In the world of nutrition, some assumptions can easily lull you into a false sense of security. Below, the three I've encountered most often in my nutrition practice that, once addressed, can greatly improve your health:
1) "I'm out in the sun quite a bit, so I don't need a vitamin D supplement."
Depending where you live, your ability to make vitamin D from the sun is inhibited for many months. If you live north of the 33rd parallel (this map offers a helpful visual), your body is unable to make vitamin D from the sun for several months (roughly from October to April).
Simply put -- if you're north of San Diego/Phoenix/Atlanta, you are not making vitamin D for many months, even if you are outdoors, at noon, wearing a minimal amount of clothing. The reason? The sun's UVB rays -- the ones responsible for vitamin D production -- are not powerful enough.
Let's say you live in an area where you can make vitamin D year-round. Or that you're all the way up in Boston in the middle of July, where the UVB rays are potent. You are getting all your vitamin D from the sun, right? Not quite. There are many barriers that can inhibit vitamin D production:
1) Air pollution.
2) Sunscreen. "Sunscreens with SPF ≥ 15 almost completely inhibit vitamin D3 production". Keep in mind that most commercial moisturizers contain SPFs in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
3) Time of day. The general rule is that if your shadow is longer than your body, the sun's rays are not high enough to produce vitamin D.
I recommend supplementing 2,000 to 5,000 International Units of vitamin D a day. If it seems like a lot, keep in mind that when we produce vitamin D from the sun, our bodies make 10,000 International Units before shutting down production.
Recent research has also determined that vitamin D is necessary for more than just healthy bones. Almost every cell in the human body contains vitamin D receptors, meaning vitamin D plays a crucial role in blood glucose control to mood disorders and heart health, to name just a few examples. This is why a growing number of researchers agree that official recommendations for 600 IUs a day are insufficient.
2) "I don't eat salty foods, so my diet is low in sodium." The foods that traditionally come to mind when sodium is discussed are those that contain surface salt (pretzels, potato chips, salted nuts, French fries). While surface salt is much more noticeable to the palate, but it does not necessarily indicate a high-sodium product.
Consider, for example, that a serving of salted peanuts contains 115 milligrams of sodium, while a cup of milk offers 180 milligrams. Yet, I am sure you rarely hear anyone state that milk tastes salty.
The worst sneaky sodium offenders, however, are the baked goods and sweetened beverages available at fast food restaurants. A Panera Bread Company wild blueberry scone clocks in at 900 milligrams. Au Bon Pain's carrot walnut muffin packs a whopping 820 milligrams (equivalent of eight McDonald's chicken nuggets). A Dunkin' Donuts large hot chocolate, meanwhile, offers 560 milligrams -- as much as 50 potato chips.
Although the sodium alarm has been ringing for a while, remember that two other minerals -- potassium and magnesium -- are just as crucial for healthful blood pressure levels. Rather than looking for low-sodium processed foods, choose whole, plant-based foods, which offer these two minerals in spades.
3) "100 percent fruit juice is a healthful beverage." We have been sold the myth that fruit juice is "nutrition in a glass," but in reality, it is empty, sugary calories. The only reason why so many commercial apple juices contain vitamin C, by the way, is because of fortification (that's nutrition-speak for "added during processing").
Although orange juice intrinsically contains vitamin C, potassium, and folate, all fruit juices contribute calories but no satiety. The juicing process removes all the fiber in fruit and significantly decreases its phytonutrient, antioxidant, and vitamin content. Apples, for example, contain a heart-healthy antioxidant known as quercetin. One important detail: 100 percent of it is in the fruit's peel. And, considering that the average American only consumes 15 of the 25 recommended grams of daily fiber, passing fruit juice off as a health food is deceptive.
One caveat: A green juice (think celery, cucumber, kale, lemon, and ginger) at home and sweetened with half an apple or a small pear is not a concern. Most of that juice consists of vegetables, and the ginger and lemon add a powerful anti-inflammatory punch. The problem is juice that consists entirely of fruit.
And, despite the "fresh" and "natural" claims on commercial juices, the reality is quite different. even "100 percent orange juice" has artificial underpinnings:
"In order to have OJ actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that make perfumes for Dior, to create these 'flavor packs' to make juice taste like, well, juice again."
A better choice -- whole fruit. It offers all the nutrients found in juice along with fiber and many healthful compounds lost in the juicing process.
Now that you're armed with this knowledge, you can take three simple steps to improve your health -- stock up on vitamin D, enjoy a handful of salted peanuts, and ditch the fruit juice. Your body will thank you.
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