Magnesium: Would You Benefit from a Supplement?

supplements from a bottleMagnesium is everywhere in our diet: it is fairly abundant in green leafy vegetables, peas, broccoli, nuts, seeds, lentils, whole grains, fish, and bananas and even tap water. With that stated, most references will state that there is only a small percentage of people in the US not meeting their magnesium requirement. Interestingly, when my nutrition college students would assess their diets with nutrition analysis software, they almost never consumed the required 300-400 mg. of magnesium.  So, I guess that begs the question of what “nutritional” camp are you in? Do you implement healthy eating and try to eat a variety of foods on a regular basis, or do you shun whole grains, fruits, vegetables? Perhaps you are trying to eat a healthy diet, but have opted to decrease your carbohydrate intake along the way, which can also impact your consumption of magnesium rich foods since many carbohydrate rich foods are sources of magnesium.

Medical conditions thought to benefit from supplementation include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and GERD treated with certain medication
  • Menstrual pain
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Hearing loss
  • Hypertension
  • Leg cramps in pregnancy

And lastly, and big on my personal list, is the pain of fibromyalgia. There are times when the pain needs to be attacked from all angles to become manageable. I am all too familiar with this pain and the impact on daily life since I have it. Most of the time I manage fairly well, but sometimes with extreme stress it will rear it’s very ugly head. Recent events in my life seemed to have triggered the pain to a increased level for an extended time period. I will now begin supplementing with magnesium as one type of adjunct therapy for my pain. There are many prongs of intervention and management for fibromyalgia, so keep in mind this is not meant to be a sole treatment recommendation for everyone suffering from fibromyalgia, only one potential aspect of management. Again, there are many aspects of management-far too many to address is this blog.

For those deciding to take a magnesium supplement for any reason, there are some guidelines to keep in mind as not all supplements are created equally. When selecting a supplement, you want to try and ascertain the product actually contains the labeled amount of magnesium, is untainted with contaminants, and it breaks apart for digestion. And lastly, cost per pill may be an issue. While you can figure out the cost per pill with a calculator, the rest of the list is a bit murkier to sift through. The vitamin industry is self-regulating, so go with a name brand as quality control will be high on their list oUSP logof concerns.  You can also look for the term USP or the USP logo on a supplement labels which assures the nutrient will actually be absorbed rather than passing though your body undigested with no benefits.

Additionally, keep these points in mind:

  • MAGNESIUM OXIDE-economical, but absorbed less effectively; may cause diarrhea in susceptible individuals
  • MAGNESIUM CITRATE AND MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE may be formulas that are better absorbed and may have fewer side effects if taken at higher dosages.

Lastly, remember these supplements are meant to supplement the magnesium you are consuming through your diet. If you are not clear on the amount of supplement you might benefit from, consult a qualified dietitian for advice.

Have magnesium supplements helped you with any of your medical concerns? Do you have a brand you trust?




To Supplement or Not: 5 Facts To Factor

supplements from a bottleNews coverage over the last few days seems to be revolving around the weather, the holidays, Obamacare, and of all things nutritional supplements!  While I can’t comment about most of this current list of media topics, I do have a few words to say on the topic of supplements!  If you listen to the media hype over the last few days, there are some recurring  statements from the so-called experts being interviewed.  Some “experts” note most of our nutrients should come from food, come from “natural” whole foods put into pill form, or just be avoided altogether.  The truth and correct answers are most likely somewhere in between the primarily black and white general statements made by these so-called experts. Sadly, despite this topic of supplements airing over many news stations for the last few days, not one “expert” ever suggested that each person should be evaluated on a case by case basis in order to really assess the need and benefits from supplements. To determine if supplements are right for you, consider these tips:

  • Supplements are meant to fill in for dietary shortfallsIf you eat a healthy diet (include dairy or source of calcium, fish, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains), there is a fairly good chance you can skip taking pills!  If you are lactose intolerant, hate dairy products, don’t eat any foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, or you are vegan, then you may benefit from a supplement.  Consulting a licensed/registered dietitian can help you sort out what you may or may not need to be doing regarding supplements.
  • Supplements are of benefit to your health if you have a documented deficiency of a nutrient!  Wondering if you should really be taking vitamin D supplements?  You should have a blood test to determine if you need to be taking a supplement.  Once blood work is done on my clients, most have turned out to be deficient.  Once a deficiency of any nutrient is determined, it is easy enough to replete the diet through both food and supplements (or sunshine in the case of vitamin D).
  • Be aware of upper limits of safety!  More is definitely not better for you in most cases.  In fact, many people who take multiple supplements forget that they may be doubling or tripling their intake of a given nutrient because it is in several of their supplement formulas.  Beyond a certain limit, it can be dangerous to take the nutrient. Some nutrients can even be toxic if taken in excess.  Your favorite dietitian can be your best resource for this information!
  • Food is your best source of nutrients.  Nature has an uncanny way of packaging foods and one food is loaded with many nutrients that actually work together to maximize your nutritional status.  With that stated, those people who eat a lot of processed foods and a limited diet may indeed benefit from specific supplements.  An evaluation of your diet and eating habits is the best way to move forward with accurate supplement recommendations.
  • Did you know there is no regulation of supplements?  If a supplement has been implicated in causing harm, it will be pulled from the shelves, but until then it is buyer beware!  With that stated, the savvy consumer choosing to take supplements should consider well-know brands that have a reputation to protect.  Using lesser known brands may result in less quality control.  Over the decades, some supplements have been known to be tainted with arsenic and lead.  Choosing a name brand product can potentially protect you!

Not all supplements are good or bad for that matter.  Not all people need supplements, and many people do!  Consulting with a professional who is educated on this topic and takes the time to evaluate your diet prior to making recommendations will be time well spent in improving both your health and nutritional status!

20 Foods to Fight Stroke and High Blood Pressure

We’ve all heard that reducing sodium intake can help lower blood pressure.  What consumers are less aware of is that dumping the salt in your diet may be only 50% of what you need to do to prevent high blood pressure and stroke risk. The rest of the story has to do with getting enough potassium in your diet. Potassium is found primarily in unprocessed whole foods.  When people eat lots of calories and abundant amounts of unprocessed foods, it is not problematic getting the 4700 mg. recommended intake.  Slash your calories and eat a lot of junky processed food and it becomes much harder to reach your potassium recommendations. In order to slash sodium and boost potassium intake, consider eating more of these stroke and blood pressure fighting foods:

                                                        Potassium (mg)                       Sodium (mg)

One medium potato                                          926                                          17

One cup winter squash                                     896                                            2

One cup low sodium V-8 juice                          820                                        140

½ cup pitted dates                                            584                                            2

One cup low sodium tomato juice                     556                                          24

½ cup spinach                                                  510                                          25

½ cup sweet potato                                          398                                          68

½ cup kidney beans                                          370                                           1

One small banana                                             362                                           0

1/3 avocado                                                       356                                          2

½ cup prune juice                                              353                                          5

½ cup uncooked oatmeal                                  335                                           2

1.5 oz. box raisins                                             322                                           5

3 oz. cooked beef or chicken                            290                                          47

½ cup cooked broccoli                                      278                                          29

One cup raw sliced mangos                              257                                           3

¼ cup wheat germ                                             256                                           3

½ cup any melon                                               242                                          27

½ cup orange juice                                            240                                            1

½ cup apricot halves                                         233                                            1

Choosing more of these foods will both slash your sodium while boosting your potassium, to boost your chances of steering clear of stroke and high blood pressure!


Is Your Dietary Supplement Downright Dangerous? 5 Tips to Protect Yourself!

While many Americans naively pop vitamin and mineral supplements and guzzle various types of protein supplements and powders thinking they are helping with overall health and vitality, the reality is that many of these supplements can be downright dangerous!  In fact, according to last week’s Chicago Tribune headliner, the 28 billion dollar supplement industry has serious and widespread manufacturing flaws that have the potential to harm our health.  From quality control issues to formulary issues, the product you are ingesting may not be what you are thinking it is.  There may be much more or too little of a specific nutrient, or even contamination with lead, arsenic, or rodent feces. 

