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The Dish on Vitamin D October 31, 2010

Are vitamin D supplements worth it? Increasing evidence suggests they might be for many of us living in the U.S., especially during winter months when we get less sun exposure. A dietitian shared her favorite brand with (Rainbow Light Sunny Gummies)- I've been hooked ever since!

Vitamin D seems to have made its way back into the nutrition spotlight in recent years and is becoming an increasingly hot topic when it comes to adequate intake and possible benefits from supplementation.

The suggested Adequate Intake (AI) according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines is currently 5 µg/day (200 IU/d) for 19-50 year-olds but given recent findings, it is likely that this number will be raised. Professor Diane McKay at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy predicts that the recommended amount may soon double or triple. For adults over age 50 the current AI is double that for younger adults and for adults over 70 the AI is tripled due to increasingly poor absorption and reduced intake. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Toxicity can not be reached by sunlight exposure or through food but can be reached if you take too much in supplement form. Currently a maximum of 2000 IU/day is considered the safe upper limit (so if you took the  Sunny Gummies shown left, you should never take more than 2 gummies/day).

While most vitamins can and should be obtained through foods rather than supplements, vitamin D may be an exception. That is not to say that it isn’t worth trying. The best food sources of vitamin D are generally fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and some fortified breakfast cereals. Oily fish (such as salmon or sardines) are considered some of the best  food sources of vitamin D. Because of differences in the fishes’ diets, wild caught salmon contains much higher levels of vitamin D than the farm raised variety. You can view a comparison from one study of vitamin D levels from several common fish varieties here.

While milk is often a good source of vitamin D, this is because it has been fortified. Milk products such as yogurt or cheese are only good sources of vitamin D if they are made with fortified milk. I was looking at two type of non-fat plain yogurt from the same brand recently and was trying to figure out what made the “European” style yogurt different from the regular version. Both products were organic and were the same price but I noticed that the European version, like Greek yogurt, had a much higher protein content and lower sugar content. It appeared to be the nutritionally superior product until I realized that the non-European version was the only one fortified with vitamin D. Because I am currently regularly taking a vitamin D supplement, I decided that that the high-protein, low sugar European version was still my best pick. If I wasn’t taking the supplement however, I think it would be worth the extra sugar to me to get the added vitamin D.

Oily fish, like the bluefish shown here, have many health benefits including a good contribution towards vitamin D intake. Even adding fish to your diet just twice/week is believed to be beneficial.

Why is Vitamin D So Important?

Maintaining adequate vitamin D intake has been linked to reduced risk for many of the chronic diseases that plague the U.S. today. Getting enough vitamin D is also imperative to help calcium be utilized properly in the body to keep bones strong and help prevent osteoporosis.  Some studies now suggest that vitamin D may actually be more important that vitamin C in aiding the immune system to help protect us from a cold or the  flu.

The “Sunshine” Vitamin

Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as a “conditional” vitamin because, unlike other vitamins, you can actually get enough of it without food sources or supplements with sufficient exposure to UV light from the sun. Sunscreen, clothing, time of year and distance from the equator, however, often prevent sufficient vitamin D levels from being obtained from the sun. In Boston, for example, it is suggested that even prolonged sun exposure will not be enough to provide adequate vitamin D intake during the months of November through March.

Before you hop in a tanning bed or head to the beach without sunscreen, keep in mind that the damage you can cause from prolonged UV exposure will be greater overall than the benefit.  During optimal times of the year (for Boston this is generally March through October), it only takes 10-15 minutes of sun exposure 2 or 3 times/week (even just on the arms, face, and hands) or about 30 minutes 2 to 3 times per week for individuals with darker skin to reach high enough vitamin D levels.


Cooking Lesson from Dining Services Chef Toby October 30, 2010

Tufts Dining Services Chef Toby taught Tufts Culinary Society students how to create their own roasted chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, home-made gravy, and roasted broccoli.

Learn from Toby how to zest a lemon (as he did as part of the seasoning for roasted broccoli) here.



Balsamic Chicken Drumettes & Veggie Pasta Marinara October 28, 2010

My suitemate, Andrea Wang, cooked us a delicious, savory dinner last night: Balsamic Chicken Drumettes & Pasta with Mushrooms, Bell Pepper, Leeks and Marinara Sauce.

