Monday, October 26, 2009

Worried About the Flu? Try Vitamin D

Flu mania is in full swing! It seems that everyone I talk to these days is worried about the seasonal flu and 2009 H1n1. That's why I'm digressing from our usual foodie fodder to talk about something that can help all of us stay healthy not only during the flu season, but year-round as well: vitamin D.
Vitamin D, as you probably know, is made by our bodies, but requires sunshine. Over the past year or so, I've read a lot about the importance of this vitamin. So, at my routine physical last summer, it was at the top of my list to add vitamin D testing to my customary labwork. (I was pleased when my doctor said that, in light of recent research, she encourages vitamin D testing for all her patients).

Well, it turns out I was "borderline" deficient. This, even though there is vitamin D in my multi vitamin as well as my calcium supplements, and I'd been spending quite a bit of time in the sun. Was I ever surprised! (My first thought: Imagine how deficient I must be in the dead of winter!) My doctor recommended that I supplement with 400 IU of D3 per day, and I plan to increase to 1000 IU during the winter.

A dear friend of mine was tested recently, and her vitamin D levels were almost nonexistent!

So, why is Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin," so important? And why don't we get enough, and what's the best way to get it? Well, research shows vitamin D strengthens your immune system, protects from some cancers, lowers blood pressure, and leads to clearer skin and a healthier brain, just for starters. But getting it can be tricky. Sunshine is the best way, but we spend a lot less time in the sun than we used to, and when we do go out we slather ourselves with sunscreen which blocks the UV rays that create Vitamin D. And even though there's Vitamin D in fish, fortified diary and eggs, you can't get enough from food alone.

Is it any wonder that flu season hits as the weather cools and we head indoors??? Our vitamin D levels nosedive, which in turn weakens our immune systems....and BAM!!!! Colds, flus, you name it!

Kids, too, frequently suffer from low vitamin D levels. A recent study of more than 6,000 children across the U.S. showed that 70% (WOW!!!!) had low levels of vitamin D. This puts them at risk for bone problems, higher blood pressure and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. This and more essential information can be found in the excellent article, "Why You Need the Sunshine Vitamin," from Parade Magazine's September 2009 issue, written by Dr. Mark Liponis. Check it out at

I like Dr. Liponis' common sense approach. Here are a few of his recommendations:

- Get your vitamin D from a combination of food, sunshine, and supplements.

- spend less time indoors and more time outdoors

- When you're out in direct sunshine, use sunblock. Always try to avoid getting a sunburn, children especially, but it's okay to get 10 to 15 minutes of sun daily before you apply sunblock. (I believe Dr. Mercola recommends 20 minutes without sunblock, but don't quote me on that one, folks.)

- Take a daily supplement of vitamin D3 - around 1000 IU per day - depending on your needs

- Get your blood level of vitamin D. checked at your next physical. It should be between 30ng/ml and 100ng/ml

If you thirst for even more vitamin D knowledge, there's a PLETHORA of information on Dr. Mercola's Web site ( He says, "there is already abundant evidence showing that your vitamin D levels play a role in your likelihood of getting the flu."
And, it never hurts to think sunny thoughts!!



Thursday, October 15, 2009



Well, that's what our nation's largest food manufacturers--in the case of Froot Loops, Kellogg's--would like us to believe. They're behind the new food-labeling campaign called Smart Choices. You've probably already seen products that feature a big, green checkmark on the labels. They say it's designed to help us "easily identify smarter food and beverage choices."

Would someone please tell me how a sugar-laden, artificially colored product like Froot Loops is HEALTHY??? Or Cocoa-Puffs, another "smart choice??" (Did you know that sugar makes up 41% of the Froot Loops, by weight??)

Here's what Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department of the Harvard School of Public Health had to say (this quote appeared in a September 5, 2009 article in The New York Times). "These are horrible choices." Even the FDA is wary of this new labeling program. (And the FDA usually thinks that everything big pharma and agribusinesses do is A-OK. If they don't like it, well, it must be really, really bad).

