Recently, a study claimed that taking vitamins has no merit. It’s not new news: pharmaceutical-funded studies have been claiming this for some time (because vitamins can’t be patented and if you take them, you might not need their drugs.) While the study says vitamins in isolation don’t work (I agree), it also claims that multivitamins have no merit (I disagree: synthetic multivitamins have no merit, but whole food multi-vitamins have been shown to have health benefits.)

The debate isn’t new. One of the most vehement arguments came a few years ago when Reader’s Digest called vitamins “a scam” and said that taking them is a waste of money. It cited a study of 160,000 mid-life women that showed no difference in health with respect to the big diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke, from taking a multivitamin. But as with all studies, you need to dig deeper—in this case because not all vitamins are created equal. (I am always suspect when a magazine whose advertising is largely from pharmaceutical companies says vitamins are worthless.)

The article challenges the benefits of certain individual supplements, such as vitamins A or E taken by themselves.  I agree these vitamins will have little, if any, effect when taken in isolation because they require proper co-factors for absorption. The article and the recent study both recommend one standalone vitamin that should be taken by everyone: vitamin D. (I’ve discussed the importance of vitamin D previously and I will be writing more about it soon as I believe it is so important.)

There is a rampant vitamin D deficiency among children and adults today, so I couldn’t agree more. Vitamin D3 can stand on its own and I take 5000 mg daily as part of my multivitamin and more in addition during the winter. (Do not take a prescription vitamin D as you will receive vitamin D2 which is not as absorpable or effective as vitamin D3 which you can buy inexpensively over the counter, though natural sunlight is still best.)

But most other vitamins need to be taken together as part of a complete nutritional package and won’t have much if any impact if taken alone.

Many people say that if we eat well, we don’t need a multivitamin. Eating a whole food and plant-based diet will go a long way toward staying healthy and I strongly recommend we do that. We cannot eat too many dark leafy green vegetables and we should be eating the rainbow (fruits and vegetables that cover every spectrum of color from white to orange, red, green and purple.) But I also take a whole food multivitamin and a whole food raw green superfood powder, because the truth is, it is very difficult to get the nutrients we need from our modern food supply.

These days, to offset the bad fats and processed food sugars we consume and to restore balance within our bodies, we need more vegetables than ever. (New standards raise fruits and vegetables up to 9-13 servings a day!) We are not just eating to fuel our bodies, we are eating to heal our bodies from the inflammation and oxidation of our processed diets. It’s getting harder to get the nutrients we need because in addition to the packaged and prepared foods in our diets, our fresh food supply is not as vitamin rich as it used to be. Soil has been depleted of nutrients, food is sprayed with chemicals and pesticides or is genetically modified to grow bigger or to resist disease, and then it is transported hundreds or thousands of miles to get to our tables.

If you go to a farm or a market and buy fresh produce, you know that after a few days on your counter, it will begin to go bad. Now think about the grapes or tomatoes you are buying from the opposite coast or from South America. They were picked, packaged and then shipped (sometimes by barge) to the U.S., sent out by truck across the country to your local market, displayed on the shelf for several days (or weeks) and then finally taken home.

For the produce to survive that trip looking fresh and beautiful and without bruising, it is heavily sprayed with chemicals, and picked before it is ripe and allowed to mature along the way. Once the fruit leaves the vine, it doesn’t get the sun and the nutrients any longer, it doesn’t fully develop the enzymes and phytonutrients that are usually present in mature fresh picked local produce.

(I talk a lot more about organic versus local and making better fruit and vegetable choices in the articles on produce, but you should also know that many chemicals and pesticides banned in the U.S. are still used freely in the foreign countries from which we buy produce.)

Studies estimate more than 50% of nutrient value is lost in the journey from farm to table. That’s’ very conservative. So even if you are doing your best to eat a lot of good fruits and veggies, unless you have access to a local farm, and even then, it is hard to get food with the nutritional profile you need for health. Plus,  you’d have to eat a lot of it, and how many of us can sit down and eat a basket full of kale?

If you still think you can go it alone without, you may recall in one of my articles I shared that to get the same level of nutrients that you could get from two peaches back in the 1950’s, today you would have to eat 53! Who is doing that?

While I fantasize about growing my own food, here in New England, with a long, cold winter and a busy life with two kids and work, it’s not possible at the moment. I do my best to shop at local farmers’ markets for fresh produce, and I buy flash frozen organic produce (never canned) when I can’t. Despite my best efforts, I do not believe that I can get the nutrition I need without taking a multivitamin and my kids take one too.

