College Students and their Health

When I first attended college back in 2003, the types of food I was eating, or seeking out, was not on the top of my priority list, and it certainly didn’t cause me to think how it might affect my health. I’m willing to bet most people don’t think about their food choices when they are in college, unless they are in a nutrition degree or some other health related course of studies.

Slice em up good! Sweet Potatoes are a great source of nutrition, can be filling, and are super tasty.

Slice em up good! Sweet Potatoes are a great source of nutrition, can be filling, and are super tasty.

This is broad and I’m sure there are others who do take care of themselves. I am speaking from personal experience though, and I can say that there aren’t many that I knew who were really taking into consideration what they were eating. Unless of course they were trying to lose tons of weight, or put on lots of muscle.

I do remember eating lots of whatever Costco had to offer in the way of baked goods for breakfast. A Costco blueberry muffin after all is big, tasty, and no cooking is required. When on sale, I could get frozen pizzas for $1 and after 15 minutes, I had a toasty pizza. In honesty I tried to eat half, because hey, it’s a pizza. My stomach petitioned for more though and more times than not I would oblige. Both examples were calorie rich, but nutrition poor.

It’s no wonder to me why so many will gain the “freshman fifteen”, or the 10-15 pounds of body weight that accompanies so many new students.

A study done looking at what the authors call “food insecurity” looked at students and determined, based on surveys, that they had poor access to nutritious food, either by limited funds or uncertainty. [1] The study, done in Australia, found that students who worked, relied on family, or received government aid, were more insecure than those who were financially able. As many as 25% even experienced hunger.

The study also found that the food insecurity was higher in college students than the general population.

A study in Hawaii found that as many as 45% of students experienced this food insecurity. [2]

Yet another study found similar patterns to the one in Australia, that students with low-income, low GPA’s, having fair/poor health, or working all have higher rates of this food insecurity. [3]

It could be argued that people with lower levels of health have this problem cause by lack of nutrition and not the other way around. I do agree that the healthiest foods and the more expensive variety. Congress subsidizes things like soy and corn, not green beans and broccoli.

So what’s a student to do to stay healthy? After all poor nutrition leads to poor outcomes. One thing I couldn’t stand were the colds I would get while in college. I’m sure stress had something to do with that too.

If a student has a fridge and can cook their own meals, then they should store some good food and cook their own meals. Frozen veggies and fruits store longer than fresh and are better than canned. Canned is better than nothing, but fresh and frozen is best. They take little to heat up in a pan and with some chicken and seasoning make for a quick and healthier option than pizza.

Veggies, fresh or frozen, are a must have for college students.

Veggies, fresh or frozen, are a must have for college students.

Fruit is good too, but can be pricey. If you can get a bargain on some apples, get some. If not, be careful with how much fruit you buy. While healthy, it’s not the biggest bang for your buck.

Rice is a good source of carbs since you can store it almost indefinitely and a little goes a long way. It does require a little time, but if you get a cheap rice cooker, you can cook rice, and a few minutes before it’s done, throw in the frozen veggies to have ready for when the rice is done. Saves time and is inexpensive. Plus you can make double or triple and save some for lunch the next day.

Chicken can usually be found for reasonable prices, especially if you’re willing to deal with bone in. It makes for a good protein. Tuna is another one, in the can of course ( don’t get it with the oil though). If you can’t stand either, ground beef might be a likelier option, though you’ll have to do some shopping to find a good price, or just find it on sale.

For those that go to the cafeteria, it’s a little different picture. The cafeteria is great if you have a food plan because it’s saves the time of cooking and clean up. It’s the options presented that can be problematic.

Pizza, as mentioned earlier, is full of a lot of empty calories. I’m not saying don’t ever eat it, just make sure it’s once in a while rather than 3-4 times per week. Load up on veggies along with whatever protein source you can. You’ll feel full longer than if you load up on carbs. Fruit once or twice a day is good too during lunch or dinner at the cafeteria. Sometimes it can add up though, depending on how the cafeteria is run. .

Stick to regular milk rather than chocolate milk. Again that’s most of the time. One time a week of chocolate milk won’t hurt, but every single day is a lot of extra sugar. Water should be a staple. Get a good water bottle and keep it filled up. There’s no need to buy water all the time, especially when it’s free.

Cherry pie will make you happy. GUARANTEED! Although it will be shortlived. So only indulge once in a while. So make it a real treat and not a waistline gainer.

Cherry pie will make you happy. GUARANTEED! Although it will be shortlived. So only indulge once in a while. So make it a real treat and not a waistline gainer.

Excess sugar can cause things like increase weight and problems with stress. Dessert should be an ocassional treat, not a daily event. I know it’s hard at times because sweets relieve stress, at least temporarily, but they add up to a ticking time bomb if not kept in check. Exercise, emotional support, mediation, church groups, or maybe a weekend of Star Wars is a much better coping mechanism to stress than dessert.

