Calcium Supplements: Do They Increase Your Risk of a Heart Attack?

Who would have ever thought that something as seemingly harmless as a calcium supplement could actually cause harm? Unfortunately for us, that is exactly what new research has revealed.

An analysis published in the British Medical Journal in 2010 found a modest increase in the risk of a heart attack with calcium supplements.* This prompted the authors to conclude that “a reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in the management of osteoporosis is warranted.”

Now new research has also discovered a link between calcium supplements and heart disease.** This study followed approximately 24,000 people between the ages of 35 and 64 for 11 years. The researchers found that people who got their calcium almost exclusively from supplements were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack. No one knows for sure why this happened. They thought the increase might be due to a spike in calcium levels in the blood. In contrast, the lower amount of calcium found in food would not cause such a spike.

Calcium is essential for our body, and it is linked with bone health, lower blood pressure levels, and possibly even a lower risk of colon cancer. However, until we know more, it might be best to get calcium from food. So what can you do instead of taking a supplement?

The easy answer is to choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products or eat yogurt, preferably Greek. However, for a lot of people dairy just does not make sense. Some people choose to avoid it for ethical reasons. There are numerous health reasons why someone might avoid dairy as well. In the book, The China Study, a link was found between casein, the protein in milk, and cancer. And a high intake of dairy has been linked to an increased risk of prostate and ovarian cancer. Dairy can also make symptoms worse for people with autoimmune diseases, sinus problems, chronic bronchitis, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, and eczema. Some people have lactose intolerance, which means they don’t have the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk, and others may be allergic to it.

So what are the good nondairy sources of calcium? As I mentioned in my post “Got Kale?”, you can have 1¾ cups of kale, which is equal to the amount of calcium in 1 glass of milk. I really like Trader Joe’s Lacinato kale. It makes it super easy to use since it is already washed and chopped—and it’s organic. I put 2 large handfuls of kale, 1 inch of peeled ginger, an apple and about 1½ cups of water in my high powered blender. If you want something sweeter you can try adding mango instead of an apple. Other good options that offer the same amount of bioavailable calcium as a glass of milk include:

  • 1¼ cups of bok choy
  • just over ½ cup of calcium set tofu (calcium processed)
  • 2½ cups of broccoli
  • 1 cup of turnip greens
  • 1½ cups of mustard greens

Bok choy is particularly yummy and easy to prepare. I like to sauté it with some rice vinegar, MIrin (rice wine), a dash of tamari, a few drops of sesame oil, and Chinese Five Spice.

While the amount of calcium in spinach looks good on paper, the calcium is not bioavailable because of its high oxalate content. You would have to eat almost 8 cups of spinach to get the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of milk!

So why not try an alternative to a calcium supplement today? Your heart, and maybe even the rest of your body, will thank you for it.


*Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis. Bolland MJ, et al. BMJ. 2010 Jul 29;341.

**Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC-Heidelberg), Kuanrong Li, et al. Heart 2012;98:920-925.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Got Kale?

It rarely happens that a vegetable goes from almost total obscurity to practically rock star status in a matter of a few years, but that’s exactly what happened to kale. When I was a waitress back in college, it was kale that covered the ice in salad bars to make it look pretty. Now it’s in the blenders and refrigerators of health conscious people everywhere.

So what’s all the excitement about? Is kale really that great? Well actually, yes, it is.

Kale is high in a variety of nutrients such as beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants), and sulforaphane (lowers your risk of cancer).  This explains why Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who created the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), gave it a score of 1,000—his top rating. It is also the top veggie and a “super star” according to the Nutrition Action Healthletter, with a score of 1,389. In addition, it’s a good source of bioavailable calcium. Only 1¾ of a cup of kale is equivalent to one glass of milk in terms of absorbable calcium. That’s good news for people like me who can’t drink milk but want to avoid calcium supplements because of current research that links them to an increased risk of a heart attack (more on that in a future post).

So eat more kale! Try kale chips, roast or sauté it, or put it in soups or smoothies. However, there is one stipulation, buy organic. Why? Because kale as well as collard greens and green beans are commonly contaminated with organophosphate insecticides, according to the latest version of the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Their “Dirty Dozen” list identifies the fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides. Their “Clean Fifteen” list identifies those with the least. This year they have added a “Plus” category due to the use of organophosphate insecticides, which are toxic to the nervous system.