But there is a big difference among multivitamins. There are natural organic whole food based products that when manufactured correctly leave the integrity of the whole food intact. And then there are cheap synthetic forms that you can buy in drugstores or big box stores which are the vitamins the studies are talking about.

When looking for a good whole food supplement, keep in mind that whole foods are just that: whole foods. Look for ingredients such as carrots, spinach, wheat grass, spirulina, kale, celery etc. There will be vitamins listed as well but their sources will also be present: The original foods from which they were derived. When the ingredient list reads more like a science report than a grocery list, and there are no food sources included just isolated chemicals, it’s typically comprised of man-made synthetic compounds.

Because synthetic vitamins are created in a lab to simulate the real thing, they are not identical in the way they interact with or are absorbed by the body. They are often missing minerals, nutrients and other requisite co-factors for assimilation. In addition, they often contain cheap fillers and binders from ingredients like sand and titanium dioxide, dibasic calcium phosphate and microcrystalline cellulose (refined wood pulp);  they are ingredients that our bodies cannot absorb and that may even be harmful to us. Many common over-the-counter vitamins are passed through the stool whole and intact.

Taking a multivitamin that includes a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and nutrients can make a difference, but only if it is bioavailable and bioabsorpable; in other words your body can actually break down and absorb the nutrients. That is not possible with synthetic vitamins. I prefer a whole food-based product that is as close to what I should be eating as possible, and made from the real thing, not created to imitate it.

Interestingly the Readers Digest article’s main argument against taking multivitamins said, “These days, you’re extremely unlikely to be deficient if you eat an average America diet, if only because many packaged foods are vitamin enriched.”

Think about that for a moment.

Food manufacturers strip out all the vitamins that exist in the food during the manufacturing process. Then they “enrich” them, by adding back cheap lab-created imitations. They want us to believe that these created versions are the same as the original, but research shows they are not: you cannot duplicate naturally occurring nutrients from synthetic ingredients. In addition, they will be missing enzymes and cofactors required for assimilation. When I see “enriched” on a food label, I know to stay away.

The truth is that enriched foods do not add vital nutrients to our bodies, nor will synthetic vitamin pills. The best way to get what we need is from the whole food source. Nature intended us to eat vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and phytonutrients together as they work synergistically. When whole food supplements are made the right way, they maintain a multitude of the plants original components and the integrity of the food source.

So eat as much good stuff as you can. Buy local when you can, organic if possible. But given the nutrient levels in today’s soil and ultimately, food supply, along with the long transit times and warehouse distribution processes, even if you eat really well, you probably won’t get all the nutrients you need from food. Most — if not all — of us will still need to supplement with a whole food-based supplement to bridge the gap for long-term health and wellness.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.

Article Photo: courtesy of m_bartosch |


In the second of three articles about the real foods that raise your cholesterol (animal products are not among them!), we are going to look at sugar and review a form of sugar known as fructose. (If you missed the first article on trans fats, you can read it here.)

Studies have shown that it matters what form the sugar takes, what the sugar’s source is, and that not all sugars react the same way inside our bodies.

Glucose and Fructose
To help you understand the difference between glucose and fructose and more importantly, why it matters, I have to cover a little science. Bear with me and I’ll try to keep it simple and brief.

Glucose and fructose are two of the most common forms of sugar. They are both simple sugars and they have the same molecular form. But they have a different structure and as a result, they are metabolized very differently in the body.

One recent study followed participants for only 10 weeks. During the study, 25% of the participants’ energy requirements came from consuming either glucose or fructose sweetened beverages. The weight gain of both groups was comparable. But the group that consumed the fructose drinks gained measurably more intra abdominal fat, or the fat that forms around the organs in the abdomen. This fat has been shown to be a risk factor for many chronic illnesses including heart disease.

The fructose group also developed insulin resistance. In other words, they became less sensitive to insulin, the hormone whose job it is to control blood sugar levels through the release of glucose into the blood. Insulin resistance can lead to metabolic syndrome, which has been shown to increase the risk of heart attack among other things. And metabolic syndrome is the precursor to type II diabetes.

A number of studies have now revealed significant health differences between the consumption of glucose and fructose so let’s look at the differences.

Glucose is the basis for all cellular energy. Since every cell in your body uses glucose, when you consume any glucose, your body utilizes it almost immediately. If you consume 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie will be stored as fat because the rest essentially gets ‘burned up.’ Because it’s typically broken down in the cells, only a small amount of glucose will need to be broken down by the liver, the organ that performs carbohydrate metabolism and detoxification (among other roles.)

As mentioned above, despite having the same molecular formula, fructose has a very different structure. As a result, they are metabolized very differently. Unlike glucose, which is metabolized in the body’s cells, fructose is metabolized completely by the liver just like ethanol — a known toxin — according to Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School.

