Live chat: your nutrition questions answered

Administrator: Welcome to our first nutrition chat with Susan Bowerman of UCLA.

Administrator: Here's a question to start:

Administrator: I've been seeing all these vitamin drinks everywhere. Even Coke has vitamins in it now! Are these drinks really beneficial to your health?

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator: It's always best to get vitamins and minerals from whole foods.

Susan Bowerman: Foods provide much more than just vitamins and minerals, and so fortifying a drink that doesn't offer much nutritionally isn't the best way to get your vitamins and minerals

Administrator: Thanks, Susan. So, by the same token, do I need a daily vitamin?

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator: With our hectic lifestyles, and not always eating as well as we should, I think a daily multiple vitamin/mineral supplement is generally a good idea - for 'nutritional insurance'

Susan Bowerman: Also, some population groups require additional supplements. Many women, for example, are lacking calcium or iron in the diet, and can benefit from supplements. I think a lot of people can benefit from fish oil supplements, too, since most people don't eat as much fish as they should.

Administrator: But can one OD on vitamins? I knew someone who ate so many carrots her hands turned orange..was that dangerous???

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator: Certainly some vitamins and minerals can cause problems if taken to excess. In the case of your friend, the orange color on her skin was the result of the deposition of the beta-carotene, a pigment in the carrot that is converted to vitamin A, just under the skin

Susan Bowerman: But, beta carotene is only converted to vitamin A as it is needed, so in this case, even though her hands turned orange, it's not dangerous.

Susan Bowerman: However, people shouldn't assume that just because 'some is good', that 'more is better'.

Administrator: vitamin D's all the rage these days I much should we be taking? I've heard we should be taking far more than people once thought we should

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator: Vitamin D is, in fact, getting quite a bit of press because we are realizing that it has health benefits beyond its known effects on bone health. There is interest in the role of vitamin D and cancer prevention, for example, and there will likely be a re-examination of the Daily Value recommendations. Currently, we suggest that patients take about 1,000 I.U. per day, which is not in the toxic range by any means, but in a range that we believe may confer added health benefits

Administrator: Thanks, Susan! May I ask you a question about dieting, now? I am trying to lose 15 pounds in time for summer so I can fit into my swimsuit nicely. What's a healthy, quick and painless way to do it?

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator, diet and exercise are, of course, the hallmarks of effective weight loss. Safe rates of weight loss are in the 1-2 pound per week range for most people. There are a few things you should focus on

Susan Bowerman: 1. Exercise should be both cardio - you should aim for at least 30 minutes a day

Susan Bowerman: 2. Diet should be rich in plant products - fruits and vegetables - and lean proteins and low in fat

Susan Bowerman: 3. You might want to try using some form of a meal replacement such as a frozen healthy meal or a protein shake made with protein powder, milk and fruit - this helps you to control portions and get control over your calories

Susan Bowerman: 4. You should also do strength training a few times a week, because this helps to maintain lean body mass, and will help to raise your metabolic rate over time.

Susan Bowerman: Be patient - you didn't put it on overnight - so don't expect it to fall off too quickly.

Administrator: Thanks. I guess things just take time. But does it help if I eat a lot of protein? I've heard that it is a lot more satisfying than carbs, so if I eat an egg at breakfast I don't get hungry as quickly. Is this true?

Administrator: You know, the old Atkins diet stuff

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator, yes, protein is more satisfying than carbohydrates or fats, but you don't want to avoid all carbs completely - fruits and vegetables are the healthiest carbs you can eat, and whole grains have a place in the diet, too. A healthy protein in the morning could be in the form of an egg white omelet, or a protein shake as I mentioned above, or maybe some cottage cheese or yogurt and some fruit

Administrator: Is too much protein harmlful? What if you only have one kidney, like I do?

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator: For healthy individuals, a diet that supplies even 30% of calories from protein, particularly if it is a mixture of animal and plant proteins, is not in any way dangerous. You may be a special case, since you have only one kidney, and therefore a discussion with your doctor regarding an appropriate level of protein intake for you would be in order. Be sure to ask your doctor if he or she feels that plant proteins, such as soy, might be better tolerated than animal proteins.

Administrator: Thanks, I'll do that. One final question before we wrap up: Are there any foods that can make me mentally sharper? I'm feeling a little slow today.

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator, As it turns out, protein is very good for this. Some people use carbs to calm themselves down, and some people notice feeling a little sluggish after a high carb meal.

Susan Bowerman: Conversely, a higher protein intake affects neurotransmitters in the brain in a positive way - helping you to 'put round pegs in round holes' so to speak.

Susan Bowerman: Additionally, the antioxidants that you get from fruits and vegetables can help prevent oxidative damage to all tissues, including the brain, so be sure to include plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet every day.

Administrator: Thanks Susan! It was great chatting with you.

Susan Bowerman: Dear Administrator, thanks for all your challenging questions!

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