The Potential Hidden Danger in Your Cereal: Iron


We all know iron is something we need to stay healthy and prevent anemia.  But did you know that too much dietary iron can hurt your health? When choosing a cereal, most people grab what tastes good.  If they are health conscious,  cereals low in calories and sugar and high in fiber might be selected.

One of the main problems with iron fortification in cereal is that the cereal is fortified for the part of the population that needs the most iron-namely women of childbearing age.  So, listen up adult males and older women: you, in particular, need to be mindful of the iron content of your favorite breakfast cereal.  When looking at a Nutrition Fact Label, note the percentage of DV iron. Looking at the above label, if a young female of child-bearing age has a 3/4 cup serving of Wheat Chex, she will be consuming 80% of her iron requirements (or about 14 grams of iron).  However, if an adult male or older woman eats 3/4 cup of the above cereal, he/she will be consuming almost double the iron recommendation of 8 grams of iron.  The fact that so much of our food supply is fortified with iron increases the risk that this hefty load of iron in a single serving of breakfast cereal could be problematic.

What exactly is the problem with eating too much iron?  Research has suggested the following:

Accelerated aging process?  Researchers recently pointed this out in worms, and will likely try to evaluate if this applies to humans;  in the interim, we already know that iron causes oxidative stress, which as far as the human body is concerned, is a negative event!  Oxidative stress in humans is thought to be involved in the development of many diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Constipation.  Aside from being unpleasant, this is not healthy for your body.   Any toxins or food pathogens present in your food will linger in your gastrointestinal tract, and potentially threaten your overall health. There is also scientific evidence that constipation can be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

Healthy people make a hormone, hepcidin, which swings into action to prevent too much iron from being absorbed. However, in a now common genetic condition called iron overload (or technically Hemochromatosis), the body is unable to put the brakes on iron absorption and iron begins to build up in the tissues. Early symptoms are varied and include fatigue, abdominal pain, and increased infections.  Later symptoms include liver failure and heart failure, and bone damage, and diabetes.

For those as yet undiagnosed people who are at particular risk from too much dietary iron, the iron content of generous servings of cereal are particularly troublesome.  For the rest of the males and older women, reading the nutrition fact label can help you keep your iron intake where it belongs-which is significantly less than noted on the label of most cereals on today’s supermarket shelves.

Have a favorite breakfast cereal which is low in iron? Please share for the next updated blog on which are the best low iron cereal options on the market.



Fish Oil: Good For Furry Friends Too!

Mollie2endless summer

My rescued Golden enjoying the summer shade a few years ago

As a practicing dietitian/nutritionist, I recommend fish oil to my patients all the time.  While my credentials and experience let me call myself an “expert” in human nutrition, I would never make the same claim for animal nutrition.  Animals are not humans, and while some aspects of human nutrition can and do cross-over to recommendations for our pets, I do not pretend to have the expertise in animal nutrition to know which principles of human nutrition would apply equally to our beloved furry friends.  Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3-fatty acids, which in humans, are documented as having the following general health benefits:

  • Lowers blood triglycerides, decreasing cardiovascular disease risk
  • Fights inflammation, a cause of pain and disease
  • Seems therapeutic for certain skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema, and just plain old dry skin

I have a very dear Golden Retriever that was rescued from a shelter at the age of one.  She is now a senior canine.  A recent trip to the vet along with a xray of her back showed osteoarthritis and disc degeneration.  The standard Rimadyl was started (an analgesic and anti-inflammatory) along with Dasuquin for joint support. While my options for therapy seemed limited, a vet tech at the office made a comment to me about fish oil.  He said human fish oil supplements were good for dogs, and the dosage would be the same as for humans.

Sounding like a benign and economical option, I did some reasearch.  Digging a bit into the literature, it seems fish oil supplementation for dogs is a very common practice.  As a practicing dietitian, I frequently run into incorrect supplement dosage recommendations made for people, and often those dosage recommendations are made by physicians.  For supplements to be therapeutic for humans, dosing does matter.  Too much of a supplement may foster a toxic situation or promote interference of other important nutrients essential to health.  Too little, and there may be no clinical impact.  So a bit of digging lent me insight into the dosing for dogs.  To figure out how much fish oil to give your dog, take your dog’s weight in pounds and multiply by 20.  So, if your dog weighs 75 pounds, the dosage of fish oil would be 1500 mg.

No special doggie fish oil is necessary.  Human fish oil supplements are fine.  Many pills are on the larger side, so you may pierce the pill and put on food.  Or, if your dog is like my dog, she will eat anything in a piece of bread.  Nature Made brand Fish Oil “pearls” are on the smaller side and 500 mg per pill.  This smaller size and dosage pill makes dosing and administration of fish oil easy!

I am hoping with this process to cut Mollie’s dander and ease her joint pain while also decreasing or eliminating her prescription medication.  For your beloved pet, please check with your vet before self-prescribing the fish oil because there may be health issues that need to be discussed first.

2nd Time Around, Mrs. Obama: High Hopes to “Impact the Quality of Food at the Grocery Store”

I have politics on my mind.  And, I am a dietitian/nutritionist (which you probably already know).   I watched both the Republican Convention and Democratic Convention.  As I reflected on some of the speeches, I thought I would look into what Michelle Obama would focus on if she becomes the First Lady for a second term.  In her first four years in the White House, she took on the noble cause of childhood obesity.  I figured she would opt for something pertaining to my field once again, and apparently this is the case.  She indicates she would focus on impacting the “quality” of food at the grocery store.  This is further clarified to mean she would focus on decreasing the fat, sugar, and sodium content of food found in our grocery stores across the United States.

