Commercials will have us believe a daily dose of acai berries, coconut oil and chia seeds will guarantee good health. It's hard to keep up with the latest trendy supplements and even harder to find out which ones are actually providing a real health benefit.
Amid the supplements that contain little or no real health benefit are some that do have notable effects. Before getting into supplements, start with a healthy diet, which will have a longer and stronger influence than any medication or supplement you can take.
Researchers have suggested that a "Polymeal"—a hypothetical daily meal consisting of red wine, dark chocolate, almonds, garlic, fish, fruits and vegetables—could increase life expectancy by almost seven years for males and nearly five years for females.
As the Polymeal approach suggests, some foods are particularly good at improving health and prolonging life. You should not rely on these foods to solve your medical condition, and always consult your health provider to determine what is right for you.
A great alternative to most sugary snacks and desserts, dark chocolate—not white or milk chocolate—in moderation has been shown to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol. Not surprisingly, it also tends to lift your mood. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, which can help fight unstable molecules in the body. While I recommend chocolate with as much cacao as is tolerable, anything at least 60% cacao is preferred.
A Yale researcher described green tea as perhaps the answer to what he calls the "Asian paradox," which is low rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer among people who smoke heavily. The strongest benefit of green tea is the reduction in total cholesterol and bad cholesterol when drank daily. Green tea also has been shown to reduce rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rates of certain cancers, liver disease and even dental cavities. Although it can increase metabolism, be wary of companies pushing green tea supplements or "energy boosters," which often contain contaminants or other additives.
Rich in unsaturated fats, fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants, among other nutrients, tree nuts like almonds and walnuts can lower bad cholesterol and the risk of blood clots that can lead to a fatal heart attack. They're great as a snack food, but limit daily consumption to about 1 to 2 ounces per day as they are high in calories and can be salty. They are healthiest when consumed raw.
As the shining star in this foursome, fish oil has many benefits. Most people take fish oil to lower their risk of heart disease. But they're getting much more than just that. A daily dose of fish oil, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the development of some cancers, fight depression and improve symptoms of arthritis, among other things. In some encouraging studies, early data show fish oil has a positive effect on eye health, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions. When buying fish oil, look for a high concentration of EPA and DHA, two important fatty acids in fish oil. To stop "fish burps," refrigerate the pills.
It's all about eating healthful foods in moderation. Find out more about nutrition at www.cchealth.org/topics/nutrition/
Dr. Tzvieli practices Family Medicine for Contra Costa Health Services.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.