Metabolism in the liver also creates by products that pose health challenges, especially if the liver is working hard all day. Some of the by products include toxic waste and uric acid (which raises blood pressure and can lead to gout.)

Because our liver has so many important jobs, it can get overloaded and burn out; since  we cannot live without it, the less burden we place on our livers, the better. Given the choice between glucose and fructose, it’s definitely better for our bodies to consume glucose, which can be processed predominantly in the cells of the body, over fructose since fructose taxes our livers.

In addition, there are several connections between fructose and fat. Remember that when we consume 120 calories of glucose only one is stored as fat. But when we consume 120 calories of fructose, 40 of those calories will be stored as fat! When it is metabolized, fructose is turned into free fatty acids, VLDL (the bad cholesterol), and triglycerides, which are stored in the body as fat.

The fatty acids also form fat droplets, which can accumulate in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues. These fat deposits can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and result in insulin resistance. Fructose is a carbohydrate that is metabolized in the body like a fat so no wonder it impacts our weight and our health so dramatically.

Fructose is not inherently bad. It is commonly found in the fruits and vegetables we’ve eaten for thousands of years. If we consume small amounts from fruits and vegetables throughout the day as our ancestors did, we might derive about 15 grams of fructose from our daily diets. (I did read an interesting report recently that stated the way we grow fruit today has increased the amount of fructose it contains, which would add to the burden.)  But this fructose would also be consumed along with the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber contained in the fruits and vegetables, which would also help to balance out the sugar intake.

If we increase our fructose consumption exponentially, as we have in recent years, with current estimates that a typical teenager takes in 73 grams a day just in sweetened drinks alone, (and for you non-soda drinkers you’re not off the hook: sugar comes plentifully in sports drinks, processed fruit juices and flavored milks), it’s not hard to see how this could pose metabolic challenges to our bodies and impact cholesterol and heart health.

Too much sugar or processed foods will start us on a road toward diabetes or insulin resistance. While that can occur with all sugars, as we just saw, fructose has an even more damaging effect due to its impact on very small LDL and Triglycerides. While there are many reasons to avoid diabetes as it poses numerous health risks, one of its greatest impacts is on heart health.

According to Dr. Frederic Vagnini, “It is apparent to me in my practice, and it is becoming more and more documented in the scientific literature that individuals with any type of heart ailment, be it a heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, angioplasty or bypass surgery experience, hypertension, or hyperlipidemia, will be found upon examination to have elevated glucose levels—that is, diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Dr. Vagnini makes it clear that it’s not just the diagnosis of diabetes, but the simple effect of elevated glucose levels. When we have elevated glucose over time we experience what is known as pre-diabetes, and the damage begins to occur, Often it can take years to go from pre-diabetes to full diabetes diagnosis, but during that time, significant damage to our heart health is steadily occuring.

For people with diagnosed diabetes, heart attack and stroke are the leading cause of death; heart attacks in people with diabetes are more serious and more likely to result in death. But even without a diagnosis of diabetes, as Dr. Vagnini has observed, elevated glucose is present in people experiencing any type of heart ailment, which makes it important to take action long before your blood sugar reaches the 125 level that constitutes a diabetes diagnosis. (Many doctors say healthy blood sugar should be below 80. If you want to learn more, you can read my article “The Diabetes Myth” here.)

Dr. Vagnini concludes, “Years ago, cholesterol became a household word because of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on health education through the National Cholesterol Education Program of the Institutes of Medicine. Today glucose levels are just as important as cholesterol (hyperlipidemia) as a risk factor for heart disease; yet they are not given sufficient attention by medical practitioners.”

Maybe it’s time we start paying attention to the connection.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.

Article Photo: courtesy of Stuart Miles |


We have all seen or heard horror stories around today’s “factory farms.” It is sometimes to hear or see it and go on eating business as usual.  We want changes to be made and at the same time, we know we need to get back to eating more vegetables and less processed foods. As a result, some of us choose to forego meat completely and opt for a totally plant-based diet (though the plant horror stories pour in daily as well! Even organic plants are increasing grown from GMO or compromised seeds or in soil that has contaminants so the need to be vigilant remains with all food purchases today.)

Going vegetarian has only become possible as a healthy lifestyle choice very recently.  In fact, there has never been a successful vegetarian society on record: every culture, tribe, or race has eaten some form of animal protein, whether it is game, fish, or insects. That’s because there are certain nutritional components such as vitamin B12 and essential fatty acids that our bodies require in order to function and until recently, these could not be acquired in supplement form.