Alcohol is another leacher of nutrition, specifically B vitamins. I recommend not drinking at all. If it is a must, benders, keggers, 21 runs, and frat parties should be avoided. They do nothing to further academic achievement and void your body of essential things it needs to help you in studying. I remember a few times in the anatomy lab trying to help students that had horrible headaches from the previous night’s parties. They had a spectacularly difficult time in anatomy.

If it’s in the budget, a multivitamin is probably a good call. It can help fill in some of the gaps. If not, stick to the veggies.

In short, tupperware and a little thinking ahead (look at the paragraph about rice) can keep a college student fed and with some nutritious foods as well. I personally believe that if we actually taught people health and then made them accountable for it, many health problems in this country would soon disappear. I’m talking actually teaching nutrition and not just show teenagers slides of STD’s in “health” class.

In the end your health, and your nutrition status is your responsiblity. Learn about it and learn what you can do to better it.



1.Hughes R, Serebryanikova I, Donaldson K, Leveritt M. Student food insecurity: The skeleton in the university closet. Nutrition & Dietetics. 2011;68(1):27-32

2.Chaparro MP, Zaghloul SS, Holck P, Dobbs J. Food insecurity prevalence among college students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa. Public Health Nutrition.

3.Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity Among Students Attending a Midsize Rural University in Oregon Patton-López, Megan M. et al. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior , Volume 46 , Issue 3 , 209 – 214


Do Beets Help Blood Pressure?

In one word….YES!

I could leave it at that and let the world either revel in the fact or find some way to avoid them altogether regardless of the hypertensive crushing power because of how they taste.

Seeing as this month is heart month, lets dive into why these red tubers are actually quite healthy and can play a most excellent part in a diet.

Beets may help lower your blood pressure

Beets may help lower your blood pressure

But first, the study.

Our British friends across the pond were the ones that did the study. They took 64 subjects with hypertension who either were on medications or who hadn’t yet been prescribed anything and assigned them to 2 beet juice groups; one group had nitrates in the juice (which are naturally occurring), and the other had no nitrates.

Now if the idea of drinking beet juice sounds revolting, hold on just a moment.

In the group that was receiving the nitrates in their juice, blood pressure was reduced by ~8/4 mmHg. [1] That’s on par with some blood pressure medications. Endothelial function also improved as well as arterial stiffness reduced. The article said that the treatment was well tolerated. I’m sure the only real side effect was that of red urine and stool. The dose was 250ml juice/day.

Another study done with 500ml daily found a reduction of 4-5 mmHg systolic pressure 6 hours after ingestion. [2]

Another study found that beets may increase exercise tolerance. [3]

Researchers at Wake Forest have shown increase blood flow to white matter in the anterior brain and believe that beet juice has potential to decrease the chances of poor cognition and dementia in older people. [4]

Beets are great! And they appear to have some great benefits. The only problem is you actually have to ingest them to get the benefit. So what’s a person to do?


You can eat beets raw, and there is nothing wrong with that. They are somewhat tough though, especially if they aren’t young. Slice em thin or cut them small to make them easier to masticate. Thinly sliced beets with some other veggie like celery or onion, with olive oil drizzled over and some salt or crushed garlic makes for a great appetizer.


Roasted or steamed beets with oranges or other citrus and some crumbled cheese is a great salad

Roasted or steamed beets with oranges or other citrus and some crumbled cheese is a great salad

Steam those suckers and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Place them atop the beet greens and crumble some cheese on top.


If you have a juicer, you can always juice them, just beware of staining. The pulp can be used in other recipes if you’re looking for some coloring or fibre. Also be aware that because you take the fibre out when you juice, you also increase the glycemic index of the food. Beets are no exception. Don’t drink 500ml of veggie and fruit juice a day and expect your triglycerides to stay low. Keep it to mostly veggies and maybe just a bit of fruit to keep the sugar level down.


You can do it yourself and this is probably the best method. Pickeled beets are great on salads or just straight.


Add them to soups, any salad, bake them till soft and marinate them in some balsamic vinegar and salt. Borscht is also popular. Crush it up and put it in your gnocchi dough to make some red/purple gnocchi. Here’s one recipe you can try:

One word of caution. If you are a person with a history of oxalate kidney stones, be careful as to the amount of beets you actually consume. As beets have lots of oxalates, the risk for stones in this population would be increased.

Let me know how you eat your beets.





1.Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients, Vikas Kapil, et al., Hypertension, doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.04675, published online 24 November 2014,

2.Coles, Leah T., and Peter M. Clifton. Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Diss. BioMed Central, 2012.

3.Bailey, Stephen J., et al. “Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans.” Journal of Applied Physiology 107.4 (2009): 1144-1155.


Body Image and Eating

I’m going on a different journey in this post. This has been on my mind lately so I figured I might as well write about it because why not?

homer body

Homer has a great self image!

Everyone has a self-image. Everyone! Some have a healthy self-image while others need some help. Some may even have a confident self-image when they really need a revamp and others may have a horrible perception when they are in fact quite capable of many things.