As a potential consumer, it needs to be understood that the supplement industry is a self-regulating industry.  That means the government does not directly oversee the quality control of a supplement. In fact, quality control issues are largely left to the company producing the supplement.  Under current laws, the FDA does not screen supplements for safety before they hit the consumer market. The FDA only takes action regarding supplements on the market once there is a documented issue with the supplement.  In fact, the FDA is also relying on manufacturers themselves as well as consumers to report those adverse effects.

So, without hiring a lab to test your own supplements, here are some proactive steps to take to protect yourself:

  • Buy name brand supplements.  Well-known brands may have better “in-house” quality control standards because the reputation of the company is at stake.  Steer clear of companies you have not heard of.
  • Look for the USP label.  This label means that the supplement has been at least evaluated for ingredients stated on the label and it will dissolve in your digestive tract rather than passing straight through your body.  The symbol does not guarantee any other health or safety advantages of the supplement.
  • Look at the Nutrition Fact Label on the supplement.  Note the percent daily value of the nutrients.  If you see values of many nutrients far exceeding 100%, don’t be duped into thinking this is a good thing. Consumers need to understand that too much of a nutrient can be very harmful.  We have upper limits of safety for many nutrients and we should avoid exceeding those upper limits of safety.
  • Consider using the Internet to investigate your supplement before taking it.  Consumer Labs is an independent testing lab that evaluates supplemental products and makes the test results available for a small subscription fee.  The analyses and data are extensive and informative.
  •  Consider having a dietitian evaluate your current diet.  A dietitian can evaluate nutrient shortcomings and make appropriate recommendations to meet those dietary deficits with the correct dosages of nutrients.  Or better yet, a dietitian can help you find the foods you like to eat to give you the nutrients you need!  Afterall, mother nature does the best nutrient packaging of all.

 Click video information on this topic!

Do you ever think about safety issues regarding supplement use?

5 Dietary Supplements for Baby Boomers!


While daily use of multi-nutrient supplements has fallen out of favor by some health professionals due to some recent studies, there are five supplements many of us 40+  may need. While food is always the best source of nutrients, certain circumstances with aging may warrant adding these supplements to your diet!  Here are the 5 supplements baby boomers may need to consider taking:
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids– We have too little of these essential fatty acids in our diet.  While fish can be a good contributor of omega-3-fatty acids, eating fish a few times a week is not necessarily going to be insurance your requirements are met.  We have some other food sources such as walnuts and flaxseed, but consistency is key and that is where a fish oil supplement at least a few times per week may be helpful.
  • CoQ10– We make this nutrient, but we make less of it as we age. If you are taking a statin drug to lower your cholesterol level, the statin drug will limit your body’s ability to make this nutrient. So, if you are aging (and we all are), and taking cholesterol lowering medication, there is no logical reason to avoid this supplement and every reason to take it.
  • Magnesium– While distributed in a wide variety of foods, I have noted that my clients are often consuming too little of this nutrient through foods. Magnesium may be easily washed and peeled away from foods during processing, and a limited calorie consumption means less is being consumed through food.
  • Vitamin D– It is best to get your baseline blood vitamin D levels checked, but chances are you will benefit from at least some additional supplemental vitamin D.  While we can make this vitamin, we make less as we age. Increased use of sunscreen will further decrease production of vitamin D.  With mounting evidence that vitamin D plays roles in promoting strong bones, healthy blood pressure, fighting infection, and decreasing inflammation and cancer risk, supplementation is warranted if blood levels are low.
  • Calcium- If you skip out on the dairy group, there is a pretty good chance you may not be meeting your calcium requirements.  Calcium is important for more than our bones-it also protects against colon cancer and high blood pressure.  If you opt out of drinking regular milk and eating dairy products, simply choose soy, rice, or almond milk and make sure the brand you choose is fortified with calcium.  If you avoid these products altogether, consider a supplement.  Up to the age of  50, it is recommended you consume 1000 mg; for 50+ the requirements increase to 1200 mg.

While my preference is always going to be to get nutrients through food, eating less as we age, medication, and lifestyle may impact our ability to obtain the noted nutrients.