Now it is possible to access these nutrients through pills, though research suggests that they may not be absorbed or applied as effectively as if we took them in directly from nature. Some choose the vegetarian lifestyle because they believe it’s healthier: they say it makes them feel better or have more energy — and it is certainly preferable in that regard to consuming processed food and empty calories. (We’ll talk more about the health benefits and risks shortly.)

Others make the choice as a means of affecting change or voicing discontent with today’s food practices, though many food insiders suggest that trying to change the system by removing your money from it is not the most effective strategy. Instead, they argue that more powerful change can be made by supporting sustainable and humane food practices like raising grass-fed beef, producing raw milk and giving your money to local family farms.

Almost every health guru is telling us to eat mostly plants these days and eating 50% of our calories from vegetables or having 9-13 servings of vegetables a day is becoming increasingly common as an eating goal, whether you are vegetarian or not. But there are key health differences and implications between eating ‘mostly’ plants and eating ‘only’ plants. Regardless of the reason you or your loved one chooses a vegetarian diet, there are some important health factors you need to take into consideration to ensure you thrive — and survive — on your plant-based plan.

Vegetarians and Cholesterol
Many vegetarians I know are confounded by the fact that they have high cholesterol, convincing themselves that it must be genetic. While the first thing I would say is that many studies show that people with high cholesterol live longer than people with low cholesterol and 75% of those who suffer heart attacks have “normal” cholesterol so don’t stress yet, they can’t figure out why and they are afraid that they are at heart health risk.

(Cholesterol tests are not an accurate reflection of your heart health risk; if you want to know what actually does predict your heart health risk, you’ll want to read my article on the one test your doctor isn’t doing.)

What they don’t realize is that we need cholesterol; it plays several absolutely essential roles in a healthy functional body. While a popular advertisement suggests that we run on coffee drinks, in truth, our bodies run on cholesterol. Cholesterol keeps cell membranes from falling apart and plays an integral part in cellular repair. It builds brain and nerve tissue, supports the immune system, and maintains neurotransmitter and brain function.

Cholesterol is also a vital pre-cursor to many major hormones including testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Cholesterol helps regulate mood, is required for synthesis of vitamin D and helps us digest fat-soluble vitamins such as A,D,E and K. We could not live without cholesterol!

The body manufactures about 75% of the cholesterol it needs; the rest we must take in from foods. Without adequate dietary cholesterol, the body may divert cholesterol to where it is needed most: cellular repair and healthy function in key areas, especially the brain. When this happens, there may not be enough left for use in hormone synthesis, which can cause hormonal imbalance or other concerns.

This is why some people (especially but not limited to women going through perimenopause) who do not eat enough cholesterol may experience more severe hormonal reactions and symptoms.

In fact, the body has a built-in mechanism to increase its cholesterol production to override a severe shortage. When cholesterol is not being consumed in appropriate levels, the liver will step in and actually overproduce cholesterol. If you were to be tested at that time, your cholesterol levels could be considered high, even though you would actually be cholesterol deficient.

If you don’t eat much cholesterol, or you’re on a low-fat diet, that could be the case for you. (But hopefully you know by now that low fat is NOT the answer – not for health or for weight loss.)

We have to eat cholesterol or our bodies will produce it for us. Eating foods high in cholesterol won’t raise your cholesterol. That’s because if you eat cholesterol, your body will just produce less: it’s one of life’s perfect balancing mechanisms. While we can make up to 75% and we need to eat the rest to survive,  if we eat more than 25%, the body just produces less and brings us back into alignment naturally.

We can get the cholesterol we need by eating a typical diet including meat and/or fish. If you are vegetarian you can get cholesterol from egg yolks (one of nature’s super foods), butter, cream or cheese. The problem arises for vegans as plants only contain trace amounts and not nearly the level needed to support healthy brain and cell function.

While plant products such as flax seeds and peanuts contain phytosterols, which are cholesterol-like compounds, research suggests that these compounds actually compete with cholesterol for absorption in the intestines. This poses a health challenge for vegans as there is no adequate non-animal source of cholesterol; flax is the next best alternative. Vegans will have to use all their available cholesterol for cell and brain function and there may not be enough left over for hormonal balance and other functions.

Before we leave cholesterol, there are three foods that actually WILL raise your cholesterol. If you think you eat healthy and yet your cholesterol levels are high, you likely have inflammation and sending in cholesterol is the body’s way of dealing with that. (If you want to learn more about the three foods that will raise your cholesterol and cause health problems, you can read my article on three foods that raise your cholesterol here.)

Vegetarians and Homocysteine
One marker that unlike cholesterol has been directly linked heart health is high homocysteine levels. High homocysteine is a reliable risk factor for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, neurological conditions such as Alzheimer and Parkinson’s, thyroid concerns, infertility, depression, digestive disorders and chronic pain.