Self-image can become downright destructive when it comes to health. Poor perceptions of body image and self-efficacy (one’s perception of what they are able to accomplish) are strongly correlated with binge eating. [1] Binge eating is bad. I’m not talking about a splurge every now and again which I personally feel is fine, but a full out binge where you eat excessively and usually unhealthy food comprises the meal. I’m not sure that I’ve heard of people overdoing it on celery or broccoli but I suppose it’s in the realm of possiblity.

I also think it a fallacy to think that women are the only ones who suffer from this problem. While the numbers may not be as big they are still a problem. One study looked at high schoolers and found that 85% of young women interviewed wanted to lose weight while only 40% of young men felt the same way. In contrast (and I believe this is the big difference between guys and dolls) 45% of the young men wanted to gain weight. Both sexes shared negative body perceptions if they wanted to lose weight. [2]

It is interesting to note though that as men age they increasingly want to decrease body weight. [3]

Other forces play on both sexes to alter self-image and self-efficacy. Schooling, teasing, health status, health status related teasing, parenting style as well as many other factors contribute to how a person views themself. Weight seems to be a huge factor for many and some feel they can’t be happy until they achieve a magic number where everything will be hunky dory.

While a healthy weight certainly helps one be “healthy”, the magic number in and of itself cannot by definition make a person happy. I was just as happy at 190 as I am now at 240. Unfortunately I can’t help but think that many internet blogs, including this one, while helping others may also be contributing to people’s destructive self-image problems. If for example a person was to read this blog and make the goal of getting “healthy” and then wasn’t able to achieve whatever that specific goal was then they might feel a failure, thus adding to the problem they originally set out to “fix”.

Don't get sucked into the YoYo dieting trap. YoYo doesn't equal YOLO

Don’t get sucked into the YoYo dieting trap. YoYo doesn’t equal YOLO

Most problems with self-image and food or weight go something like this:

1) Person feels that bodyweight is too high and makes decision to lose weight.

2)Person decides that once the magic number is attained happiness will ensue.

3) Person begins exercise, diet or both. While in the thralls of this new diet (rather than lifestyle) person obstains from everything pleasurable about food, thus becomming a food celibate.

4) After some time, be it weeks or months person either

A) Attains desired goal and continues on with new lifestyle

B) Attains desired goal and returns to old lifestyle beginning the vicious yo-yo dieting

C) Feels like garbage because they workout and starve themself and hasn’t lost a pound and throws up their hands and gives up. Depression might set in here and the person goes back to eating garbage with hunger to rival a great white shark (they can eat 400-500 lbs of tuna in one feeding)

D) Doesn’t make it more than a week because the new diet is too hard and gives up before making any progress at all. Feels like a failure, depression sets in and food jumps into the rescue.

Many of us have hit one of these scenarios. Some of us may have only made it part of the way through step 1 before deciding to give up before we even start. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Food is Powerful

Some think that food is the dark side of the force and good for only causing pain and grief. Other believe that food is neutral, only allowing us to have energy to live. For others food is a wonderful part of living. Not only does it provide energy to live but it acts as one way of experiencing life, through enjoying good food.

So what’s the impetus behind a binge? Why do we turn to food when we have these problems of self esteem or self-image or self efficacy?

Like all things we observe in nature, there is a balance of two opposites. Yin and Yang, high tide and low tide, Star Wars prequels and Star Wars originals….they all have an opposite effect.

Admit it...without the prequels you wouldn't appreciate the originals as much

Admit it…without the prequels you wouldn’t appreciate the originals as much

In our brains we have different neurotransmitters that accomplish the same thing, alertness and awakeness as well as calm and sleepiness. Different foods have different building blocks for creating those neurotransmitters. Spinach and kale have high levels of folate which are good for creating serotonin, one of the calming transmitters.

L-tyrosine, an amino acid, is a precursor for dopamine, which in turn is turned into norepinephrine. These are more the excitatory hormones in the brain. Eating complete sources of protein like meat is a source for l-tyrosine. Both kinds of transmitters are required for good mental health, both physically and emotionally.

Dopamine, like serotonin, is required for proper feelings of bliss or pleasure. Another way of saying that you have too little dopamine is colors lose their color, food loses its taste, or relationships lose their love.

An improper diet can affect these neurotransmitters as they may be out of balance. Food can also temporarily increase serotonin and cause feeling of comfort or well being. The specific food, if you haven’t already guessed is carbohydrate.

Judith Wurtzman, a researcher at MIT found that people who crave carbs are trying to give their brains a serotonin boost. She and her husband, Richard Wurtzman found this effect is the greatest when there is little to no protein consumed with the carbs. [4] People that binge on carbs, especially in the afternoons or evenings are apparently trying to increase their serotonin levels.

This act is very much like the behavior of drugs addicts. The brain “knows” that with a hit of drugs, or this case sugar, there is a reward that is expected. It is similar to as one report puts it,

We like to receive gifts, for example, but we want food, sex, and drugs.” [5]

In other words our brains full well know what is coming when they crave sugar, and so we eat some sugar.