This is an interesting idea.  How would this actually happen?  Will the government start regulating all companies to comply with a lesser amount of fat, sodium, and sugar in our food supply available to Americans?  We are a global economy, will imported foods be banned at large and small grocery stores if they do not comply with the fat, sodium, and sugar guidelines which will need to be implemented?

This also begs the obvious questions regarding access to less healthy foods.  Will the government ration or block our access to these foods?  Do you want to have these foods banned by the government, or do you want to make your own choices about what you eat?

I am not sure Mrs. Obama has the expertise to take on this challenge and this sounds like a logistical nightmare.  Would I be thrilled if Americans decreased fat, sugar, and sodium in their diet, well of course!  But what of education to learn to make the right choices?  I would like to see more energy focused in that arena rather than making more rules about what to eat.  In order to both implement and sustain a healthy dietary pattern, it starts with understanding what to eat and what eating patterns constitute a healthy diet.  I vote for more nutrition education and freedom to make one’s own food selection-hey, even I need a chocolate bar occasionally.  And ironically, what’s in a dark chocolate bar is not all bad from a nutritional standpoint.

What do you think?  Should the government change the food selection available at the grocery store through more regulation?

Weighing in on Doctor Refusing 200 Pound Patients

As I turned on the morning news the other day, the attention grabbing “teaser” headliner was about a physician in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts who refused to treat anyone weighing more than 200 pounds (link below).  If you haven’t heard it, the recap is that an internal medicine physician has decided to reject all new patients weighing over 200 pounds. She indicates that her staff has been “hurt” by handling these heavier people (not sure what she means by this), and that those patients already in her practice and weighing 200 pounds were grandfathered in.  She further notes that some of these grandfathered patients proceeded to lose weight after her office policy was implemented. The physician further states that there is an excellent university affiliated medical facility nearby which is much better suited to being able to handle very large patients. This scenario seems to beg the question, “is this a new trend in the medical profession?”  Will the United States evolve to medically managed weight loss centers for all people classified as obese?

Mayor Bloomberg restricts soda pop, Michelle Obama encourages us to plant vegetable gardens, but what can individuals and society really do to take responsibility?  This will become even more pressing of a concern to individuals if primary care physicians begin to refuse treating heavier patients on a wider scale.  If those heavier people are required to find access to health care in settings equipped to handle their special needs, this could also potentially handicap the weight loss process even more-if possible.  Right now, we are failing in managing our weight as a nation, just as we are failing at balancing our national budget.  We did not come to this point because of one problem.  We are a society that is not generally inclined to move:  we stay inside for safety reasons (like dodging bullets), we sit in front of computers all day, we play video games rather than dodge ball, and we eat out constantly.  While eating out is a great treat, doing so too often really insures your energy intake is too high which translates to weight gain.  Unless you are training for a marathon or triathlon, you still need to critically manage your energy intake if you are going to manage your weight.  All too often, those that workout regularly still forget the energy content (meaning calories) of the food they consume.  So, again, what are some solutions?

I do not have a simple solution because there is not necessarily a simple solution to a laundry list of factors causing this national crisis.  Our current societal complexities seem to set us up for obesity at this point.  Both physicians and patients need to take responsibility for slimming down the nation.  Apparently, it is perfectly legal for this physician to screen her patients according to weight limits.  If this is her prerogative (and it’s her practice), she should make a point of offering some other options to her patients.  While she was relying on a nearby medical facility affiliated with a teaching hospital, she and other physicians should have business cards of dietitians, therapists, and trainers and refer to those professionals!  And, patients need to take responsibility as well.  There is no magic solution here.  The message to move more and eat less is perceived as “boring” by many.  And to many, this simple message is not really simple.  After all, how much should one really eat and move in order to both prevent and manage obesity?

What can we do as a nation?  Please provide input to this question directly on my blog.  I look forward to your comments.



Nutrition on the Net-5 Sites to Start Searching

Type “nutrition for health” into your favorite search engine, and you may get literally millions of hits!  It’s no wonder it is difficult for consumers to navigate the Internet and find correct nutrition information.  With endless pages on an ever-growing World Wide Web, and bearing in mind that there are no editors on the Internet, it is very difficult for the average consumer to find accurate nutrition information.  Also, keep in mind that websites with the extensions such as org. or edu. are often good starting points for accurate information.  On the flip side, you may want to avoid commercial websites as sources of credible nutrition information because the purpose is often to promote a specific product!

Here are a 5 nutrition related websites you can use to start a search for timely nutrition information:

  • The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine-This is the “go to” site for information on supplements and alternative medicine. In particular, you can access some good information on herbs and botanicals, including safety and efficacy. Consumers really need to bear in mind that not all over the counter herbal supplements are either safe or effective.
  • The Nutrition Blog Network-If your preference is the blog approach to gathering your nutrition information, these blogs are written solely by registered dietitians (RD).  It is a vast amount of nutrition information with topics for all.
  • This website, UpToDate, was recently mentioned on a Chicago network morning talk show.  I thought I would check it out, and I approve.  It is a great website to become an informed patient, and depending on the diagnosis, there is also information on nutrition if applicable.
  • The American Institute for Cancer ResearchYou don’t need to have cancer to benefit from this wonderful website.  The site is full of healthy recipes and suggestions for reducing your risk of cancer through diet and healthy living.
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics-Here the consumer can access a variety of suggestions on how to carry out a healthy eating lifestyle.  You can also find a dietitian in your zip code.

Additional links on various topics may also be found at:

Keeping a keen eye on the websites you rely on for accurate information will help you become a better educated and savvy health and nutrition consumer.  Happy surfing.

Do you have a favorite nutrition website to share?