High levels of homocysteine impact your body in a number of harmful ways including accelerating aging and depressing your immune system but it’s rarely tested for because it’s expensive and there isn’t a prescription available to treat it.

Studies have shown that many vegans and vegetarians have high homocysteine levels. One study showed vegans to have 50% higher homocysteine levels and vegetarians to have 30% higher homocysteine levels than their omnivore counterparts. This is because their bodies lack the B12 required for conversion processes that must occur since B12 is typically found in animal protein.

Vegetarians were found to have 37% less (and vegans 59% less) B12 than the omnivore group, enough to constitute clinical deficiency in 78% of the vegans and 26% of the vegetarians. The study also showed that people eating vegan and vegetarian diets lacked the essential amino acid methionine because the levels in plants are lower than those found in meat. Vegetarians and especially vegans need to look to add B12 to their diets through injections, sublingual (under tongue) or spray B12 supplements.

(To learn more about what homocysteine is, how it works, the conversion process mentioned briefly above and why homocysteine is so important, see my article on homocysteine.)

Vegetarians and Depression
A recent study showed that vegetarians were more likely to face anxiety, depression or mental disorders than the general population. When they adjusted for age,  gender and education, within comparable groups they saw a 2 to 3 fold increase in incidence rates.

We already learned that cholesterol runs the brain and regulates your mood, so a shortage will have an impact on brain function. In addition we learned of the important of cholesterol in hormonal balance. If your hormones are out of whack, mood swings and depression can occur.

We also know that omega 3 essential fatty acids are critical to brain function and balance. Many studies have shown improvements in mood through omega 3 supplementation. Because these fatty acids are essential, our bodies cannot make them; we must eat them. Fish oil capsules are a great way to get the required dose, but for vegetarians and vegans, it is much harder.

There are 3 essential fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. The challenge to vegetarians is that you cannot get EPA or DHA from plants. (An algae-based DHA product is now  available but there are questions as to whether or not it is absorbed or utilized fully effectively, though something is always better than nothing!) ALA can be ingested from plant sources such as flaxseed, chia and hemp. While these seeds offer the greatest concentrations, they each pose another challenge. Hemp is not always easy to acquire or work with.

Flaxseed competes with cholesterol receptor sites and needs to be ground in order to be digested. While best fresh, flax seeds can be ground in advance and stored in the freezer, but there is some evidence that after age 45, we don’t absorb the oil by-product as well. Purchasing flaxseed oil is an option but it cannot be heated or it will damage the ALA and drinking it straight can be a challenge.

Lastly chia seeds have an omega 6-3 ratio of 3-1. We need to be eating omega 3 and omega 6 oils in a ratio of 1:1. In todays world, that ratio can sometimes be off by 1-20 or even 1-50 with all the omega 6 oils and oil products we consume. So while chia can help, it also adds to the omega 6-3 imbalance burden (though again, for some vegetarians, this may well be necessary and worthwhile.)

You can also get ALA from walnuts and pumpkin seeds, though in much smaller doses. Soy and canola also contain small amounts of ALA, but given the negative health impacts, they are best avoided.

Even if you eat enough ALA, the then body has to convert it to EPA and DHA. If you eat enough and you are very healthy, that may work fine. But some people will struggle converting ALA efficiently and if you have other issues going on that impact your ability to convert effectively, your body — and your brain — will be affected because it will not be able to convert enough to keep you healthy and mentally strong.

To learn more, you can read about my article on omega 3s.

Vegetarians and Soy
I am working on a full article on soy, coming soon. But for now I just want to mention soy briefly here because many vegetarians use soy as a protein alternative. Fermented soy foods such as miso, tempeh, natto, and traditionally fermented soy sauce have long been a nutritional staple in many cultures and they offer tremendous health benefits.

However, unfermented soy is no longer grown or processed in a way that affords us health benefits. Soy is an endocrine disruptor, which we discussed in the prostate and breast health article. It takes up the estrogen receptor sites, blocking estrogen from getting into cells and leaving it circulating throughout the blood stream. This excess estrogen can lead to hormonal imbalance, development of breasts in boys and men, and prostate and breast cancer concerns as well as thyroid problems, to name but a few of its many health concerns.

Soy milk, soy cheese, tofu, soybean oil, and many commercial artificially created soy sauce varieties are not health foods but rather pose health risks; they should be minimized.  If you’re looking to use soy, stick with fermented soy products.