Self-Image and Cravings

As discussed at the top of the article self-image can drastically change our outlook. It can cause us depression and in an effort to relieve those feelings some will turn to carbohydrates. Maybe after being teased or harrassed at school or work a person will turn to carbs because they make that person feel better, albeit temporarily.

Another instance in where craving sugar may be explained is the need for energy. Depression can cause a perceived loss of energy and someone may feel the need for carbs as a pick me up to get going, much the same way in which many people need coffee to get going during the day.

What to Do?

For starters I think it important for anyone and everyone to remember that no one controls your happiness. That is hard to believe at times because the things people do can affect us both directly and/or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally.

Remember that if you’re trying to change your lifestyle, not your diet, please do so in a way that is incremental and progressive. What does that mean? It means making changes that you can handle over time. Going from a garbage diet to a healthy diet can be trying at times. Dont focus on the scale either, focus on how you’re feeling. Dropping weight isn’t as satisfying as not having to take diabetes or acid reflux medication or getting rid of that scaly skin.

Change a few things at a time and get control. Trying to overhaul everything at once for some will be like deciding to play collegiate football after watching Rudy or thinking you can box like a pro after watching Rocky. Did you notice how much training Rocky did? Nope, because training montages from the movies and tv typically last only a few minutes. This is why I have a hard time with things like Dr. OZ and his shows. They market remedies or cures for weight loss like candy. Anything marketed like candy probably should be treated as such.

Choosing to be happy is something that is hard for some to understand, even myself at times. I don’t mean to sound insensitive nor am I trying to be but keeping a stiff upper lip and not letting trends or perceived “beauty” or “accomplishment” is rather important in not succumbing to a poor self-image. This again goes back to not comparing yourself to others.

Women will usually compare bodies or how beautiful they look with other women while for men it is usually more a problem of comparing accomplishment. “Her legs are so much nicer than mine” or “he makes so much more money than me” are destructive and self demeaning just as “my legs are so much better than hers” or “I make way more money than he ever could”.

Comparing yourself to other people is a sure fire way to kill yourself emotionally and increase any perceived need for a binge. It seems like most Hollywood stars, rock stars or anyone else in the limelight has demons they deal with, you just don’t see them.

Remember to thank you legs for all they do for you and be grateful that your paycheck is feeding you at all. And if someone has the audacity to tell you straight up that your legs aren’t all that or that your paycheck is too small….well my advice is to tell them to go pound sand! I don’t have time for negativity in my life and neither should you.

If during a hard day you’re having a craving to eat all things sweet get some support not some ice cream. Call a friend or sit down and write your feelings out. These won’t give you the immediate relief that devouring chocolate will, but it will be a lot healthier in the long run.

Sometimes knowing how the body works is helpful when confronting things like cravings, especially in the wake of something like self-image. It can give you a plan for action. In the grip of something like an all out craving attack it doesn’t do much good though. Knowing that you brain is trying to increase neurotranmitters doesn’t change the fact that the force it has on you is nearly as strong as the impulse to breathe.

Try to splurge from time to time and have some fun with your food, but keep it healthy the rest of the time. Eating a balanced diet that includes carbs is good. Eating a diet devoid entirely of one macronutrient I believe is a bad idea. Not eating carbs, especially for someone who is active can lead to a carb binge day. Some people do it without any problems. I say be cautious.

Be aware of avoiding carbs because sooner or later they will seek you out.

Be aware of avoiding carbs because sooner or later they will seek you out.

Remember to surround yourself with supportive people. If you have to dump someone because of negativity then do it. I don’t want to be surrounded by people that are pulling me down, only pushing me up. And get people that you can call when things get rough. I’m amazed at how a person’s attitude changes after we talk at the pharmacy window. They may be worried or sad or confused and then after venting a little to me they feel much better. Usually all I have to say is “Have a great day”. It really is that simple.

Don’t get discouraged by others thoughts or anything else. If you’re having some issues with some goals you’ve set, reevaluate them and determine what you’ve already accomplished. And don’t let others be the judge of how you look. Contemplating how awesome your next workout will be or how much you can’t wait to see the next Star Wars trilogy is a much better use of brain power than how your legs aren’t forever long or your paycheck not 6 or 7 figures.



1.Cargill, Byron R., et al. “Binge Eating, Body Image, Depression, and Self‐Efficacy in an Obese Clinical Population.” Obesity research 7.4 (1999): 379-386.

2.Drewnowski, Adam, and Doris K. Yee. “Men and body image: Are males satisfied with their body weight?.” Psychosomatic Medicine 49.6 (1987): 626-634.

3.McCabe, Marita P., and Lina A. Ricciardelli. “Body image dissatisfaction among males across the lifespan: A review of past literature.” Journal of psychosomatic research 56.6 (2004): 675-685.



Are Sodium Guidelines Too Restrictive?

If you missed my previous post on salt you can access it here:

The CDC seems to be the perp when it comes to misinforming everybody about salt intake and what it does (or doesn’t) do for health. As I mentioned in my other article, salt is crucial for us to survive. Sodium is found in every cell and is key for electrolyte balance as well as nerve conduction. Without sodium your nerves wouldn’t work…period!

