talk a walk, go sit in the park, enjoy a little fresh air. This will help your body make gradual adjustments rather than be stressed by a sudden change.  Wear a scarf and protect your neck and upper back against the wind.

SOUP is a magical food during this time of year, it’s the best thing to be eating when its cold outside. I’m playing the soup for dinner game this month, I think you should too!  I have too many soup recipes to count on my blog page. You can browse through them by visiting my blog, www.DrSusanRubin.com/blog, on the lower right side of that page, you’ll find a list of categories. Simply click on SOUP and you’ll find pages and pages of recipes. Here are my top 3 soup recommendations full of warming herbs and spices:

1. Magical Miso Onion Soup this combination of onions, garlic and ginger will help fight off bug that might be coming your way. The miso helps support your gut flora which is also essential to good immunity.

2. Thai Chicken Soup the Asian spices in this soup, turmeric, garlic, chili pepper make it spicy but not too hot. Mung beans add crunch, peanuts and cilantro help to transport your taste buds to Southeast Asia.

3. Curried Squash Soup curry powder, turmeric, ginger and garlic combined with roasted winter squash make this soup very nourishing and digestible.

COOK Not everyone can afford to take a sick day when they’re not feeling well. This is one of the ways that colds and flu spread. If you cook for yourself, you won’t have to wonder whether your take out, your frozen processed packaged food or even your high-end restaurant food was made by someone who was sick.  If you make your own meals, you’ll know that the ingredients are good and you’ll be putting your own good energy into the food. There is nothing better than that. Cooking from scratch is the most effective investment of time and money you can make to ensure your own health.

IN YOUR KITCHEN Once in your kitchen cooking up flu protection for your family, let me (Deirdre, from Plan It Healthier) reiterate and highlight a few key ingredients for a preventive approach:

  • fresh water, drunk at room temperature or warm, or brewed as green or herbal tea
  • raw garlic
  • raw honey
  • onions (and other members of the allium family: leeks, chives, scallions, garlic etc.)
  • ginger (ideally fresh)
  • turmeric
  • elderberries
  • vitamin D (both from foods and supplements….or, if you can manage it, a vacation to the sun)
  • vitamin C (from vitamin-rich foods, including squeezing fresh lemon juice in water and/or tea and supplements)
  • vegetables – fresh, ideally organic vegetables with a good portion eaten raw
  • herbal teas (peppermint, chamomile, cat’s claw, mullein, elderflower, echinacea and more). An extensive list with particular applications and herbal tea recipes available from Mountain Rose Herbs, also a good place to order high quality herbs.

Be well!

Welcome Probiotics!

You’ve probably heard that yogurt contains healthy bacteria, and have perhaps been swayed by recent ad campaigns treading dangerously close to “tmi”  bathroom talk. You may have tried one of the highly processed, packaged, flavored and sweetened yogurt products in an effort to improve your digestive situation. While it is true that real yogurt (as well as other naturally fermented foods) made with active cultures offer the body unique nutrition called “probiotics,” it is also true that Dannon was sued over unsubstantiated health claims made in their advertisements for “Activia” yogurt-like products and has been quietly reimbursing costumers. So beware of wannabes.

With 100 trillion bacterial cells from 500 different species, your gut is a veritable microbial zoo teaming with critters, and that’s exactly the way you want it.  These bacteria, when healthy and plentiful, in turn keep you healthy, digesting well, crowding out “bad” bacteria, and may also help protect against more serious chronic illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  According to this month’s issue of the Life Extension Foundation‘s magazine, your gut contains 70-80% of your body’s immune system, where probiotics work at the molecular level to keep you well.

Their biggest enemy? Antibiotics. Not only are we being prescribed the antis more and more often, but most of our animal foods come from CAFO factory farms where animals are pumped full of antibiotics, and so by extension, so are you when you eat the meat, milk and other animal foods from these sources.  The artificial sweetener aspartame and oral contraceptives both interfere with healthy gut bacteria, and genetically modified foods and chlorinated water very well may too.

A good way to repopulation your gut bacteria, is to frequently eat fermented foods – those  sometimes called “traditional” or “live” which contain natural forms of probiotics. A quick tour around the world of traditional fermented foods include Japanese miso, tamari and natto, German sauerkraut, Bulgarian yogurt, Russian kefir, Ethiopian injera bread, Korean kimchi, Indian lassi drinks, Salvadoran curtido, etc.  For more information and simple recipes for these traditional foods, I highly recommend Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.  Although probiotics have been receiving well deserved media attention only recently, they are by no means a new method of maintaining good health.

With the goal of a thriving community of probiotics in your gut, you have to be a good host. Keep them out of harm’s way (antibiotics) and nourish them with prebiotics.  Foods such as bananas, garlic, onions, raw honey, wheat, barley, and soybeans naturally contain prebiotics, or probiotic food. For additional support, or in times of therapeutic need (such as during and following a course of antibiotics), you may also want to consider a high quality probiotic and prebiotic supplement.

Since I’ve been focusing on probiotics, no meal feels quite complete without a generous scoop of kimchi or kraut.  A bowl of plain yogurt satisfies a snack or dessert desire, and when thirsty, I reach for kombucha (a fermented tea drink).  A few of my recent favorite “full of life” foods: kimchi in an avocado half; kimchi or kraut quesadilla; sourdough bread with cultured butter; yogurt with raw honey and ground flaxseeds, miso broth to sip and kombucha to drink. To satisfy my growing thirst, I ordered a SCOBY (a kombucha “mother”) and have started brewing my own kombucha).

Hungry for more?  Let me recommend these articles on probiotics:

And if you’re as hooked as I am, you’ll be happy to know this great looking new book is coming out next month: The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Katz with a foreword by Michael Pollan.

But first, my bowl of yogurt:

Vitamin E: Much More Than Skin Deep

Dry, chapped skin is a common wintertime condition.  You might use a vitamin E lotion or oil to soothe and heal your skin. That would be a great job for vitamin E (which is actually a family of eight compounds called “tocopherols”), although this important vitamin offers you much more.  In addition to maintaining healthy skin, vitamin E is a vital antioxidant, protecting cell walls against the damage of free radicals and supporting heart, brain and circulatory health. It helps the body use oxygen, prevents blood clots, improves wound healing and fertility and helps prevent cancer.

The ideal daily intake to maintain good health is 400-600 IU (international units).  This range is many times higher than both the EC and US RDA.  To reap the many benefits of this essential nutrient, you can focus on vitamin E rich foods (such as nuts, seeds, their unrefined oils, dark green leafy vegetables, avocados, peppers, sweet potatoes, beans, and wheat germ) and consider taking a supplement to meet the optimal daily amount.

Just like vitamins A and D, vitamin E is fat-soluble, meaning that it is best absorbed together with fat.  If you are following a low-fat diet, you may not be benefiting optimally. Vitamin C and selenium also boost vitamin E absorption.

When selecting a supplement look for naturally sourced tocopherols, such as vitamin E from http://hollandandbarrett.com or from your local health food or vitamin shop, and store in a cool, dark place.