Vegetarians and Diabetes
Contrary to what we might think of living a healthy plant lifestyle, vegetarians actually struggle with diabetes. The largely vegetarian country of India now faces the highest incidence level in the world and it is continually rising. That’s because in India, as the middle and upper classes have emerged, sedentary jobs are on the rise and Western food habits have invaded. Long known to be lovers of sweets, Indians love the sugar that is now plentiful, as well as the fried and processed foods we eat in the West, which may be vegetable-based but are no less healthy.

While some people lose weight on a vegetarian diet, others gain weight as they seek to satiate themselves with bread and pasta and empty carbohydrates that covert quickly into sugar. They also tend to gain weight in the more dangerous place, the abdomen.  They may lack enough healthy fat in their diets and so their bodies seek to store more.

It’s important to combine healthy fat and protein with vegetables so vegetarians need to look for good fat sources such as olive and flaxseed oils, avocados, and coconut oil and be sure they are getting adequate protein from other sources such as quinoa. (For more information on diabetes and why food combining is so important, see my article on The Diabetes Myth.)

Some people thrive on a vegetarian diet: they look good and they feel good. Others grow very thin, frail and weak: when you see them they look pale and move slowly. I read a study awhile back that stated that only about one-third of the population could be successful on a vegetarian diet.  That study assumed that you aggressively supplemented for missing nutrients and ate all the varied nuts, seeds, legumes and other foods needed to round out a balanced nutritional profile.

Taking all of that into account, they found that still only about a third of us could be healthy on a vegetarian diet. So if you have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle for any reason, you need to pay close attention to your body and listen to what those close to you see and share with you. I cannot tell you how many former vegetarians have told me their lives changed the day they went back to eating small amounts of animal protein. That may not be you but I have personally observed strong healthy adults turn into overweight or abnormally thin versions of their former selves on vegetarian diets.

I’ve tried to go vegetarian and for me, I did not thrive. But it works for many people I know. Just not all.  If you look and feel great and you are able to procure all the micronutrients that you need, then you may be among the third of the population who will do fine on a vegetarian diet. But be wary of persuading your family, friends or co-workers to join you because what works for you may well not work for them (especially children).

If you begin to see your body shift over time that you don’t like, or if you’re not willing to devote the time and energy it takes to plan your diet thoroughly, then you may want to consider making some changes that will enable you to support your morality along with your health.

Whether you go vegetarian or not, we can all benefit from more a more plant-centric diet and from avoiding processed foods. That’s common ground we can all agree on!

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.

Article Photo: courtesy of Apolonia |


This is the last of four articles in the fruits and vegetables series. Previously, I looked at picking the right fruits and vegetables, examined how pesticides affect produce, and why frozen fruits and vegetables are better than canned.

One reason why frozen comes out the winner is that canned food contains Bisphenol A or BPA, which is a major concern when eating canned fruits and vegetables.

BPA is an industrial compound that has been shown to be toxic even at low doses. It is an endocrine disruptor, which means that it acts as a hormone in the body, taking up space in receptor sites and leaving excess hormones to flow through the body and cause damage. BPA has been tied to numerous health concerns including breast and prostate cancer, infertility, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities.

BPA is ubiquitous as it is found in so many places including water bottles, cans, air, dust, office water coolers, printer inks and toners and thermal receipt paper used by grocery stores and gas stations (which can rub off onto the hands and then be absorbed by skin or ingested after contact with the mouth). The CDC found BPA present in the urine in 93% of the U.S. population and the Environmental Working Group found BPA present in the cord blood of newborns.

Avoiding BPA is a positive step toward improving wellness, and while some exposure may be hard to avoid, avoiding canned products can prevent one big source of exposure. Virtually all cans, including those containing fruits and vegetables, soda, soup, baked beans, spaghetti and ravioli and even infant formula, are lined with BPAs. Most tin cans have an epoxy liner made from BPAs (ironically to prevent the interaction of the food with the metal in the can). It’s estimated by the FDA that 17 % of the American diet comes from canned foods (and that doesn’t account for all the canned foods served at restaurants), so this is a big area where we reduce can our exposure to BPAs.

The Environmental Working Group tested canned food across the U.S. and found that in more than half of the products tested, there were levels of BPAs 200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals. (There is no safe standard specifically for BPAs. The FDA acknowledges it’s a concern and examined BPA levels but failed to set a safe standard level against which to test.)

The National Workgroup for Safe Markets recently released a report titled No Silver Lining that tested a random sampling of 50 cans from across the U.S. and Canada, looking at typical products many Americans might eat on a daily basis. BPA was found in 46 of the 50 products. The highest level ever found in the U.S. was found in a can of DelMonte French Style Green Beans, with a level of 1,140 parts per billion or ppb.