The president of the Smart Choices board, Eileen T. Kennedy (she's dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University--go figure) says that "the checkmark means that the food item is a better for you' product." Better that what, I ask?? A bag of pork rinds fried in lard? Well, duh, that doesn't mean it's healthy!

If the goal is to steer consumers toward healthier food choices, this program is laughable. But we know that's not what it's all about. In reality it's simply a smokescreen (and a pretty savvy marketing ploy, if you think about it) to fool the general public into buying more products made by Kellogg's, Kraft Foods, Con Agra Foods, Unilever, General Mills, PepsiCo, and Tyson Foods.

According to the same NY Times article, "Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, was part of a panel that helped devise the Smart Choices nutritional criteria, until he quit last September." Why did he quit? Because, he said, the panel was dominated by members of the food industry, which skewed its decisions. The criteria they chose--hold onto your hats, folks--allows foods to carry the Smart Choices seal if they contain "added nutrients."

According to the advocacy organization Credo Action, the program's "burdensome application process and its relatively high fees -- appeals to giant packaged food companies at the expense of unprocessed, unbranded foods like fruits and vegetables. USDA guidelines warn extensively about the need to avoid consumption of added sugars from breakfast cereals, yet the Smart Choices board explicitly defined the label so that sugary breakfast cereals could qualify. That's not really a sign that the label's main concern is consumers' health." Visit and sign their petition to make changes that would make this labeling meaningful.

"You could start out with some sawdust, add calcium or Vitamin A, and meet the criteria," Mr. Jacobson said.

Folks, this is just another deceptive manipulation of the public by food industry giants. These are highly processed foods that contain artificial flavors, colors, hydrogenated oils, and genetically modified ingredients.

The next time I trot through the supermarket, I'll keep a hairy eyeball out for the big green checkmark. Supposedly some excellent, unprocessed foods are in this thing, too, but I suspect they're few and far between. SO DON'T BE FOOLED BY THE BIG GREEN CHECKMARK. REMEMBER TO VOTE WITH YOUR POCKETBOOK!

Please let us know what products--good and bad--you find with the checkmark.


Friday, October 9, 2009

FRIDAY FIX....Let's Hang On To Summer!

The time for pumpkins and winter squash is upon us. Well, I don't know about you, but I'm not quite ready to let go of summer. I'm into peppers, not pumpkins! Happily, there's still an abundance of them at farm stands and markets. In fact, I bought some nice red and green specimens just last week.
I had the best of intentions for them. Really. I confess..... they languished in my fridge. I rescued them just yesterday. By that time a few were looking a wee bit past their prime.

I had to act fast, so it was sausage and peppers to the rescue!! So easy, and tasty, too. And fun, because there are lots of intriguing sausage varieties around to try. Be sure to check the ingredients carefully so you know you're won't be eating any icky fillers, and watch that the fat content isn't too high. My personal fave? Griggstown Farm's chicken sausage with spinach and feta.

Here's how I make this dish. It's so simple I won't even call it a recipe!

Lisa's No-Brainer Sausage & Peppers

Three large peppers (I like to use two green, one red, but you can use any combination you like)
Two large onions
Two large cloves of garlic, crushed
One package sausage of your choice (preferably all-natural, organic, and local!)
Olive oil

Slice peppers and onions lengthwise into fairly thin strips. Heat a large skillet over medium flame, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Saute onions and peppers for five minutes, stirring often so they don't stick or brown too much. Reduce heat to low, add two tablespoons of water to pan, cover, and cook for about 10 more minutes, or until peppers and onions are very soft. Add one more tablespoons of olive oil, then the crushed garlic and cook for one minute longer, stirring occasionally.
While the veggies are cooking, grill or broil sausage until cooked through. Cut sausage into chunks.

Add sausage to the onions and peppers, salt and pepper to taste, and you're done! Serves two hearty eaters.

I like to pair this dish with an arugula salad with tomatoes and white beans. Add a warm, crusty whole wheat roll and you're done!

Enjoy! Lisa