Without sodium you wouldn’t see, hear, feel or taste anything. While I don’t put salt on all my food, some things need a pinch or so and I don’t feel bad about it in the least bit. I think there is a reason we crave salty foods and that is because our bodies need it.

While overdoing salt isn’t a good practice, just like overdoing anything, underdoing it is also nonsense. From the first DASH study performed you’ll see that while the three groups who were assigned to different diets all had roughly the same amount of sodium, the group that lowered blood pressure was the group that got rid of the junk and ate more vegetables and increased their potassium intake. This was all while the sodium level was around 3 grams/day in all the groups.[1]

Potassium intake in the form of vegetables IS a healthy thing to do. Carrots, broccoli, celery, kale, onions, and all the other bounty that is mother nature’s goodness should be consumed regularly. This I believe is a building block of solid health.

A new study has been released (although I haven’t been able to access it so what I say is based on the news article, not the study itself) that shows that,

“The study recorded ‘a U-shaped correlation between sodium intake and health outcomes.’ The researchers found that when consumption of sodium fell outside the range of 2,645-4,945 mg per day, there was an increase in mortality. This means that both excessively high and excessively low intakes of sodium were linked to an increased risk of death” [2]

U-shaped curves seems to be common in medical studies which corroborates the idea that too much is bad and too little is bad. Goldilocks wins everytime in biology.

So I wouldn’t worry too much if you’re consuming closer to 3 grams a day of sodium. The evidence in my opinion of detriment to health just isn’t there. Unless of course your sodium is coming from chips, McDonalds, Cheetos or other forms of garbage. Then you might need to be a little more careful.

In addition it might be beneficial to reduce added sodium to your food to be able to enjoy other flavors that might not be readily accesible to your palate if your tongue has had sodium overload. It takes some adjustment but changing up your preparation of food can bring about some amazing and remarkable changes in how you perceive taste. Try it out and enjoy your food.



1.Sacks, Frank M., et al. “Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.” New England Journal of Medicine 344.1 (2001): 3-10


What Do Farmed Fish Eat?

Some people like fish. I’m one of them. Salmon, tuna, trout….you name it I’m probably going to eat it if it comes out of the water and has scales. Scallops and clams are great too but as the heading suggests, today we talk fish.

MMMMM ...salmon! I love this stuff.

MMMMM …salmon! I love this stuff.

Fishing has been a part of many cultures for a long time and in all parts of the world from the Arctic on down. Here in the Pacific Northwest we are known for salmon as well as many crustaceans. We don’t have the runs that Alaska is known for, but fresh salmon is a staple for those near the coast. It’s a little harder to get as you get over the mountains and head farther inland.

One day (I honestly don’t know when) someone had the idea to farm fish. We can farm land animals so why not aquatic animals as well? As it stands, according to the WWF, not the wrestlers but the World Wildlife Federation, farmed fish are currently about 70% of the market. That’s a lot of farming. So that begs the question….is it healthy?


So what do our farmed friends eat? According to a Costco representative,

Fish meals (herring, sardines, capelin), plant proteins (soybean meal, canola meal, wheat), fish oils (menhaden, herring or sardine), plant oils (soybean, canola, or corn), vitamins, minerals, carotenoid compound for red/orange color, binder (complex carbohydrates to hold diets together).

*GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) or steroids are never used for growth enhancements” [1]

It appears they have a steady diet of soy and canola and wheat which makes perfect sense seeing as how that is what they eat in their natural environment. Yup it’s always fun around the farms at my house when the salmon come grazing on wheat and soy. The farmers are constantly spraying for salmon because they can devastate the crops.

So not only are we being told to eat more soy but we are actually making our meat eat more soy too. And don’t forget the corn oil because that’s never been shown to be bad or processed. I’m sorry for the sarcasm here but c’mon! Why in the world are we feeding delicious salmon horrible man made garbage oils?

Salmon is also known for that oh so wonderful DHA and EPA which appear to have health benefits in the form of being essential fatty acids. We can’t make em so we have to eat em!

Do these garbage oils affect the quality of the meat? Lets take a look at the profiles.

Salmon fat







*approximately 3 ounces Data: USDA Nutrient Database [2]

Wild Atlantic Salmon will get you 27% of your fat from omega-3 from around 6.34 grams per 100 grams fish. That’s 1.7 grams omega 3. If you opt for salmon you get 17% omega 3 which turns out to be about 1.8 grams which is higher, but you also get more omega 6. The ratio isn’t quite the same as in the wild. You also eat less protein per serving according to the article.

Another issue with these fish is that they have lots of added dyes to make the meat that typical pink/orange color we are all so used to. The farmed meat is a grayish white, thus to get people to buy you have to add the coloring. Add dyes to the ingredients list of farmed fish.

Farmed salmon also have more PCB than their wild counterparts. [3] [4] It was actually recommended that you not eat more than 1-2 servings of farmed salmon/month.