Walmart’s store brand (Great Value) of Sweet Peas came in at 329.3 ppb. Healthy Choice Old Fashioned Chicken Soup had 323.6 ppb. Healthy Choice Chicken with Rice Soup had 172.4 ppb.  Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup had 130.4 ppb and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup had 127.5 ppb. The amounts varied by can even among the same product offering, perhaps reflecting the time the product remained in the can.

While again there are no specific acceptable levels of BPAs, the study found that consumption of even one can of food might yield more BPA levels than were shown to cause health effects on developing fetuses in laboratory animals.

Unfortunately, there are no viable alternatives that work across all food products, which poses a manufacturing challenge that has made the industry reluctant to change. Eden Organic is the only company using a BPA-free lining for canned foods that I know of; they bake an oil and plant-based resin onto the cans instead. Muir Glen, another organic company, hopes to be BPA-free within the next year or so. There is one premier fish product, Henry and Lisa’s Natural Seafood (Sashimi-Grade Canned Albacore Tuna) that is also BPA free.

But no company has been able to offer BPA-free canned tomatoes due to the acidity of the tomatoes and their tendency to leach more from the metal of the can. Glass may be an option for pre-made sauces, but keep in mind that manufacturers may purchase canned tomatoes as a base ingredient for the sauce, so they may still contain BPAs from their original content sources.

For those of you who use canned tomatoes, there are options other than using fresh tomatoes. Pomi tomatoes, distributed by Boschi Food and Beverage of Italy, offers tomatoes in BPA-free containers. Their chopped and strained tomatoes are available on Amazon. And Trader Joe’s offers tomatoes in cartons that are also BPA-free. Short of preserving them yourself, those are the best options.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is sponsoring a bill banning BPA from food packaging, allowing for a one-year delay in the ban to enable manufacturers to make the shift. Senator Feinstein stated, “I no longer eat food out of cans. I no longer buy cans. I look for jars.” (I am thrilled that she is working to eliminate BPA in cans, though she might suggest eating more fresh local fruits and vegetables instead of opting for those in jars!)

Sadly, in all but five states (Maryland, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington) baby and infant products are still sold in BPA-laden cans. Given babies’ size and developing systems, that seems criminal to me.

We should all try to avoid BPAs and proactively work to minimize our exposure: Avoiding food in non-BPA-free cans is a great first step. But it’s an effort that is even more important for pregnant women and young children.

According to obstetrician Hugh Taylor of Yale University School of Medicine, who studies the effects of BPA on pre-natal development, “Fresh fruits and vegetables may be more expensive, but I believe that the risk is too high not to spend the extra. The entire life of that individual may be altered by a few months of BPA exposure in pregnancy. This is where the greatest risk lies. We are programming the hormonal response of the next generation. The worst effects may not become apparent for years.”

One final word before we end this series on fruits and vegetables: Don’t let the cautions we’ve discussed prevent you from eating more fruits and vegetables. Try to get up to 13 servings a day. Fresh, local and organic is always best, but do the best you can. Definitely choose organic for the “dirty dozen,” even if it means opting for frozen. Buy local mixed with frozen for the rest, with as much organic as your wallet and lifestyle will allow.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


In the two prior articles on fruits and vegetables we covered a lot of ground around making better fruit and vegetable choices, for your body and our planet. While we know fresh local organic fruits and vegetables are the best choice, most of us will need to call on canned or frozen vegetables on occasion because of time and convenience factors or seasonal availability.

So before we leave the subject of fruits and vegetables, I’m going to discuss some important health implications to consider with frozen and canned vegetables and also look at how many servings you should really be eating. Let’s start by exploring the important question: Can you get the nutrition you need from five servings of fruits and vegetables per day?

Nutrient Decline in Fruits and Vegetables

Recent studies have shown comparable nutritional value between fresh, frozen and canned vegetables, but for very different reasons. (Nutritional value isn’t the only consideration, as we’ll soon see.) While experts agree that fresh local vegetables are best, the “fresh” vegetables found in our markets may have been shipped across the country or from around the world, hindering the development of their full nutritional profile. That’s because they are picked before they are ripe, so they never develop the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals and enzymes that mature ripening allows. (And as we discussed in the last chapter, if they are not organic, the produce is sprayed with harmful chemicals to delay their ripening and to prevent spoiling, bruising and insect damage.)

In addition, during transport, the fruits and vegetables are exposed to heat and light, which degrades certain vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins. Vitamins like C that react with oxygen change chemically so that they no longer work the same way in our bodies; this is called oxidative degradation. One study followed broccoli coming to market and found it traveled 2,095 miles from California to Chicago: That’s about four days if a truck travels 70 mph for eight hours a day. Add in the time from farm to truck and then from warehouse drop-off to market and then to your table and you can see that even domestic produce travels long and far.

