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Articles from 2014 In December

Natural Foods Merchandiser

5 vitamin D supplements worth sharing

It feels like companies introduce a new kind of vitamin D supplement every month or so. We started with capsules, then came drops and now there are even lozenges. There’s a wide range of vitamin D dosages, typically from 400 IU to 10,000 IU. Someone with documented vitamin D deficiency will need at least 5,000 IU daily for at least three months to normalize blood levels. Do pay attention to product expiration dates—vitamin D does degrade faster than most other vitamins.

Consumer Reports hits weight loss supplements - just in time for New Year's!

If the nutritional supplement industry has an image problem, they can thank the weight loss category. Weight loss products were the prime suspect in the disastrous Dr. Oz Senate appearance, with Sen. Claire McCaskill scolding the TV doctor. The sketchy late-night ads and infomercials shotgun the industry’s credibility. Now it’s Consumer Reports with a survey and article timed for New Years resolutions report with the headline “Taking diet pills? Don’t waste your money.” It’s bad news for an industry struggling for credibility after a tough couple of years but great fodder for the news media as we see in Tuesday’s CBS This Morning segment.NBJ statistics on sales growth are quoted in the segment but Consumer Reports Deputy Editor Trisha Calvo quickly moves to all the anti-supplements talking points about insufficient regulations, side effects and efficacy. “They are not effective,” she says. After the co-hosts stop laughing about outrageous ad claims, she goes on with “There are a lot of supplement manufacturers and there are a lot of claims being made and the lines about the regulations are not very clear.” TV segments and surveys like these clearly don’t help the industry at large. At NBJ we have been talking about what the nutritional supplement industry’s value proposition needs to be. It’s surely not fat burning and dropping dress sizes. As former NBJ Editor Marc Brush asked put it in July: Nobody can tell the “real story” of dietary supplements until we get that story straight.” Before, the industry can rally to move media attention away from diet pills and sketchy sports supplements, it has to agree on what the true message is and be prepared to call out the companies and suppliers who can’t follow the conversation where it needs to go. CBS didn’t invite anybody to counter Calvo’s argument. But should anybody really try?

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Research shines on vitamin D

Research shines on vitamin D

You’d have to be living in a cave—and therefore vitamin D deficient—to have missed the nonstop news stream about this remarkable vitamin. Why all the attention? Two reasons, really. First, the surge in research. Second, the alarm bells when doctors realized that three of every four Americans have low levels of vitamin D.

Salmon and mushrooms are the best dietary sources of vitamin D. There aren’t many others. The best source of the “sunshine vitamin” is the body, but to make it, one must spend at least 10 minutes in the sun each day sans sunscreen and with the skin largely exposed. That’s something few people seem inclined to do, so, supplements become the ideal alternative.

Not surprisingly, all the research has fueled vitamin D sales from an estimated $42 million in the United States in 2002 to $652 million in 2012, according to NBJ’s Supplement Business Report 2013. And little by little, vitamin D is shifting from a “winter” vitamin (because people make less when the sun is low on the horizon) to more of a year-round supplement. Of the two forms of vitamin D supplements—D2 and D3—the latter is arguably the more natural one because it’s the kind made by our bodies. Vitamin D3 is also far better absorbed than D2, and some research suggests that D2 actually lowers D3 levels in the body. 

Here’s what we’ve gleaned from the latest research.

Life expectancy. Because vitamin D plays so many roles in the body, a deficiency can boost the risk of dying sooner rather than later. A European study of more than 16,000 middle-age and elderly men and women determined that low vitamin D levels were associated with a 57 percent greater risk of dying from any cause, including cardiovascular diseases, over periods ranging from four to 16 years.  By implication, people with adequate levels were half as likely to die during the study.

Cancer prevention. More than 60 studies have tied adequate vitamin D levels to a lower risk of various cancers, including those of the breast, prostate, colon and lung, as well as leukemia and myeloma.  But the vitamin really shines when it comes to improving the survival of cancer patients, especially those diagnosed with lymphoma, colorectal cancer and breast cancer.  New studies have found a 42 percent to 50 percent lower risk of death from breast cancer when women maintained relatively high levels of vitamin D.   

Aches and pains. Researchers have found that supplemental vitamin D can ease pain.  A study of 60 Norwegian men and women with chronic pain, including fibromyalgia, discovered that one-fourth were deficient in the vitamin. After three weeks of regular sun exposure, the patients’ vitamin D levels rose and they benefited from an average 60 percent decrease in pain.  Several previous studies have found that vitamin D supplements can help with low back pain.     

Blood sugar. A respectable body of research has shown that vitamin D, sometimes in combination with calcium, can prevent or control prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Both nutrients are involved in insulin function and the regulation of glucose. A new study at the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that vitamin D supplements from eight to 16 weeks led to a 10 percent reduction in blood sugar levels.  In separate research, vitamin D supplements led to significant reduction of blood sugar and improvements in insulin resistance in women with gestational diabetes. 

Bone and muscle. You need vitamin D to make muscle and to get calcium into bone. Scottish researchers reported that taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily helped maintain bone density in older women, while smaller amounts or placebos did not. A combination of vitamin D and calcium reduced the risk of hip fractures, according to researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. 

Doses for different ages. Dosage recommendations vary depending on a person’s age. If you have your blood levels of vitamin D tested, the ideal range is 45-60 ng/mL. You can follow these guidelines: For infants and children, 400-1,000 IU daily. For teens, 1,000 IU daily. For adults in good health, 2,000-5,000 IU daily. For adults with health problems, 2,000-10,000 IU daily. People who are obese or taking certain drugs (e.g., ketoconazole) may require two to three times higher doses.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Secret Shopper: What should employees know about prebiotics?

Secret Shopper: What should employees know about prebiotics?

Our secret shopper asked an employee at a natural foods co-op in the South: 

NFM: I have been reading about prebiotics for digestion and am wondering if I should take a prebiotic supplement. What can you tell me about them? 

Store: We have plenty of probiotics but nothing that’s labeled specifically as a prebiotic. Can you tell me a bit more about what you’re looking for?

NFM: Well, I’m kind of confused about them as well. But I think they’re basically just fibers that support your good gut bacteria.

Store: Oh, I see. Well, over here we have a bunch of fiber supplements that are very popular. People take them to stay regular. I’m not sure whether any of these are considered prebiotics, but this sounds like what you’re thinking of. If you want more specific information, my manager will be in later today and can probably be more helpful.


How did this retailer do? 

Our expert educator: Amy Burkhart, MD, an integrative physician and registered dietitian in Napa, California

The retailer’s responses are not surprising. This topic is confusing, and the terms prebiotic and probiotic are very similar. Prebiotics are natural, non-absorbable dietary fibers found in foods. When ingested, prebiotics serve as “food” for the good bacteria in the intestinal tract, allowing them to flourish. Common prebiotics are inulin, fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides. These can be found in supplement form, but it’s always better to select dietary sources such as chicory root, dandelion greens, leeks, raw garlic, onions, asparagus and bananas. Probiotics, on the other hand, are live bacterial cultures used to repopulate beneficial gut bacteria. The ideal situation is to have prebiotics and probiotics together, such as in yogurt and bananas, to provide optimal digestive benefits.

When unsure about a topic, it’s best to be forthright and admit your uncertainty—just like this retailer did. Because in this case, not all fibers are prebiotics, and certain fibers and prebiotics may even be problematic for people with particular digestive ailments. If a shopper is considering starting on a prebiotic and has digestive symptoms, you might want to suggest he or she consult with a registered dietitian or health care provider before doing so.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Does Instacart deliver $2 billion in value to customers?

Instacart instacart grocery shopping online

What's all of the Instacart grocery delivery buzz about?

The darling of grocery delivery, it seems, is officially Instacart. The delivery service—emphasis on SERVICE (we're talking no inventory, no delivery trucks)—just raised nearly $210 million in a new round of funding. Now that's a way to end a year that saw the service expand into smaller markets, make a deal with Whole Foods Market and gain smaller investment boosts. Grocery delivery made its comeback in 2014 as better models proved their worth and analysts touted growth possibilities. And the...

View "What's all of the Instacart grocery delivery buzz about?" on Spundge
Natural Foods Merchandiser

New plant waters court thirsty customers

New plant waters court thirsty customers

The zeal for coconut water hasn’t yet dried up, but the excitement has become a little watered down.

When coconut water first emerged in the United States 10 years ago, claims wooed consumers with promises that the exotic beverage was everything from a natural sports drink to a cure for hangovers, kidney stones and bad skin. But thanks to a 2011 class-action lawsuit that cost Vita Coco a $10 million settlement, statements including “super-hydrating,” “nutrient-packed” and “mega-electrolyte” no longer appear on coconut water labels. A 2012 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition also didn’t help the beverage’s case. Scientists found no difference between the rehydrating effects of coconut water and typical carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages.

Coconut water sales, however, continue to rise, even if at a slower pace. Sales grew 26.2 percent to $2.74 million from October 2012 to October 2013; that growth rate fell to 22.9 percent with $3.38 million in sales during the same period from 2013 to 2014, according to market research firm SPINS. One reason for decelerating sales: Apart from adding flavors, coconut water doesn’t have much wiggle room for innovation. As a result, new plant waters have emerged to court consumers’ insatiable thirst for novel ingredients and health benefits.

Enter the era of “waters”—a loosely defined beverage category that ranges from single-ingredient plant liquids (coconut, maple) to tea-like infusions (artichoke water, almond water) to added extracts (cactus water). All offer lighter mouth feel, fewer calories than soda and subtle opacity indicating the goodness inside.

Better-than-juice nutrition is a huge sales driver. “Waters offer an easy way for consumers to dramatically cut their daily caloric intake,” says David Meniane, CEO of Victoria’s Kitchen Natural Beverages, an almond water maker. “Whether for food or beverages, consumers are increasingly looking for natural or organic options.” Victoria’s Kitchen is unique because it’s not marketed as a functional beverage. Inspired by a traditional recipe Meniane’s grandmother made in the South of France, almond water is intended be enjoyed as a tasty drink, similar to lemonade. “I think functional beverages are great. But for me, personally, the main reason why I consume something is because I like how it tastes. I do not sacrifice taste for function,” Meniane says.

New-to-market maple water, the clear sap that drips out of maple trees before boiled into syrup, flaunts functional boosters such as manganese and organic acids. Primed by coconut water’s success, many believe consumers are ready to accept maple water as a slightly sweet, natural hydrator. “People are becoming more aware of what’s in their food,” says Kate Weiler, co-founder of DRINKmaple, a maple water company launched in May 2014. “People don’t want to drink a long list of weird ingredients.”

Maple water also entices shoppers with a low carbon footprint. Whereas coconut water is largely sourced from Indonesia and the Philippines, maple water hails from New England and Canadian forests, where sugar maple trees have been tapped for maple syrup for hundreds of years. “Vertical Water was founded as part of a larger mission: to conserve American forestlands by giving forest owners one more good reason to delay cutting trees down,” says Valentina Cugnasca, CEO and founder of Vertical Water 100% Pure Maple Water. “In this mission to keep trees vertical one sip at a time, it aligns with those consumers who are trying to make a larger positive impact on our world.” Indeed, maple water is in its infancy. But already there’s solid growth. While there were no maple water exhibitors at Natural Products Expo West 2013, 10 maple water products were featured at Expo West 2014, according to New Hope Natural Media’s NEXT Trend database.

Other infusions of plant ingredients tap health- and earth-conscious consumer desires. There’s low-calorie Caliwater, which combines prickly pear puree and extract with lemon juice, and Arty Water, which balances spearmint with extractions of one whole artichoke.

Drink up! Survey reveals top health resolution

Drink up! Survey reveals top health resolution

Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of Americans will be committing to “drinking enough water” in 2015, according to a new survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

“Water is a must! It’s essential to many bodily functions for people of all ages. We’re encouraged to see that people recognize the importance of appropriate levels of hydration,” said Duffy MacKay, N.D., senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, CRN. “But water is only one of the healthy habits that this survey demonstrated people found most important. Let’s remember that the key to good health is a constellation of healthy habits, not just one habit in isolation.”

According to the survey, “drinking enough water” was the number one health and wellness habit American adults are committing to in 2015, with the following four options rounding up the top five: eating healthy/healthier in general (66 percent); getting more physically active (62 percent); getting more sleep (49 percent); and taking vitamins (47 percent). In the bottom five were starting the day off right with a healthy breakfast (37 percent); spending more time with family and friends in real life, instead of online (34 percent); staying cool, calm and collected when stuck in traffic (30 percent); visiting the doctor before getting sick (23 percent); and tracking meals/exercise via mobile app(s), online tool(s) or personal gadget(s) (17 percent). American adults were asked to select all that applied. Over one in five (22 percent) selected “other health and wellness habit(s)” and eight percent responded that they are not committing to any health and wellness habits in 2015.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of CRN from Dec. 8 to 10, 2014, among 2,021 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

10 resolutions for making 2015 an organic year

10 resolutions for making 2015 an organic year

2014 was the year of science supporting the benefits of organic food and farming: for human health, pollinator health, and the health of the environment.

To help you ring in the new year and truly turn over a new healthy leaf, The Organic Center has transformed the top 10 studies of 2014 into New Year's resolutions that show how to improve the state of your diet and the state of our planet by choosing organic.

One: Be health-minded. Eat organic.
A review of the latest research on the effects of organic agriculture and crops on public health found a clear health advantage in consuming organically produced food instead of conventionally produced. Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the findings concluded the lower pesticide residue levels in organic produce were a significant factor in helping account for these benefits.

Two: Get pesticides out of your life.
Pesticides, linked to numerous health problems, are still found on conventional produce in the grocery store. A study showed that eating an organic diet for just seven days can significantly reduce your exposure to pesticides. The research found pesticide metabolite levels in a group of individuals who ate a diet of at least 80 percent organic for a week were cut by up to 96 percent.

Three: Load up on antioxidant-rich foods.
A key study of 2014 showed organic fruits and vegetables have higher levels of antioxidants. Researchers found that if you choose organic rather than conventional fruits and vegetables, you can get an average of 20 to 40 percent increase in antioxidants! Antioxidants protect our cells against the effects of free radicals, which can damage cells in the body and trigger disease.

Four: Bee concerned.
Commercial beekeepers are losing an average of 30 percent of their colonies each winter. This is a problem for bee-pollinated crops such as almonds, apples, cucumbers, avocados, oranges, and berries. One of the major contributors to bee deaths is exposure to pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. In 2014, a study published by Harvard researchers supported and strengthened research in 2012 that found a link between neonicotinoid use and colony collapse disorder.

Five: Save organic citrus.
A disease called citrus greening has devastated thousands of acres of citrus trees in the United States, and may even cause domestic citrus to disappear altogether. Research on controlling this disease focuses on toxic pesticide sprays and the development of GMO citrus varieties. The Organic Center has teamed up with professors at universities, industry members, and organic growers to launch a large-scale study looking at organic solutions to citrus greening. Visit the Organic Center Citrus Greening page.

Six: Do your part. Help slow down climate change.
Research shows good news for climate change mitigation: organically managed soils could reverse the trend of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere! Conducted by the Rodale Institute, the research looks in-depth at how farming systems affect greenhouse gas emission, and illustrates the ability of soil to mitigate climate change when managed organically.

Seven: The more the merrier! Support biodiversity.
A study in the Journal of Applied Ecology found that organic farms support more species than conventional farms. On average, organic farms support 34 percent more plant, insect, and animal species than conventional farms. When the researchers looked at pollinators such as bees individually, they found that organic farms had 50 percent higher species diversity.

Eight: Focus on soil health.
A study on healthy soil biodiversity published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development found that conservation and organic farming techniques boost the number of soil organisms when compared to conventional farming. The researchers measured soil life over a period of 14 years and found that versus conventional systems, organic and conservation agriculture systems had more earthworms in the soil, 30 to 70 percent more microorganisms, and improved bacterial pathways.

Nine: Listen to the birds.
Research shows that organic farming is healthier for birds. Songbirds are especially sensitive, because conventional farms can reduce food supplies for young songbirds unable to leave their nests. An article in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment compared availability of "nestling" food on organic and conventional farms. Because organic farming does not use synthetic pesticides and has longer, more diverse crop rotations, organic farms were found to provide more available nestling food than conventional farms.

Ten: Keep away from toxins.
Avoiding pesticides is even more important than previously thought. A study led by Organic Center Science Advisory Board member Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini showed that major pesticides are more toxic to humans than suggested by their active ingredients. Pesticides contain a mix of "inert" ingredients. These "inerts" are not taken into account in safety test trials, and the active ingredients are tested in isolation. This research looked at the toxicity of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides when all ingredients were included, and found that eight out of nine pesticide formulations were up to one thousand times more toxic than their active ingredients.

Bonus: Spread the word.
Help make 2015 an organic year for your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. Sign up for The Organic Center newsletter, and follow us on Facebook for the latest research on the science behind the benefits of organic year round. Stay informed…and pass your knowledge on!