Any one have other supplements they think we should be taking as we get older?

Be a Savvy Supplement Shopper- 5 Tips To Smarter Supplementation!

We are a pill popping society, and we know it.  It is what Americans seem to love to do.  Recently, there has been a lot of press about the fact that perhaps we should not be taking multi-nutrient supplements-and that they may actually be harmful to our health.  I have even had patients come to my office telling me that their physicians have flat-out told them to stop taking supplements altogether.  The wise approach, however, is most likely somewhere between constantly popping supplements and never taking a supplement.  People who would benefit from supplements include those who have validated nutrient deficiencies (blood work can evaluate this), women of childbearing years, habitual dieters, the elderly who are on certain medications or have limited food intake for medical reasons, and those that skip over entire food groups. While it is always best to have your nutritional requirements met through a healthy food selection, appropriate dosages of supplements can “supplement” your diet by filling in the gaps.

The bad news about supplements is that overdoing dosages can be harmful to your health.  Many people have the “if some is good, more is better” mentality.  The truth is that scientists have documented upper limits of safety, and beyond those limits you are putting your health at risk.  Mega doses of supplements are actually categorized as drugs, and excessive amounts of supplements can cause symptoms ranging from nerve damage to liver failure.  Another little known fact is that just because you can purchase a supplement at a store, doesn’t mean it is safe.  Supplements sold in this country have virtually no regulation in terms of safety.  Under current law, the FDA is responsible for taking action on unsafe supplements already on the market, but does not need to screen or pre-approve a supplement before it is gets to the store shelves.  This means you need to be a savvy supplement shopper if you decide to take supplements.

Here are 5 tips to help keep your supplement selection safe:

  1. Look at the Supplement Fact label (example in above photo); choose a multi-nutrient supplement that does not have very high percentages of nutrients (around 100% Daily Value (DV) would be safe, if around 200% or higher, move on to a different supplement).
  2. Look for the USP symbol or text on a label.
    The USP symbol or text means that the supplement will dissolve in your digestive system, and the ingredients are guaranteed.
  3. Supplements with added ingredients such as parsley, alfalfa, and herbs offer no added health benefit to the consumer.  There would be too little added to the supplement-best to just eat the parsley!
  4. Don’t let terms such as “stress relief”, “time release”, or “natural” drive your brand selection-as these terms are only marketing terms!
  5. Because there is no regulation on supplements prior to arriving on the store shelves, consider purchasing supplements that are name brands.  These companies are more likely to have their own internal high quality control standards, as they have a reputation to be protected, which can also ultimately protect the consumer.

If in doubt about whether to supplement or not, a registered/licensed dietitian can assist you!

What are your thoughts about supplement use and safety?



Maybe Getting Too Much Iron? Then, Pick These Cereals and Not Those Cereals!

Iron consumption is critical for the health of all-especially women of childbearing age, infants, and children.  Iron deficiency can cause a range of symptoms from energy draining anemia to disruptive behavior in children.  Because adequate dietary iron is so critical to health, many of our foods are fortified with iron to lessen the public health risk of too little iron.

Cereals are probably the most widely iron fortified food in this country.  For infants, iron fortified baby cereal is an excellent way for babies to get the iron they need to grow.  For older children and adults, a single serving of cereal can provide 100% of the recommendation for iron.

But what happens if a lot of this highly fortified cereal is eaten by men and older women who have significantly lower iron requirements than younger women and children?  Women of childbearing age need 18 mg of iron, but men and  women in menopause need only 8 mg of iron.  While a healthy body can actually exert some control over absorbing too much iron, once in the body, it can be problematic to excrete. If too much iron is absorbed on an ongoing basis, it can cause a range of symptoms from increased infection to organ failure in susceptible individuals.

If you walk down the cereal aisle and start looking at the Nutrition Fact Label on cereal boxes, you will see that some of the most popular cereals-including some of the healthier high fiber whole grain varieties- are often packed with 50 to nearly 100% of the recommended 18 mg suitable for younger women.  So, what about a man or older woman who chooses to eat multiple servings of a these cereals in a given day?  They would be ingesting much more iron than they need, potentially placing themselves at medical risk over the long run.