You can see the full list here and at There are also phone apps to make shopping easier. When you can, buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables and the Plus category vegetables.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Healthy Drinks

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Are sugary drinks the new tobacco? They just might be considering that New York City banned the sale of super-sized drinks and other cities have proposed taxing them. And for good reason. It’s relatively common knowledge that sodas, sports drinks, juice drinks, energy drinks, and smoothies offer a plethora of calories and sugar. What some people don‘t realize is that you can get hundreds of calories in just one drink, but they don’t make you feel full like other foods. On top of that, they can increase your feelings of hunger in just a few hours. This probably explains why emerging research shows that calories from sugary drinks cause more weight gain than calories from other foods. It’s no wonder they are considered one of the main causes of the obesity epidemic!

Yet nothing beats a nice cold drink on a hot summer day. So what to do?  Why not try a zero calorie drink, without artificial sweeteners, that is flavorful and maybe even good for you?  I have done many drink tastings with hundreds of people and there are a few standouts you can buy at the market that are worth trying.

MetroMint has zero calories and a tasty Chocolatemint flavor that even diehard chocolate fans seem to like. Steer clear of the berry and cherry flavors unless you like the medicinal taste of cough syrup.

Another great no-calorie drink is Hint. The Strawberry-Kiwi and the Mango-Grapefruit flavors are particularly good.

The winner in the unsweetened tea category is Sokenbicha Bold Barley Tea. I have found it at Whole Foods Market, but not all of the stores carry it. If you find a store that has it, try it. You will not be disappointed. It’s really good. There are other worthy unsweetened teas out there such as Tejava and Trader Joe’s also has an unsweetened green tea. However, they both pale in comparison to the Sokenbicha Bold Barley Tea.

Another great option is fruit-and-herb-infused water. I’ve created a few recipes at home and have been pleasantly surprised at how easy, tasty, and cheap they are. Why spend a buck fifty for a small bottle of another drink when you can make a whole pitcher at home for less money?

One recipe that I really like is made with sliced lemon with vanilla. It is easy, cheap, and quick. You can also combine lemon, mint, rosemary, and cucumber for a really tangy drink. I have a lemon tree in my yard and grow rosemary and mint, so all I have to buy is a cucumber and some filtered water. You can’t get much easier or cheaper than that. Another really tasty infused water is made with strawberries, but you have to leave it in the frig for a few days to get a great flavor.

Below is one of my favorite recipes. Try it instead of a daily 140-calorie can of Coke and in a year, with very little effort on your part, you could lose 14 pounds! Let me know if you would like to see more of my recipes for fruit-and-herb-infused water.

 Strawberry Kiwi

Strawberries infuse very well. This drink is so tasty and delicious it will keep you going back for more.


  • 9 ripe strawberries
  • 1 kiwi
  • 8 cups filtered or bottled water


1. Wash the strawberries, cut out the leaves, and cut in half.

2. Wash, peel, and slice the kiwi.

3. In a 2½-quart pitcher, or a gallon plastic water bottle, combine the water, strawberries and kiwi.

4. Make sure to cover the container and place in the refrigerator. If you are using a glass pitcher without a lid, place a piece of saran wrap snugly over the top.

This drink tastes good in 3 to 4 days. Take the fruit out once you like the flavor. Depending on how fresh your fruit was, it should last about 5 days.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

What You Need to Know About GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

An important proposition will be on the November 2012 ballot in California which requires the labeling of genetically modified foods. This proposition, if it passes, could change the face of American agriculture. Biotech companies and food manufacturers will be spending between 50 and 100 million dollars and saying just about anything to prevent this from passing. Read on for the most commonly asked questions about GMOs.

Are genetically modified organisms in the foods you eat?

What do canned chicken soup, fast food French fries, sodas, potato chips, corn flakes, canola oil, salad dressing, corn chips, apple pie, and tofu all have in common? They all most likely contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) also know as genetically modified or engineered foods.

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals created through the process of genetic engineering. GMOs have a piece of DNA from a totally different species, such as viruses or bacteria, forced into their DNA. Genetically engineered soybeans, for example, have DNA from bacteria and viruses sliced into their DNA to help them withstand the onslaught of weed killers such as Roundup. Genetically engineered corn has DNA added so that it has a pesticide built right into it. This process creates a whole new species of plant that would have never occurred in nature.

