If you read this column occasionally, you know how we feel about taking vitamin D-3: It's a must. That's because you're probably deficient in D-3 (75 percent of adults are), and running chronically low increases your odds for heart disease, osteoporosis, type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure, possibly some cancers (though that's not clear yet) and more.
So you can imagine our reaction when a check of 10 D-3 supplements found that all are wimps when it comes to delivering on their promises. Every one contained far less D than the label claimed, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. Many brands had just 33 percent of the D promised, and some had as little as 1 percent.
How to get the 1,000 IU a day of D that we recommend (1,200 IU if you're 60 or older)? Do what we're doing:
* Keep taking supplements until this gets fixed (bad PR works fast), but switch to 400-IU tablets. They were the most accurate, but most were still off by 50 percent, so take twice what you need. (We take 2,000 IU a day.)
* Boost your absorption of fat-soluble D-3 by taking it with omega-3 fatty acids (from either algae-DHA or fish oil).
* Drink your milk. A glass of D-3-enriched, fat-free milk will give you another 100 IU.
* If you're not at high risk for sunburn, get 10 to 20 minutes of sun a day; it tells your skin to make D-3.
* To find out if this strategy does enough for you, ask your doc to test your D-3 level. If it's low (below 50), adjust and recheck in three months.
Give fruit the celebrity treatment
Need a fix for "forgotten fruit syndrome"? The trick for eating summer's bounty before it turns to mush is to give it center stage. If you see fruit, you'll eat it. Apple sales at one school increased 58 percent when the fruit was put in wire baskets in a well-lighted spot. Researchers (yes, they actually studied this) say sales would have been even higher, but they ran out of apples.
If you're not getting the four to five fruit servings a day we keep pushing you to, try this: Arrange a day's worth of well-washed fruit — strawberries, cherries and juicy peaches, whatever looks great at the grocery — in a bowl where you'll see it and easily can grab something as you pass by. And keep extra fruit at eye level in the fridge.
To get the most nutritional punch for your bowl, go ahead and squeeze everything in the produce aisle. Ripe fruit has the most nutrients. Hard, unripe fruit lacks disease fighters called NCCs (nonfluorescent chlorophyll catabolites). Buy fruits that fade fast — berries, apricots, cherries — in small, eat-now amounts, since their good-for-you flavonoids disappear faster than summer fireflies. Or buy more and make fruit a meal like we do. Try buckwheat pancakes with little buckwheat and a lot of blueberries — 10 berries per silver-dollar pancake is the record. Let dark plums and tomatoes (yup, they're a fruit) sit a day or so on the counter to bump up their nutrients. Don't peel edible skins; eating that soluble fiber will help keep your arteries clear — and your belly happy.
A colorful new reason to hit the hay
If you've ever been told you have eyes like a hawk, here's what that means: color perception so keen that a hawk circling high in the sky can spot a silvery mouse in a sea of green grass. Keeping your peepers even half as sharp starts with a good night's sleep, researchers recently learned.
This is the first time sleep has been linked to how well you see color. Your color perception "drifts" as the day wears on; gray starts looking greenish, for example. However, those off-kilter tones should vanish when you get eight hours of shut-eye. If they don't, something besides lack of zzz's may be going on. A few possibilities:
* If something appears pale or grayish that you know is brightly colored — orange sherbet, the neighbor's parakeet, a Brazilian soccer fan — get an eye exam. It may be warning you of diabetes, macular degeneration or another problem.
* If you start taking a new drug and notice a color-vision shift, tell your doc. It may be an important side effect of meds used to treat high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, seizures and more.
* If purples and blues look weird to you, get checked for cataracts. To prevent these vision-dimmers, eat Mediterranean-style: Women who eat the most vegetables, fruits and grains and least saturated fat and sodium reduce their cataract risk.
* If you're constantly losing your sunglasses, hang them around your neck. Damaging sunlight exposure affects how you see color, especially blues and yellows.
Coffee bars: The fix is in
By now, health-conscious coffee lovers are wise to the saturated fat, sugar and calories in frothy coffee drinks, but what to do on a hot day when that Iced Caramel Frappuccino is winking at you? (And coffee is good for you, cutting the risk of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and liver and ovarian cancers about 35 percent if you drink at least 300 mg of caffeine a day.) At many coffee-bar chains — always on the java curve, if not ahead of it — that's already fixed. They've slimmed down their supercaloristic drinks for fat- and sugar-savvy fans. So you can chill out but still score the health perks of those antioxidant-activating beans. (That joe can make your RealAge a year younger if you don't suffer its side effects.) When you crave a cold caffeine jolt, here's what to order:
* Go light. If there's a "skinny" section on the menu, read no further. A 12-ounce Skinny Caramel Latte, made with nonfat milk and sugar-free syrup, has about 90 calories, 12 grams of protein and no fat. That's less than a plain latte.
* Customize your order. If there's no light version of what you want, ask the barista to use nonfat milk, sugar substitute and sugarless flavoring. They're used to special requests.
* Don't even think about whipped cream. It may (briefly) look luscious, but it's practically pure saturated fat.
* Think small. You don't need 20 ounces of caffeine to quench your craving, unless it's fat- and sugar-free — then the more, the better for your body and brain.
Change your mood, shrink your belly
Everyone gets into a gloomy mood now and then (personally, we're hoping the Celtics' loss was the final blow; Dr. Mike couldn't stand LeBron leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers). But if you've been in a dark place for too long, here's a new reason to do something serious about it: Depression raises the odds of your waist expanding. Whether you call it a muffin top or a beer belly, a fat buildup in your abdomen puts you in line for inflammation that can lead to diabetes, impotence, wrinkles, cancer, heart attack and stroke.
The belly fat-depression connection isn't new, but we You Docs have been scratching our heads over which came first. Now, a 20-year study of more than 5,000 people has answered this "chicken or egg" question: Being depressed first widens waistline more.
The likely link is cortisol, a stress hormone that sometimes peaks when you're depressed. Cortisol is belly fat's evil co-conspirator: It makes you crave high-calorie snacks, tells your body to pack calories in your belly and converts tiny fat cells into fat super-tankers.
So if you've gained weight around your middle, check your feelings, not just your diet. If you suspect you're depressed because you're soooo stressed, try reining in cortisol with these: relaxation exercises, yoga, lavender fragrances, goofing off with friends, sipping black tea. Not all of these remedies help everyone, but lots help many. For deeper-down gloom, talk to your doctor about medications, and try proven depression-busters such as aerobic exercise and cognitive behavior therapy. Soon, your mood should lighten and your waistbands should loosen up. Reason to smile.
The You Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of "You: On a Diet." Want more? See "The Dr. Oz Show" on TV (check local listings). To submit questions, go to www.RealAge.com.