Salmon from Alaska seem to be the least contaminated an also have the most nutritional bang for the buck, by a lot. [4]

To complicate things, many of the salmon labeled “wild” may have been initially raised in the farms and then released into the wild. Mark Sisson gives a great rule of thumb to help determine the real deal: Alaska wild over Washington/Oregon/California and Chinook over Sockeye.

Also of note, apparently canned salmon is 100% wild because the farmed doesn’t can as well. BUT, it doesn’t guarantee it either.

Salmon is a great meal. I don’t dispute it’s not inexpensive, but definitely a nutritious choice. If you can save up and afford the wild stuff, go for it. Be careful with the farmed stuff.






4.Hites, Ronald A., et al. “Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon.” Science 303.5655 (2004): 226-229.



B12: Are You Getting Enough?

B12Many people in the United States suffer from what very well could be a vitamin deficiency. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me at all. With the food supply seriously lacking in essential nutrients and minerals it isn’t a surprise at all that people are having issues with things like lethargy, anxiety and depression, and even disorders such as Alzheimer’s. These are just a few problems associated with B12 (cobalamin) deficiency. So lets talk about it shall we?

B12 is a vitamin responsible for healthy nerves, blood cells, DNA production….essentially stuff to keep you alive. B12 is available in many foods including but not limited to; shellfish, liver, fish, meat, eggs, and dairy. It is very noteworthy that plant products don’t have significant amounts of B12. Don’t be fooled by claims that state otherwise. Many of these foods are fortified with B12, but don’t have it naturally occurring or at very small amounts. And the foods that do, like seaweed, have pseudovitamin B12, which competes for absorption with regular B12. [1] One exception may be green and purple lavers, a type of algae. [2]

This is corroborated by studies that show that vegetarians and vegans are 50% and 80% deficient respectively. [3,4]

If you choose to not eat any animal products whatsoever, you need to supplement. More about that in a minute.

As mentioned above, B12 is really important for certain functions in the body. One problem associated with low B12 is many people don’t even know they are deficient. Working in a clinic I do see lab tests a lot, mostly for CBC’s and Cholesterol or A1c’s for diabetics. I don’t see B12 tests unless the doctor suspects something like anemia. But if there is neurological dysfunction, I don’t see it. The point is that since it isn’t something routinely checked for, it gets missed.

As Chris Kresser pointed out in an article:

In Japan and Europe, the lower limit for B12 is between 500-550 pg/mL, the level associated with psychological and behavioral manifestations such as cognitive decline, dementia and memory loss. Some experts have speculated that the acceptance of higher levels as normal in Japan and the willingness to treat levels considered “normal” in the U.S. explain the low rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia in that country.” [5]

The normal reference range in the USA by comparison is 247-911 pg/mL. That’s like the Rockies, one big mother range.

On top of that, a good deal of the population may have deficiency. [6] According to this study as many as 2/5 of America may have a problem. That’s around 125,000,000 people. While not everyone with deficiency show signs, it is still disconcerting. The article which I linked said that there was nothing to worry about though because we can get adequate B12 from more dairy and fortified cereals…..







Modern dietary advice giving us the only reasonable response.

Modern dietary advice giving us the only reasonable response.

Yeah because hey, fortified cereals are where it’s at nutritionally.   ……NOT!

Make no mistake, the addition of niacin to the US flour supply was probably one of the very few smart things the federal government was able to do to actually influence in a POSITIVE manner the population’s health. By helping people get enough niacin they were able to eliminate pellagra, a very serious condition that resembles schizophrenia. The problem with fortified cereals are the only nutrition you get from them are the spray on vitamins. That might be helpful for some, but meat or liver or fish is probably the much better option.

Another issue is that people experience symptoms even when their levels on are on the lower end of “normal”. It’s entirely possible that our range, like many other medical ranges may be off and probably needs to be increased.

Lets Talk About Absorption Baby, Lets Talk about You and Me!

If you don’t remember back or are new to the blog, a few weeks ago I discussed the adverse effects of taking acid reducers chronically. Here’s the link:

Acid in the stomach is an important part of the process to get B12 absorbed in the body. Acid cleaves B12 from the carrier it resides on so that it can be attached to intrinsic factor, allowing for absorption. No acid, no cleavage, no absorption. Other drugs can cause problems too. If you’re diabetic, metformin is known to reduce not only B12 but the other B vitamins as well.

People that have leaky gut or other inflammatory processes going on in the gut may have impaired absorption as well. Don’t assume just because you are a meat eater you’re getting all the B12 you need. Fixing your gut is important for many reasons and B12 is definitely one of those reasons.

Pernicious Problems

If you have problems with energy and have been able to rule out blood sugar dysregulation and sleep as potential problems, B12 might be a great place to look. People with anemia can have B12 or iron deficiencies. Since B12 is also required for myelin sheaths (the insulation on the nerves) it is thought that it is important for prevention of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis. It may also play a part in anxiety and depression as well as autism and learning disabilities in children.

Maternal breast milk has a content of B12 that is linked with intake from mom. So if a mom is a vegetarian or a vegan, it is extremely important that she supplement to get adequate supplies for the baby.


