Friday, August 6, 2010

Broccoli and Me

A current ad on television for calcium supplements shows women trying to eat pounds of salmon and broccoli and whole big bowls full of almonds in an attempt to get enough calcium without taking a supplement. And, while the ad is truthful about the amount of these three foodstuffs required to meet daily requirements, it ignores the dozens of other foods that can contribute throughout the day to the total.

Truth is, it's not that difficult.

For the past five days, I have given up taking calcium supplements in response to a recent study which found that it increases the risk of heart attack by 25 - 30 percent.

I have managed to meet the daily requirement for calcium entirely through diet. It's been interesting, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately okay.

But it does require planning and some caution.

First, correct information is important and sometimes surprisingly hard to find. For instance, I have found values for broccoli ranging from 62 mg./cup, cooked to 180 mg./cup, cooked.  That's a huge discrepancy. Too many of those discrepancies over the course of a day would be really significant. The USDA has a nutrient database which lists many individual nutrients. I've chosen it as my reliable resource.

Another obstacle to getting the correct information is typos and poor copy-editing. In one book, the value for 1/2 C of cooked spinach differs on the same page! Not helpful. And not unusual.

Second, the whole endeavour is time consuming, although it is already less so after only five days. Looking up everything is a pain, as is looking it all up again and again until it's firmly in the memory! Also, keeping track takes time.  But practice makes perfect, and the time spent will diminish.

Third, the whole configuration of my diet has shifted. Initially, I was simply adding calcium-rich foods, and calories. Now, I'm figuring out how to incorporate what I need, rather than just tacking on.

Fourth, there's a cultural aspect to this experiment. It strikes me as odd that eating real food to get enough nutrients has become more unusual that taking a supplement. I think advertising has done a number on us. Lack of education about diet is a culprit, too, as are the fast food and processed food industries.

And sometimes we would rather believe the nutritional flapdoodle of a hack trying to make money, than take the time to learn enough to make sure that we and our children are properly nourished.

I'm sticking with this, with the proviso that I will take a supplement on the odd day when I just don't get enough calcium. The study doesn't really scare me, but did make me realize how my attitudes towards food and supplements has not so subtly shifted (and I'm not liking it so much).

Those who require supplements should take them (although I would check with the doc). Otherwise, with some education and some time invested, we could just eat, enjoy, and be nourished.

Pass the broccoli!

(The consensus among commenters on my post about this study was that these things change over time, or are poorly designed and wrong, etc. Here is the link to the actual study in the British Medical Journal. I've
waded through, and there are a couple of important facts that the media largely ignored. Perhaps most important, the study did not include any calcium supplements taken along with Vitamin D. Also, there were no tests of calcium supplements taken as part of a supplement complex.)


Ciss B said...

There are few tests of ANY vitamin, whether it be the ones a health food store carries or even some of those the doctor recommends. And the ones found in most pharmacies are not plant based but more mineral based which our bodies do not digest well at all.

I know our food loses lots from the way we grow it and process it...which begs the question - where is one to find the correct amount of any vitamin? Organic? I simply can't afford that!

Wish I had the answer to this one. I simply get a multivitamin from the health food store and eat as well as I can.

lifeshighway said...

You keep at it Chris. If anything you will feel a whole lot healthier eating that diet. Plus it is quite possible you will also lose weight.

The biggest thing I have noticed by trying to eat healthy foods (not processed, canned or frozen) is the expense. Why should it cost so much to eat a healthy diet?

It is not unusual to see the poor being overweight where the financially comfortable people are more likely to be thinner.

ChrisJ said...


I wonder even if anyone really knows the correct amount of many vitamins. The food and the multi probably is the best way to go.

ChrisJ said...


I saw my post in a whole new light; it is a financially comfortable person's post! I have the resources and time to check all this out and get the right food.

You're right; in some poorer neighbourhoods, there is no fresh food available, and everyone pretty much has to eat cheap fast food. Even with grocery stores around, the freshest food is way more than the processed stuff and the junk food.

There are cheaper, nutritional choices out there, but people have to have the information and that is often lacking.

askcherlock said...

Broccoli must be one of the best in nutrients. I also eat blueberries quite a bit since I don't like most fruit, and I don't eat many cabs---at all! I do take a calcium supplement, having broken a few bones in chasing bad guys when I was an Investigator. Other than the calcium, I'm with you on just maintaining a proper diet and not listening to all the guff.

Hels said...

.."eating real food to get enough nutrients has become more unusual that taking a supplement. I think advertising has done a number on us. Lack of education about diet is a culprit, too, as are the fast food and processed food industries."

I agree. The cultural aspect is probably greater than the scientific issues, especially since it is Food we are talking about. Consider how central food is in raising children, for example. Or showing hospitality. Or thanking god, for that matter.

By the way, does calcium content differ, depending on whether the food is raw, lightly cooked or boiled to pulpiness?

ChrisJ said...


Broccoli is awesome; it has good amounts of several nutrients. I eat blueberries all summer; I love how they get bigger and bigger as the summer progresses.

ChrisJ said...


Interesting, I found myself mistrusting the calcium content counts of some of the things I eat, but never question the values given for supplements. Not good!

In the USDA database, there are differences for fresh, canned, and frozen, but not for everything.

Ciss B said...

I work with Feeding America at our church and to see the hunger for fruit and veggies in the children who come with families to get the free food every month is amazing! When asked what to offer the people while they wait for the truck we were told cookies and sweets since they would NEVER eat good food.

We offered veggies, fruits and good home baked bars and cookies low in fat and sugars and the kids simply inhaled it the first time and haven't stopped. The cookies we bought ended up sitting!

Not many who have little money can afford supplements of vitamins to their diets. I love shopping at the farmer's market here, but people on food stamps can't do that at the moment anyway.

I'm lucky - I have access to some of the best fruits and veggies in the summer and fall months for a reasonable price, many people simply don't.

ChrisJ said...


Such a good thing to do. I'll google Feed America.

I think we don't realize how hard it is for many to access, let alone afford, good food. Cheap carbs fill people up, but are't very nourishing.

Jewel said...

I am not a big broccoli fan at the best of times. I also worked with someone whose doctor had told her to stop taking calcium supplements as it would give her kidney stones.

It seems to me you just can't win sometimes, and, as Ciss B says, you can only do your best.

ChrisJ said...


It would be so great if chocolate were the absolute healthiest food in the world, containing all the vitamins and minerals we need. I'd be in heaven.

Broccoli for me is okay, but I like many other things better, so know what you mean.