Chicken Drumette & Marinara Pasta Dinner

Try it at Home:

Follow the recipe Andrea likes for Balsamic Chicken Drumettes here.

Make your own pasta and add fresh veggies such as the organic green bell pepper, mushrooms and leek Andrea used. For best flavor, saute the veggies in olive oil separately from boiling your pasta and add them to the pasta once it has already been cooked. You can add your marinara sauce to the veggies in the saute pan when they are nearly cooked.

Local flavor: The bell pepper and leek were from Tufts on Campus Farmer’s Market which featured all local (and mostly organic) produce.


Butternut Bisque Update October 27, 2010

The Butternut Squash Bisque recipe has now been updated to list the ingredients in easier-to-measure amounts for cooking at home. Thanks Julie for your help!


Butternut Squash Bisque


Healthy Dessert 2: Hot Banana with Dark Chocolate & Cocoa

A little bit of dark chocolate goes a long way, making this dessert taste wonderful and indulgent but weigh in at barely 200 calories!

Healthy Dessert: Hot Banana with Dark Chocolate and Cocoa

This delicious hot dessert combines a fresh banana, dark chocolate (60% cocoa or higher), and unsweetened cocoa powder.

Try it at Home:

Place one medium sized banana on a microwave-safe plate. Slice down the middle and sprinkle in about 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder. Add a few small pieces of dark chocolate. (A little bit of chocolate goes a long way once the dessert is melted. I used about 1/16 or 1 square of a chocolate bar here). Pop in the microwave for 45 seconds on high. Grab a fork and enjoy!

Nutrition Highlights:

If you follow the directions above, your treat will be about 200 calories. The banana is a good source of potassium, manganese, fiber and vitamin C and an excellent source of vitamin B6. The unsweetened cocoa powder is naturally fat-free and provides fiber and a good source of copper and manganese.

Other great toppings to add: Chopped nuts (such as pecans or walnuts), wheat germ, dried oats.  The amounts and types of toppings you use will change the calories and nutrients.


Last Tufts Farmer’s Market of the Season October 26, 2010

Tomorrow is the last on-campus Tufts Farmer’s Market of this season! Stop by tomorrow to enjoy fresh local produce and baked goods on the lower patio of the Campus Center around lunch time. Tufts Dining will be serving free local apple and honey samples!


Hidden Supermarket Gems: Sardines

If the idea of eating tiny cold fish from a tin doesn’t appeal to you, you’re not alone. When I mustered up the courage to open my first tin last summer I dreaded seeing fishy tails and heads staring up at me. This was not, of course, the case. The sardines actually came as fillets and looked a lot like a miniature version of any other fish I would buy fresh from the fish counter. Why, you might wonder, did I decide to try sardines in the first place? Well, for numerous reasons which I will detail below, sardines appear to be one of the healthiest fish, and foods for that matter, sold in supermarkets.

These little fish are packed with nutrients that many of us need more of in our diets: calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.

If you already know and love sardines, consider yourself lucky. These little fish are packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, bone-building mineral calcium, and calcium-enhancing vitamin D. They are a very inexpensive, easy-to-store, source of protein. You can eat them right out of the can and use them in anything you would use canned tuna for (such as on salads, in sandwiches, on crackers) but unlike tuna, sardines are very small fish and have less chance of accumulating biotoxins or being exposed to mercury.

As wonderful as the benefits of eating sardines sounded to me, the idea of eating them cold from a can still didn’t sound so tempting. I did a quick online search for sardine recipes and found one that showed them broiled for a few minutes with herbs and lemon juice. This, I decided, would make them taste the same as the other fish I knew and liked.  The result: a success. Sardines are now a regular part of my menu. I still haven’t tried them cold but they are really very tasty when cooked and seasoned.

Try it At Home:

Buy a tin of sardines next time you visit the supermarket. (They are usually found near canned tuna.) To broil, set your oven on a high temp of 500ºF. Place the sardines on a baking tray and add olive oil, herbs (dill works well), a splash of lemon juice, and salt/pepper to taste. It only takes about 5-7 minutes for them to become slightly crisp.