Hybrid foods are completely different. Hybrids are created when cross pollination occurs between plants. This process can be facilitated by man or it can occur spontaneously in nature.

Even though GMOs have been in our food supply since 1996, most people in the U.S. know little about them. Actually, the 2006 Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology poll found that only 26% of American consumers believe that they have ever eaten a food that was genetically engineered. The truth is most people, including babies and children, eat them every single day.

Which foods are genetically modified?

As of 2012, nearly all soy beans, corn, canola, cotton, and sugar beets are GMO. From these crops, products such as corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and many more are created and added to processed foods. This is why nearly 80% of processed and most fast foods contain GMOs.

Other crops that are genetically engineered include Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and yellow squash, and alfalfa. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also considering approving a GMO salmon, which would grow much larger and faster than regular salmon.

Are genetically modified foods safe?

Despite what the food manufacturers and biotech companies might say, there is little research on the long-term effects of GMOs on human health and the environment. The FDA has allowed GMOs into our food supply with only the research and assurances of safety from the biotech companies that create them. Interestingly, the person at the FDA responsible for this decision was Michael Taylor, former attorney for Monsanto (the largest producer of GMO seeds).

Independent research has found that several varieties of GMO corn caused organ damage in rats. Other studies have found that animals were losing their ability to reproduce. There are also concerns that GMOs can increase allergies or cause immune system problems.

Environmental issues are also a cause for concern. GMOs allow farmers to use more weed killers, exposing both us and the environment to more toxins. Super weeds and super bugs that are resistant to the weed killers and the pesticides built into GMOs are now showing up. The monarch butterflies are on the decline due to GMO farming which kills the milkweed where they lay their eggs. In addition, GMO crops can cross pollinate with non-GMO crops, irreversibly changing the face of plant life with unknown consequences.

Are genetically modified foods labeled?

The U.S. is one of the only developed nations that does not require labeling of GMOs. Fifty countries including all of Europe and even China require labeling of genetically modified foods. Many European countries have banned GMOs.

Will labeling genetically modified foods increase the cost of food?

The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act will not increase the cost of food for you or food producers. It simply adds a label to genetically engineered food. Companies change their labels all the time. Remember, when companies where required by law to add trans fats to labels, the cost of food did not go up.

What can I do to eat fewer GMOs?

  • Vote “yes” on Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, which will require that genetically engineered foods are labeled. It will be on the November 2012 ballot. Once GMOs are labeled, we can make an informed choice. We have a right to know what’s in the food we are eating and feeding to our families. Visit for more information about the proposition and the truths vs. myths about it.
  • Buy Organic. All USDA certified organic foods are free of GMOs.
  • Avoid nonorganic products that contain GMO foods including soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, and sugar beets. Read labels. If the food contains high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, or sugar, it probably contains GMOs.
  • Look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. Some companies have voluntarily labeled their foods.
  • Shop at Trader Joe’s. All of their produce and all Trader Joe’s brand foods are sourced to be free of GMOs. So look for “Trader Joe’s” on the label.
  • Try Whole Food Market. Their 365 Everyday Value labeled foods are sourced to be free of GMOs.
  • Try Follow Your Heart labeled foods. They are also sourced to be free of GMOs.
  • Use the free iPhone app Shop No GMO.
  • Go to and download their shopping guide.
  • Visit for help choosing products without GMOs including supplements and vitamins.


  • The Future of Food is an important documentary about unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods. You can watch it here for free.
  • Here is a clip from the above documentary about the process of genetic engineering.
  • Even Dr. Oz supports the labeling of GMOs. See here.
  • Bill Maher supports GMO labeling too. See here.

Resources and References:

  • Why Genetically Modified Foods Should be Labeled, LA
  • Go to Then click on “GMO Myths and Truths” in the Featured Report section.
  • New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Séralini, G.-E. et al. Arch. Environ Contam Toxicol., 52: 596-602, 2007.
  • A three generation study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: Biochemical and histopathological investigation. Kilic A and Akay MT. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 46: 1164-1170, 2008.
  • Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Velimirov A et al. Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, Familie und Jugend Report, Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV Band 3/2008.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.