Let’s look at how some popular cereals stack up per serving with regard to the 18 mg iron requirement:

  • Cheerios have 6.3 mg
  • Special K has 6.3 mg
  • Corn Chex has 9 mg
  • Corn Flakes have 9 mg
  • Raisin Bran has 6.3-10.8 mg (depends on the brand)
  • Wheat Chex has 14.4 mg
  • Frosted Mini Wheats have 16.2 mg
  • Multi-Bran Chex has 16.2 mg
  • Total has 18 mg

For those who love their cereal, but need less iron, there are some lower iron choices such as:

  • Kashi cereals range from virtually no iron up to 2 mg depending on the variety selected
  • Puffins have less than 1 mg
  • Cooked oatmeal has less than 2 mg
  • Fiber One has 4.5 mg
  • Frosted Cheerios have 4.5 mg
  • Basic 4 has 4.5 mg
  • Flax Plus Multibran Flakes has less than 2 mg

Given that many people eat more than the standard  ½-1 cup serving size, there is little doubt that some of you are consuming very large amounts of iron from cereal.  Couple large serving sizes of iron fortified cereal with a glass of orange juice, and the iron absorption triples from the vitamin C in that orange juice!

For more thoughts:

The Potential Hidden Danger in Your Cereal: Iron

Should you change your cereal choice based on your iron requirements?

Is Your Diet in Need of a Potassium Make-Over?

As both a dietitian counseling private patients and a college level nutrition course instructor, I have become concerned that both my patients and students consistently have difficulty consuming enough dietary potassium.  Given that the daily dietary recommendation for North Americans is 4700 mg., it’s not that surprising that people fall short of meeting their potassium requirements.  Although many health care providers think it is an easy process to eat this much potassium on a daily basis, Americans eat too few servings of unprocessed foods which leads to this problem.  Additionally, as chronic dieters edit out calories to lose weight, they may also be editing out potassium rich foods in the process.  With that stated,  consuming enough potassium does not have to be as difficult as one would think.  The key is knowing the best food sources of potassium, and making sure these foods are consumed on a regular basis.

Why is potassium so important for our health and well-being? Potassium is necessary for healthy nerve and heart function.  Evidence also suggests that diets low in sodium and ample in potassium seem to prevent or correct some types of high blood pressure and lessen the likelihood of stroke.

With these health benefits in mind, it is crucial to know how we can increase our dietary intake of potassium.  Potassium comes mainly from unprocessed foods, like fruit and vegetables- something that all Americans need to incorporate more regularly in their diets.  Consider the following options when specifically trying to target your levels of potassium intake:

  • 1/2  cup baked beans have 285 mg.
  • 1/2 cup navy beans have 376 mg.
  • 1/2 cup lima beans have 476 mg.
  • 1/2 cup soybeans have 476 mg.
  • 1 cup cooked spinach has 466 mg.
  • 1 small can low sodium V-8 juice has 700 mg.
  • 6 prunes have about 290 mg.
  • 1 cup orange juice has about 500 mg.
  • 11.2 fluid ounce box Naked brand coconut water, about 530 mg.
  • 1 cup of skim milk has about 400 mg.
  • 1 banana has 420 mg.
  • 1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal has about 335 mg.
  • 3 oz. salmon has about 380 mg.
  • 3 oz. chicken or beef has about 290 mg.
  • 1/2 cup cooked carrots has about 185 mg.
  • 1 cup of honeydew melon has about 400 mg.
  • 1 cup cantaloupe has about 417 mg.
  • 1/3 avocado has about 360 mg.
  • 6-oz. baked potato has about 850 mg.
  • 1/2 cup sweet potato has about 400 mg.
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries have about 250 mg.
  • 1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice has about 200 mg.

The beauty of this list? These potassium rich fruits and vegetables are also the foods with high levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants, and the foods least likely to add pounds to your waistline! Yet one more reason to make sure you get five or more servings of fruits and veggies per day. Bon appetit!