You can find B12 in just about any B-Complex. It typically comes in the form of cyanocobalamin. I want to point out that this form of cobalamin is linked with cyanide, hence cyanocobalamin. This form is usually injected at a doctor’s visit. Methylcobalamin on the other hand seems to be the form that is most useful, especially in neurological problems. [7] This is the form most used by the Japanese. In fact they don’t use cyanocobalamin anymore because it doesn’t work very well if at all.

The British also don’t use cyanocobalamin. They use hydroxocobalamin. In a paper addressing some concerns about cyanocobalamin, researchers point out that hydroxocobalamin is preferrable to cyanocobalamin and that it’s use should be discontinued. [8]

Cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin and hydroxocobalamin are the most common forms.

So if you need it, what do you use? I would recommend methylcobalamin in the oral form. There are sub-lingual tabs which absorb and bypass the gut altogether:

This would be a good option to start with if you use acid reducers or have gut problems. The one I listed is 1mg which is likely enough. For those fighting off peripheral neuropathies or trying for nerve regeneration much higher doses are likely required, as in doses used in injections.

I would stay away from cyanocobalamin if possible. I know it’s cheap and for a simple anemia where a low dose is effective then it might be ok. But to really maintain good health it’s better to use the other forms. Much like folic acid is synthetic and not naturally occurring folate, cyanocobalamin is cheap (yes I said cheap) and not as effective.

Get the best forms from your food. Fish, shellfish, meat, liver and dairy are good sources. If your gut is in need of help, get it the help it needs so you can get the B12 you need from food. If you are a vegetarian or vegan please make sure to get enough through supplements. I recommend food first of course.


1.Watanabe, Fumio, et al. “Pseudovitamin B12 is the predominant cobamide of an algal health food, spirulina tablets.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 47.11 (1999): 4736-4741.

2.Watanabe, Fumio, et al. “Characterization and bioavailability of vitamin B12-compounds from edible algae.” Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology 48.5 (2002): 325-331.

3.Antony, Aśok C. “Vegetarianism and vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) deficiency.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 78.1 (2003): 3-6.

4.Bissoli, L., et al. “Effect of vegetarian diet on homocysteine levels.” Annals of nutrition and metabolism 46.2 (2002): 73-79.





Disclaimer: All info on this website is for education purposes only. Any dietary or lifestyle changes that readers want to make should be done with the guidance of a competent medical practitioner. The author assumes no responsibility nor liability  for the use or dissemination of this information. Anyone who chooses to apply this information for their own personal use does so at their own risk.

Pregnancy, Nitrites and You

deliPregnancy is a time of uncertainty for some mothers. Google gets used plenty when moms are looking up information about diet or medications or anything else that they may or may not be able to use while pregnant. I get asked occasionaly from friends and family about different OTC drugs they can or can’t use and the questions come in at the pharmacy regularly about what is appropriate.

One of the questions that I personally don’t get often is about nitrites and nitrates. Actually the question I think has only ever come from my wife and there is a lot of websites that discuss this ad nauseum. Most have come to the same conclusion: don’t consume nitrites and nitrates during pregnancy. Does this really hold water though?

First nitrites and nitrates are chemicals commonly found in foods, especially in deli meats, but also in veggies. They are useful because they allow for the preservation of meat as they inhibit bacterial growth and give certain meats a pink color. They are also used as a food preservative in general. Look at the ingredients list of just about any processed food and chances are you might see some nitrites.

As just mentioned, vegetables can actually have these compounds in them as well. It appears that antioxidants may prevent them from converting into nitrosamines which are thought to be cancer causing chemicals and just kind of nasty in general. Nitrotrates are created more in a stomach with a higher pH than normal. More of that in a bit.

Lets look and see what some of the science has to say about it.


Many observational or epidemiological studies have been done looking at this question. In a meta-analysis (large review of studies) showed that regular consumption of hot dogs and sausage was associated with increased risk of childhood brain tumor by 33% and 44% respectively. [1] This is relative risk.

Eating lots of hot dogs during pregnancy sounds like a bad idea to begin with, after all hotdogs aren’t exactly known for their health benefits. It would also be interesting to see if these numbers held true with homemade sausage. The researchers did note that study design limited the results but that relationship warrants further study.

I might add this study was epidemiological which gives us info to ask more questions but cannot prove causation. Thus we can’t look at this study and conclude that eating hot dogs or sausage while pregnant will increase the risk of childhood brain tumor.

Another study looked at nitrites, nitrates, and nitrosatable drugs (drugs that have an amine group on them and may become nitrosamines. Women who had taken nitrosatable drugs were 2.7 times more likely to have babies with neural tube defects than those women who didn’t take them while pregnant. [2]

There is a good list of drugs that are considered nitrosatable. I want to talk about 1 in particular that is over the counter. Remember a few paragraphs ago we said that nitrates are converted more in a higher pH? Well ranitidine (Zantac) is one of the drugs on this list. So not only does ranitidine have the potential to increase nitrites in the body, so too does it make conditions in the stomach for more production of nitrite from nitrate from the food a mom eats. Ranitidine is a common drug used in pregnancy for heartburn. Could it be that this drug could helps to create neural defects during pregnancy? I don’t know the answer but it certainly seems plausible.