It’s estimated that fresh fruits and vegetables lose more than half of their nutritional value on the journey from farm to table (when they are not local). This concern is compounded because studies show that the inherent nutritional value of fruits and vegetables has declined significantly during the last 50 years. The vitamin and mineral content of produce is decreasing because of genetic modification, breeding practices that increase volume and cosmetic appeal, ripening systems, storage processes and chemical fertilizers.

Four recent studies looked at data from 1930-1999 in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Regardless of which time period was looked at or which country, the results were consistent: Nutrient value is declining. As an example, in 1951, a woman could get her full-recommended daily allowance of vitamin A from two peaches. Today, she would have to eat 53 to get that same nutritional content! This is why I recommend everyone take a whole food multi-vitamin, as it is difficult, if not impossible, to get your full nutritional needs from our food supply today, even if you eat really well.

This is also why the Center for Disease Control and the Produce for Better Health Foundation have launched a campaign to increase fruit and vegetable consumption with the slogan “Fruits and Vegetables—More Matters.” This campaign replaces the old “five a day,” as it’s generally accepted now that five servings of fruits and vegetables are simply not enough any more. Seven to 13 portions a day for adults is considered the new standard, though based on the data above, even that may not be enough.

Most of us simply don’t eat that much. The USDA guidelines are even lower, suggesting a range of five to 13 servings, but the FDA says that only 11% of Americans meet those levels. Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t eat any vegetables and 50% don’t eat any fruit on a daily basis.

Without question, the best way to maximize the nutritional value of the produce you do eat is to buy local (preferably organic) and consume it within a few days. But if we are going to increase our daily fruit and vegetable consumption to the above recommend levels, or hopefully even beyond, most of us are going to have to look to frozen or canned options to get what we need: Fresh local produce in season simply won’t be possible year round. So let’s look at the issues around frozen and canned alternatives.

Frozen and Canned Vegetables: Are they Nutritionally Comparable

I’ve already discussed some of the issues that fresh food faces on its journey to your table and why its nutritional profile may be diminished as a result. A recent study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture looked at the nutritional value of fresh versus frozen and canned vegetables and found them all to be comparable. While the study is imperfect in that “changes in moisture content during storage, cooking and processing can misrepresent changes in nutrient content” and suggests that a more accurate comparison would be possible if future research expressed nutrient data on a dry weight basis, nevertheless, the study concludes that recommending fresh vegetables exclusively ignores the nutrient benefits available from frozen and canned vegetables.

In the case of canned fruits and vegetables, the thermal treatment in the initial processing can result in the loss of water-soluble and oxygen-labile nutrients such as vitamin C and the B vitamins. But after that, nutrients remain stable due to the lack of oxygen inside the can. Frozen products, on the other hand, lose fewer nutrients initially because they are typically blanched and then frozen within hours of being picked and there is less heat involved in the process. But they can lose more nutrients during storage time due to oxidation. The longer they stay in your freezer, the more nutrients they will lose, so as with fresh, try to consume them on a timely basis, especially after opening the bag.

In the end, both lose slightly more nutrients than fresh produce but the study concludes they are good supplemental alternatives. However, it’s important to note that these processes do not alter pesticide residues, so frozen or canned produce is still susceptible to toxin exposure.

In the study we looked at in the previous newsletter, (which examined the connection between kids who eat pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables and the incidence rate of ADHD), one of the biggest offenders was frozen blueberries. While they may escape some exposure due to the fact that they don’t need to be sprayed to delay ripening or prevent insect damage in travel, frozen fruits and vegetables still absorb significant amounts of chemicals in the growing process that cannot be washed away.

Even though many pesticides get into the core of the produce and cannot be washed away, you should always thoroughly wash any produce to remove what you can from the exterior. Frozen fruits and vegetables have not been washed and still require careful cleaning before consuming.

And for the “dirty dozen” most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables, I still recommend you buy organic versions, even if you buy frozen.

If your supermarket has a separate organic section, you’ll find them in the freezer case in that section. Some supermarkets keep all the frozen products together and you can usually find organic versions in the traditional case. (If your market doesn’t have an organic section, it’s time to find a new market! Regardless of whether you choose to buy organic versus conventional, any market that doesn’t give you that choice is not a business I’d want to support.)

While canned vegetables may afford a similar nutritional profile to frozen or fresh vegetables, there is another very important health consideration that makes canned vegetables a less desirable choice: Bisphenol A or BPA. I’ll discuss the implications of BPAs in canned vegetables in the next newsletter.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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