Week of March 26, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Are homemade salad dressings healthier than bottled dressings, or do people just like their freshness?

A: The flavor of a freshly made dressing is hard to beat and making your salad dressing at home does offer you the opportunity to make a healthier option than most of the commercial dressings. One of the biggest nutritional advantages is the opportunity to reduce sodium substantially. Many bottled dressings contain from 260 to 550 milligrams (mg) of sodium in a two-tablespoon serving. That's 11 to 24 percent of the day's recommended limit – or up to a third of the lower limit recommended for people who are over 50, African American, or who have diabetes or high blood pressure. Start with a healthy oil like canola or olive oil and add lemon juice, vinegar or other juice plus herbs and spices, and perhaps a little chopped garlic. You'll slash sodium to less than 5 mg in that same two-tablespoon serving if you don't add any salt, or to less than 160 mg if you add a dash. If you like a mustard flavor, mustard powder (ground mustard seed found in the spices aisle) adds zero sodium; or a small amount of prepared mustard might raise sodium of your dressing just an additional 20 or 30 mg. To change up the flavor, you can play with different oils, such as grapeseed, walnut or pumpkin seed oil, as well as experimenting with different pure herbs and spices – all sodium-free. For creamy-type dressings, try using plain yogurt as a base.

Q: Is it true that coral calcium is better for me than regular calcium supplements?

A: Promotional material suggests that coral calcium – calcium supplements supposedly made from remnants of Asian coral – is responsible for the longevity and good health of people on Okinawa. Okinawans do have low incidence of cancer and heart disease, and overall good health, but many things about their lifestyle are far more likely to be responsible: The Okinawan diet features an abundance of vegetables and frequent seafood, is low in fat and emphasizes portion control. Furthermore, people on this island are physically active and maintain healthy weights. Promoters of coral calcium say that it is better absorbed than standard calcium carbonate supplements, but I cannot find any scientifically sound studies published in journals to support such a statement. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, a recognized source of solid, research-based information on supplements of all types, "There's no evidence that calcium from a coral source has any advantages over calcium from other sources." Safety of coral calcium may be an issue, since some earlier laboratory analyses reported lead contamination. Finally, some question the potential ecological disruption if coral reefs are disturbed to get this substance. For now, there appears no reason to switch from dairy products and calcium-fortified foods to get calcium, or if needed, economical calcium supplements that have been shown effective.

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