In a never-ending cycle of “we say it’s good today, then we say it’s bad tomorrow” the recent raising of the vitamin D daily recs, while acknowledging the need to increase levels in Americans, confuses consumers with a concern about whether to supplement and what levels are actually best. The following review on the matter in Natural Foods Merchandiser is extremely helpful to read… http://newhope360.com/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d-intake-levels-officially-rise?cid=nl_iu

Furthermore, I will add that those who say they aren’t sure we need to supplement Vitamin D likely haven’t looked at the food portions necessary to reach daily levels (8 glasses of milk, anyone?) or that most foods have Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3, which is the optimal source for humans.

Last month, I once again went “to the source” of a food (nutrient) as part of my ongoing effort to see food production firsthand and address any questions or concerns that I have on behalf of US consumers. Unlike recent trips to Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Alaska, this trip hardly took me off the beaten path, from DC I traveled to Columbia, Maryland, but rather it had me traveling through time both the past and the future.

Ashley Koff RD at Martek

Ashley Koff RD at Martek

Algae are some of the oldest living organisms on the planet, yet, as I learned, they also hold promise for helping to address nutrition, ocean, and energy issues today as well as into the future. One key reason: the algae I went to see are an exceptionally rich source of the essential fatty acid, DHA. During my tour of Martek’s facility, I learned that this discovery – of what known as life’sDHA by Martek today – occurred as part of a now defunct space project.
My interest in algal DHA stemmed from wanting to know more about something appearing in today’s food supply but equally from my growing concern for sustainability, or survival, of the oceans as pollution and the harvesting of forage fish for the isolation of DHA and EPA threaten the viability of our oceans even for the next generation. Thus, I came with a slew of questions about algae, which is a vegetarian source of the essential fatty acid, DHA, compared to that found in wild fish (salmon, sardines, etc.). However, upon arrival at Martek’s Maryland laboratory, a wall of products

The "Product Wall" at Martek

The "Product Wall" at Martek

which contain their algal DHA (life’sDHA) greeted me and stirred all sorts of additional questions about how algal DHA makes it into some of our most common food products today. After a tour of the facility by Martek senior scientist, Dr. Casey Lippmeier, and a sit down question and answer period with their vice president of scientific affairs, Dr. Jim Astwood, I arrived at the following observations about algal DHA and its role in the American diet today:

  1. All Americans need to consume DHA, especially in women of child-bearing years and young children – and consuming it from different dietary sources can help ensure adequate levels as well as absorption. Algal DHA is a vegetarian source that is equally well, if not better, absorbed DHA than other vegetarian sources of essential fatty acids that require additional steps to make usable DHA.
  2. Fish sources of DHA also include other omega 3 fatty acids as well as other omegas (there are as many as 16 different omegas), vitamins, protein and antioxidants. Algal DHA is not meant to replace wild fish sources but it can complement modest fish consumption (1-2 servings weekly of wild fish) in the diet to ensure sufficient DHA intake. For those who don’t consume fish, algal DHA presents an opportunity to get this core, essential, nutrient into the body.
  3. According to Martek, they do not remove the DHA, isolate it, but rather provide the DHA in its whole food form which also contains small amounts of other fatty acids and nutrients – levels and types of which are strain dependent.
  4. Martek works with food manufacturers, and I was able to visit their test kitchen to see how they actually do some of the food development and testing work themselves, to ensure that the DHA quality is not compromised in the production or packaging of the final product.
  5. The DHA in one serving of products containing life’sDHA varies and is not intended to deliver one’s entire dose of DHA; that said, some products, like the organic eggs do contain an excellent serving of DHA – eggs contain levels as high as 150 mg per egg. Other products with “high” levels – the delicious Dr. Dave Mega-O truffles have 200 mg per serving, Omega To Go has 100 mg per serving, and the Happy Baby / Happy Bellies products provide good sources of DHA for growing bodies.
Ashley Koff RD in Martek's Lab with Senior Scientist Dr. Casey Lippmeier