This is a reason for not giving veggies like carrots to infants. They aren’t producing acid levels on par with adults.

Also from another study, women with the highest intake of nitrates and nitrites that also took nitrosatable drugs were 7.5 times more likely to birth a child with neural tube defects. This may be disconcerting to some because as many as 24% of US women use nitrosatable drugs during the 1st trimester of prenancy. [3]

As stated above, antioxidants seem to prevent the problems associated with neural tube defects and in one review women who took more than 200mg of vitamin C daily had reduced risk from neural tube defects. [4] This again isn’t conclusive but does point to the possibility that nitrosamines are causin problems other than cancer.

Yet another epidemiological study looked at brain tumors from mothers who had been interviewed about nitrite consumption from various foods. They found that risk increased if cured meats were eaten twice daily. [5] They also found risk was raised if no vitamins were taken, likely due to antioxidants like vitamin C.

Is There any Evidence Nitrites are OK?

Lets look at nitrites for a bit. The majority of nitrites that a person is exposed to are the nitrites found in your mouth. That’s right, your mouth. Bacteria in your mouth are producing it as you read this. Nitrates can also be made into nitric oxide which is beneficial in the arteries.

Nitrosamines are unlikely to form in the body, especially if there is sufficient antioxidant available. The stomach pH also is unlikely to be conducive to nitrosamine production. Bacon cooked in one food study showed that unless you are really cooking crispy bacon at high heat or even burning it, there is no detectable nitrosamines. [6] Commercially cured meats and bacon also include sodium ascorbate (a form of vitamin C) to prevent nitrosamines from being created.

I might add that the epidemiological studies didn’t tell much about vegetable and fruit intake. As both are loaded with antioxidants and other goodies it is possible that those eating more cured meats are also eating less vegetables which are loaded with folate. Folate of course is essential for neural tube development in kids. Is this a case of those who eat lots of meat don’t eat their veggies? I don’t know but it certainly seems like it could be.

In addition, most nitrate sources from the diet are from vegetables, not meat. And according to one review, nitrites mixing with stomach acid are bactericidal and may be part of our innate immunity. [7] [8]

So should you avoid deli meats and other nitrite and nitrate containing foods while pregnant?

It’s hard to give a definitive answer. I tend to think it’s probably ok once in a while. I mean we should be eating vegetables regularly and they are filled with nitrates. Some will say that nitrates from veggies are different from nitrates in foods. People who say this missed chemistry class. Nitrate is NO3….Period! And as already shown, veggies contain antioxidants which prevent nitrosamine production.

When a woman is pregnant she should be striving for optimal nutrition, just like when she’s not pregnant. I don’t think a woman should only eat healthy while pregnant. Good nutrition can mean the difference of fertility or non fertility for some women. Did my wife have some cured deli meats and sausage while pregnant? Yup, but not every day. Did she only consume those? Nope. Did she make sure here veggie intake and vitamin intake was adequate? Yup. All things in moderation. That said if you’re still fearful, then don’t eat them. You don’t have to for a healthy diet. Regular meat is great, especially the grass fed beef.


1.Huncharek, Michael, and Bruce Kupelnick. “A meta-analysis of maternal cured meat consumption during pregnancy and the risk of childhood brain tumors.” Neuroepidemiology 23.1-2 (2004): 78-84.

2.Brender, Jean D., et al. “Dietary nitrites and nitrates, nitrosatable drugs, and neural tube defects.” Epidemiology 15.3 (2004): 330-336.

3.Brender, Jean D., et al. “Prevalence and patterns of nitrosatable drug use among US women during early pregnancy.” Birth Defects Research Part A: Clinical and Molecular Teratology 91.4 (2011): 258-264.

4.Brender, Jean, et al. “Intake of nitrates and nitrites and birth defects in offspring.” Epidemiology 15.4 (2004): S184.

5.Preston-Martin, Susan, et al. “Maternal consumption of cured meats and vitamins in relation to pediatric brain tumors.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 5.8 (1996): 599-605.

6.Pensabene, J. W., et al. “Effect of frying and other cooking conditions on nitrosopyrrolidine formation in bacon.” Journal of food science 39.2 (1974): 314-316.

7.Archer, Douglas L. “Evidence that ingested nitrate and nitrite are beneficial to health.” Journal of Food Protection® 65.5 (2002): 872-875.

8.McKnight, G. M., et al. “Dietary nitrate in man: friend or foe?.” British Journal of Nutrition 81.05 (1999): 349-358.

Disclaimer: All info on this website is for education purposes only. Any dietary or lifestyle changes that readers want to make should be done with the guidance of a competent medical practitioner. The author assumes no responsibility nor liability  for the use or dissemination of this information. Anyone who chooses to apply this information for their own personal use does so at their own risk.