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Jewish World Review March 12, 2002 / 28 Adar, 5762

Dr. Ed Blonz

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Consumer Reports

Don't sweat the timing; bilberry and macular degeneration | DEAR DR. BLONZ: What is the best time to take a multiple vitamin/mineral supplement? With food or on an empty stomach? Should they be taken together or alone? Should some be spaced out over a day, or is it OK to take all of them at once? -- J.M, Longmeadow, Mass.

Dear J.M.: The priority should ALWAYS be the quality of your diet, not the supplements. That being said, a general rule is to take your vitamins and mineral supplements at mealtime, when the body's absorptive machinery is in gear. Ingesting some oil helps, as it facilitates the absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients. Dividing the supplement between meals makes sense, especially if there are multiple pills, but it is nothing to get hung up about.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: In your recent article on macular degeneration, I was surprised that you did not mention bilberry. I have suffered from macular degeneration since 1990, and I began taking bilberry a few years ago, after reading of its use by British Royal Air Force pilots in World War II. At my next checkup, the retina specialist saw improvement in my tests. A few years ago, I had difficulty threading needles, even with glasses. Now I can do it without glasses. I also had problems reading small print in newspapers and maps, but today I do much better with both. The bilberry I take is inexpensive, but I feel it helped my vision, and my doctor agrees. - M.B., Edison, N.J.

Dear M.B.: Please forgive the omission. Dried blueberry fruit, in particular the bilberry (known in America as the huckleberry), contains color compounds know as anthocyanins (anth-oh-sigh-an-inz). These pigments act as antioxidants, and they have been shown to be useful for treating visual problems, including macular degeneration and glaucoma. In an earlier column I mentioned the compounds lutein and zeaxanthin and provided a list of good dietary sources, including spinach, corn and kale. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also antioxidant color compounds from the carotenoid family. There is a definite "color" theme here. Consider it a good overall strategy to include "colorful" whole foods (vegetables and fruits) in your diet every day. They usually contain healthful compounds that can assist in combating not only the progression of macular degeneration, but other degenerative chronic diseases, as well.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I was surprised recently to discover, on label inspection, that a can of light tuna packed in water contains 0.4 grams of trans fatty acids. Why would this be? Where does it come from? I came up with this number by subtracting the saturated and unsaturated fat content from the total fat content. The leftover number (I have been told) is the trans fatty acid content. It is not actually written on the can, but it states that the per-serving total fat is 1.5 grams, the saturated is 0.4 grams, and the unsaturated fat is 0.7 grams. Since the saturated and unsaturated fats total 1.1 grams, that leaves 0.4 grams trans fatty acids. This is what I am being taught in a natural health class here in Canada. Any insight would be appreciated. - H.B., Toronto, Canada

Dear H.B.: It is possible that your health class is teaching inaccurate information, or perhaps you misunderstood, so let's go through the calculation. First, it is true that the total fat is the sum of the saturated and unsaturated fat. It is also true that trans fatty acids are not presently listed on labels -- a situation that I hope will change in the near future. There are other factors that need to be considered. The first is that the numbers on the label might not be precise because they are rounded off. The next, and perhaps most important, factor is that partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (the source of the trans fatty acids) has to be listed on the ingredient list if it is a part of the product. Canned tuna does not usually contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. If you did not find it listed as an ingredient, then the "missing" 0.4 grams of fat is indeed a product of mathematical rounding.

JWR contributor Ed Blonz, Ph.D., is a nutrition scientist and author of Power Nutrition and the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series. Send questions to him by clicking here.


03/05/02: Stay away from the creamers
02/26/02: Tomato effects on men; impact of taking all of those tablets
02/19/02: Is decaf dangerous?
02/12/02: Do veggies prevent mineral absorption?
02/05/02: Incompatibility problems between calcium and vitamin C; Can supplements prevent blindness?
01/29/02: What's wrong with the meat?; Does tuna packed in water still have high levels of omega-3?; Avoid "fractionated vegetable oils?"
01/22/02: Is all soy milk created equal?; foods containing magnesium; why do vitamins expire?
01/15/02: Three cheers for chocolate?
01/08/02: Making sense of labels
01/03/02: "Thermogenic" weight loss
12/26/01: What's up with ephedra?
12/18/01: Is new supplement a scam?

© 2002, NEA