Ashley Koff RD in Martek's Lab with Senior Scientist Dr. Casey Lippmeier

Martek’s DHA is not genetically modified: this was a big issue for me, and I was able to see firsthand how strains are selected to deliver the highest quantity and quality of DHA. I’ve seen this in farming – where the most productive plants or seeds are the ones selected for future use so this made sense to me.
And I note my final conclusions here. I left feeling quite comfortable and excited about the opportunity for algal DHA to help rectify core nutrition today: imbalanced fatty acid consumption (for most, this means insufficient intake of omega 3 fatty acids). I believe that the addition of algal DHA to animal feed, soil, and food products can help accomplish this goal in a healthy way. That said, just because DHA is added to a food product does not mean that one can discount or minimize the importance of core nutrition principles for optimal health. I believe it healthier for babies to consume breast milk than formula, but both should be rich in DHA. As valuable as DHA is to the diet, and it is termed essential because we have to get it from our diet, I believe it as critical to reduce our intake of chemicals by consuming organic food products (and by organic that also means non-genetically modified). And as great as the need to get DHA into our diet is, it doesn’t overshadow the negatives of a diet derived from high glycemic load carbohydrates (i.e., fruit drinks, refined flour products, etc.) and otherwise nutrient poor foods or food products.

And what did this author get wrong, nutritionally speaking? Check out the LA Times article here: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/26/news/la-heb-diet-20101126

In this article they reference a recent diet study whose results make good nutrition sense. I also wanted to further add support to the article with this video – I had the opportunity to sit down with Australia’s leading dietitian, Dr Joanna McMillan Price, who did her PhD work on this very topic. Here are her thoughts from our interview:


But what the article missed is that the more correct way to look at the nutrition value of glycemic effect of foods is to look at the glycemic load versus the glycemic index. The issue with the index is that it doesn’t take into account the portion control aspect of nutrition. Thus, you will see carrots as seemingly very high, as the article points out, but you would have to eat a lot more carrots than a typical portion to get that high effect. That said, if having carrot soup or carrot juice, because the carrots are processed they will have a higher glycemic effect.

So net net, if you don’t want to follow a list – and perhaps you even want to try a more plant-based diet for all the various health benefits – the best thing to do is to focus on eating the highest quality carbohydrates and eating them in their whole food form. What does this mean? Whole fruit versus dried or juiced – and if you are sugar-sensitive then go for the ones we eat the skin of as opposed to the ones we don’t (think apple versus pineapple) more often. When it comes to grains, eat the whole grain versus the puffed or flour-based product – skip the rice cakes and have a whole grain cracker for example or have a bowl of oats or quinoa versus a puffed cereal. In terms of protein sources, look to quinoa and legumes like lentils but also know that hemp seeds provide complete protein and many of your other nuts and seeds are rich in amino acids. And overall, practice nutrient balance which means aiming for a serving of each – carb + protein + healthy fat – at an eating occasion. You can see how to make the right selections using the AKA menu worksheet.

To help answer this issue, Ashley Koff RD created and moderated a panel at this year’s American Dietetic Association conference (FNCE) in Boston. The panel, sponsored by Earthbound Farm, Nature’s Path, Native, and Stonyfield Farms included an introductory video:

where each company discussed why they are committed to organic food and then opened up for a lively discussion with panelists: Chensheng (Alex) Lu, Ph.D., Mark and Catherine Winkler Assistant Professor of Environmental Exposure Biology Exposure, Epidemiology, and Risk Program Department of Environmental Health Harvard School of Public Health; Jeff Moyer, Farm Director, at the Rodale Institute; and Katherine Musgrave, RD, Professor Emerita of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Maine as well as a question period from dietitians. To view the entire video, please contact colleen@ashleykoffapproved.com to receive a download.

