There's good news hiding in the confusing new report about vitamin D: The government finally has agreed that you need more. A committee convened by the Institute of Medicine has recommended a 200 percent increase in daily D for adults under 50, and 30 percent to 50 percent more after 50.
The new guidelines (600 to 800 IU) are better than the old ones, but still fall short. Too many of us just don't get enough D from food or the sun (sunlight triggers D production in your skin). So if you've been taking D, should you take more? Or less? Here's our advice:
Adults under 60 should get 1,000 IU of vitamin D-3 per day; after 60, 1,200 IU. At least 75 percent of Americans are deficient, raising your odds of brittle bones, heart attacks, diabetes and some cancers. Start with 1,000 IU even if you're at higher risk of deficiency due to dark skin, aging and/or living north of a line through Atlanta-Dallas-Los Angeles, a huge area with fewer sunny days.
Get your D checked. Ask your doc for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test. It costs $35 to $45, but we know no other way to check your levels. If they're below 50, ask about taking more, especially since some supplements contain less D than the label claims.
Take D-3, not plain D. It's the most active form and the type your skin makes naturally.
Skip megadoses. The panel also warned against the megadoses of D turning up in drugstores. We're with the feds: Super-pills packing 5,000 to 10,000 IU are downright dumb.
Celery's nifty brain trick
It's the cliche diet snack, the predictable garnish in a Bloody Mary and the taken-for-granted ingredient in turkey stuffing. But don't underestimate celery. This often-forgettable edible could help you remember important stuff, like your mother-in-law's birthday and where you parked the car at the airport. That's because celery stalks — especially tender, crunchy celery hearts — are a top source of luteolin (LOOT-ee-oh-lin), which is more brain-friendly than a helmet. Here's why:
Normally, an elite team of immune cells — called microglia — constantly monitor your noggin for signs of trouble. These high-alert cells are designed to step in fast to protect your brain from injury. As you age, though, they tend to get trigger-happy, overreacting to the slightest provocation by spitting out clouds of inflammatory compounds that, unfortunately, are linked with memory lapses, fuzzy thinking and brain fatigue. That's bad. In one new study, microglia pumped out enough inflammatory compounds to kill off neurons that deliver messages in your brain. Yup, they bumped off the nerve cells they're supposed to protect.
Enter luteolin. When it's around, those hyperactive immune cells calm down. Simple as that.
Hate celery? No worries. You also can get mind-pampering luteolin from spinach, rutabagas, carrots, peppers, olive oil, peppermint, chamomile and rosemary. Even better, it looks like two of our favorite superfoods — blueberries and walnuts — have similar brain benefits.
Brush, floss and take your omega-3s
The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids continue to mount. We recommended omega-3s long ago, when the evidence showed what a boon they are in boosting mood, memory, heart and brain health, weight control, immunity and more. Now add disease-free gums to the list.
Healthy gums may not sound as important as a healthy heart, but get this: Gum-invading bacteria trigger an immune response that promotes inflammation and arterial hardening bodywide, which can restrict blood flow to your heart and brain. About half of people in their 30s and up have had a run-in with bleeding gums, the first sign of chronic gum inflammation (periodontitis). If you and your dentist don't reverse it (floss nightly!), start saving up for tooth implants and heart artery stents. Here's the great news — you can avoid both, plus keep your memory younger.
Omega-3s can do all that — and help keep your smile gap-free. There's new evidence that eating even modest amounts of foods rich in omega-3s (fish twice a week) cuts your gum disease risk by up to 30 percent.
But you need lots more to get their other body-and-brain benefits. We recommend 900 mg a day of DHA omega-3s, the kind your body likes best. We get ours from the same source fish do: algae. As in algae-based omega-3 supplements. You can get some from food — salmon, trout, canned tuna, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, canola and olive oils — but to get enough, take your DHAs. Then smile pretty.
Unleash your inner 'alpha dog'
Your cells live longer with a strong, smart alpha dog riding shotgun with them. You don't have to go to the pound to pick up this fierce protection. Just nosh on orange and green veggies. They're full of alpha carotene that, like its more famous cousin beta carotene, is a potent plant pigment that helps your body defuse tiny, cell-damaging bombs called free radicals.
Alpha carotene guards you against heart disease and cancer, especially two of the most dangerous: brain and liver cancer. No wonder researchers found that alpha c reduces the risk of premature death by a surprising 39 percent among people who get abundant amounts.
Filling your grocery cart with plenty of alpha c is easy: add carrots, pumpkin, winter squash, snap beans and greens of all sorts — cabbage, collards, dandelion greens, beet greens, even grape leaves (love them stuffed? have at 'em). To get even more protection from this cellular guard dog:
* Add a dab of fat. Alpha carotene is fat-soluble, so a little healthy fat helps your body absorb it. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on your carrots and greens, mash a little avocado or garlic into your squash.
* Go spicy or sweet. Season your veggies (other foods, too) with chili powder, cinnamon or dried coriander. All three are rich in alpha c.
* Load up on these as well: tangerines, cantaloupe and raspberries. They're also excellent alpha carotene sources and, like almost all fruits and veggies, have a gazillion other good-for-you nutrients. Enjoy without guilt.
Instant weight loss: Take smaller steps
Anyone who has ever seen Monty Python's hilarious "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch knows that there are a lot of funny ways to move around on two feet, depending on what your goal is. Of course, if you're just trying to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, forget Python's wacky ways and do a straight walk or run.
But if your aim is to lose weight, you'll need to get a little more creative.
First, think like a short person and take small, quick steps. Vertically challenged folks burn more calories for every mile they travel.
Here's why: All walkers, no matter their height, use the same amount of energy per stride. But short people (including kids) have to take more strides more quickly to cover the same distance at the same speed as tall people. Simple math: More strides equal more calories.
Meaning, if you just take smaller steps but walk your usual distance in your usual time, you'll burn more calories. To burn even more, break up those little steps with occasional bursts of skipping. More calories will go up in smoke, and you'll feel like a kid again.
Last tip: Get a pedometer, and aim to walk 10,000 steps a day, the amount it takes to be considered active. Make 'em short steps, and you'll soon be considered slim, too.