Are you a dietitian interested in learning more about organic farming, the science of organic food, and what patient resources are available? Email us to be included in upcoming events including a late spring trip / farm tour to the Rodale Institute.

History Sets the Table

When the Indians and Pilgrims gathered to the table, there were no artificial ingredients, no chemicals, no science lab experiments, and there were lots of veggies – When it comes to Thanksgiving, let’s take a play from History’s playbook and try to have whole, real foods this year – mostly plant-based.

But how can we do this and not have Thanksgiving boring and thus ruined. Focus on making veggies that people will want to eat. Roasted veggies, Brussels with chooped nuts or cheese, add some pomegranate or cranberry to a salad mixture or cooked greens, a vegetable pie, a vegetable loaf, vegetable pancakes, vegetable stuffing…the options are endless.

And remember, the goal for THE eating occasion is the same as all the others – nutrient balance (1-2 servings each of carb,protein, healthy fat + unlimited vegetables) so be strategic. If you know you want pie, pass the potatoes or have just a taste (but count it) and save the other bites for the pie. What about beets,beans, bread, battered shrimp (ok was just seeing if you were paying attention) – make sure to take your AKA menu worksheet list and check it at least twice before the holiday so that you know what all counts as a carb, a protein etc. Have your eating occasion, then be done and yes, you can have leftovers as long as they are part of the next nutrient balanced eating occasion.

And finally, get active! With the day off, there’s really no excuse to not get in at least an hour if not 90 minutes of activity.

Please check out the GMA Health piece here.

A tiny seed, an ancient grain, the next wonder supplement – inquiring minds are wondering what is this seed and why is everyone from athletes to doctors to food manufacturers saying “add some chia to your diet” for optimal health?

Chia comes from a plant (salvia hispanica) in the mint family which grows around the world at latitudes 15 degrees north or south of the equator. Despite having an attractive blue flower which makes chia plants seem appealing, the plant naturally fends off predators and humans alike as its stems are bitter tasting so we harvest the seed instead. The seed, either black or white, contains a good source of fiber, and vegetarian omega 3 fatty acids.

I recently went to Australia where farmer John Foss started The Chia Co. to see how chia grows. Foss picked chia after traveling the world to pick an “it” food to bring back to Australia because he wanted to grow something that could help with Australia’s health issues – obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. And today, five to ten years later, his chia is doing just that. Whether added to already nutritious foods like a spinach egg white scramble, and antioxidant rich berry and Greek yogurt parfait, or notably more nutrient poor – white bread – chia is providing a nutritional upgrade (their white bread now has 4-5 grams of fiber vs the 1-2 of many white breads). Continue Reading »

What do you think of this assessment of gluten-free diets? ABC NEWS Is Gluten-Free Healthy?
I found the info a bit off and the one-size fits all assessment of gluten-free diets very off. It’s true that we get great nutrients from high quality gluten containing foods but we can also get them from high quality gluten-free foods too.  YES you CAN have a very healthy gluten-free diet if you choose nutrient-rich whole ORGANIC foods – many of which naturally contain nutrients like calcium and B vitamins that the doctor in this segment said could be deficient in a gluten-free diet (and what’s more important is that many of our best sources of calcium come from foods in nature that naturally have no gluten in them!).

When it comes to who can benefit from a gluten-free diet, practitioners like myself continuously see that there are people who are gluten intolerant or who have an auto-immune disease where avoiding or reducing gluten intake improves their symptoms. These individuals still need to focus on other components of the diet such as reducing known irritants and choosing anti-inflammatory foods, but gluten still appears to play a key role.

Net net, not all gluten-free products are created equal so not all gluten-free diets should be compared as equals. Organic, whole food, mostly plant-based diets provide nutrition for optimal health – it’s what I call a qualitarian diet — and if you add to it gluten-free because that’s an issue for you, you can gain health improvements overall as well.

%d bloggers like this: