My Single Biggest Challenge

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by Dr. Jonny Bowden · 9 comments

If I had to pick the single biggest challenge I have as a health educator, it would be this:

Getting people to look beyond the headlines.

(Omega-3’s cause prostate cancer! Saturated fat causes heart disease! Vegetable oils are “good for us”!)

Looking deeper doesn’t come naturally to us—we’re a sound bite society with a short attention span and a lot of demands on our time. But to really understand anything—and that includes our health— we’ve got to dig deeper than the headlines.

Let me give you an example.

Back in the 1980’s, the go-to symbol for rock-star excess was known as the “M&Ms demand”.

Van Halen was the biggest rock touring band at the time and David Lee Roth—the flamboyant lead singer of the band– was the poster boy for over-the-top, demanding, entitled rock stars.

Why? Because of the famous “M&Ms demand”.

You see, Van Halen was known for a stupendously detailed and obnoxious 53 page rider to their contract, with very specific demands about technical and security requirements as well as a section called “Munchies” which laid out, in agonizing detail, exactly what was to be provided in the way of food and snacks.

The rider demanded potato chips, nuts, pretzels and— wait for it—M&M’s. But with one important caveat, which appeared in the contract in capital letters:


What a bunch of jerks, you might well think. A bunch of entitled, coddled rock stars throwing around stupid demands for no other reason than ego and the exercise of power.

Which is exactly what I thought all these years.

Until I read the whole story.

You see, Van Halen’s show had “colossal stage, booming audio and spectacular lighting”. And this required a tremendous amount of electrical power, structural support, and safety precautions to make sure that “no one got killed by a collapsing stage or short-circuiting light tower”.

But how to know that the concert promoters were actually paying attention?

How would the band know that these important safety requirements were in fact being followed?

So Roth who, despite having a massive ego, is anything but stupid—came up with a plan. As soon as the band arrived at the stadium where they’d be performing, Roth would immediately run backstage and check out the bowl of M&M’s. If he spotted the brown M&M’s, guess what—the promoter hadn’t read the rider.

This meant that the band had to do “a serious line check to make sure that the more important (safety) details hadn’t been botched either”.

Once you know this, your whole assessment of the “crazy rock bands demanding no brown M&Ms thing” changes, doesn’t it?

Before, you only knew a single piece of data—Van Halen has a ridiculous rider demanding no brown M&M’s. Now that you’ve read the “fine print”,  you see that same data point in a completely different way. You’ve put it into context—now it has a whole different meaning. The crazy power-mad rock star now comes off as a very crafty, forward thinking, safety-conscious responsible citizen.

The fine print makes all the difference.

Now let’s take a look at how that same principle applies to some of the data we regularly consume in the area of health and society. Like a few commonly accepted truths that also start to crumble when you read the fine print.

1.    Most marriages end in divorce.

True, statistically. But when you look at the data, it turns out that a relatively small number of people actually get divorced. How can that be? Simple. The high percent of marriages that end in divorce are driven by what we might call “serial divorcers”—people who keep getting married and then divorcing. In fact, though those folks drive the numbers up, they’re not in the majority.


2.    We’re winning the war on cancer.

People pushing conventional cancer treatments love to point to better “cancer survival rates” as proof that conventional treatment is really making a dent in cancer. What they don’t tell us is that cancers are often detected earlier now than they used to be, so the time from diagnosis to death is naturally longer. For example, if in the old days, Mr. Jones might get a diagnosis of prostate cancer at 78 and die at 79. Now, he would likely get the diagnosis at 73. He’d still be alive at 78 (just as he would’ve been in the old days) and by using the “5 year survival rate” metric, he’d be considered a “success”. But he still dies at 79.


3.    More children are being abducted in the US than ever before.

Child abduction rates in the US are rising, a fact that by itself would scare the bejeezus out of most parents. But look at the fine print. The rates are being driven up by couples in which the man and the woman were born in different countries with vastly different cultures. They find themselves in acrimonious, culture-clashing divorces with horrifically awful custody battles, and a fair number of them grab their kids and flee the country. Abduction rates overall go up. But the actual number of abductions of children by strangers isn’t rising at all and may even be declining.


4.    Eating Saturated Fat Leads to Heart Disease

Actually, eating saturated fat sometimes affects cholesterol, but it does not increase the risk for heart disease at all. And when it does lead to increased cholesterol, it’s because saturated fat raises generally protective HDL, as well as the big fluffy LDL-a particles, which are essentially neutral and harmless; at the same time, it lowers the number of hard dense LDL-b particles which are inflammatory and atherogenic.

In other words when you look at the “fine print”, you see your risk factors actually went down (even though your cholesterol may have gone up.)

Obviously this last one has been a burning passion of mine, having devoted an entire book to it. That’s because I believe the saturated fat and cholesterol myths have done more to further the epidemics of diabetes and obesity than almost any other wrong-headed notion in nutritional history.

But when you think about it, the saturated fat and cholesterol myths are just examples of the bigger trend: we don’t read the fine print anymore.

Maybe we should.

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Post image for Does it Really Cost More to Eat Healthy?

I want to talk to you about two subjects virtually everyone is interested in: food and money.

Specifically, I want to address the frequently heard complaint that it costs much more to eat healthy.

Don’t worry—I’m not going to give you a lecture about how much broccoli you could eat for the price of a Big Mac, or how, if you were really inventive, you could make a four course nutrient dense meal for the price of two large bags of Dorito’s and a 2 liter coke.

That stuff may be true, but it doesn’t speak to your experience, which is that calories are generally cheap, and good food (like grass-fed meat) isn’t. And that it takes a lot of work (and time!) to make healthy food that’s economically viable, while dropping by the take-out window at Taco Bell takes neither.

So let me start by saying two words about that: It’s true.

And let me follow it with two more: So what?

Now before you think I’m being calloused and unsympathetic, hear me out. When President Herbert Hoover spoke inspiringly of putting “a chicken in every pot”, chicken was an expensive commodity—in 1930, you’d pay a whopping $6.48 a pound for chicken (in today’s currency). Last year, in contrast, the price was $1.57.

So this is a good thing, right?

Well, yes and no.

See, one of the casualties of modern life is we’ve lost the ability to think ahead. We’re so focused on the now, on immediate ratification, that few of us stop to think of long range costs. This is why we have a credit card crisis in America. This is why “buy now pay later” is virtually the national anthem. And it affects every area of our lives. People lease cars based on how much their monthly payment is, not how much the real cost of the lease is over 3 years. We pay the minimum requirements on our credit card. We eat what tastes delicious now and figure we’ll start our diet “tomorrow”. Everything in modern life is skewed to sacrifice long range consequences on the altar of immediate reward. If it feels good now, do it—and worry about the consequences later.

And you can see just how well that’s been working out.

So sure, we can now get chicken for a buck and a half a pound. But the real costs of that “bargain” are hidden. Chickens are bred to grow breasts so large that they literally topple over and can barely breathe or stand. They are shot full of hormones, steroids and antibiotics (a contributing factor in the looming crisis around antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Many health professionals feel the “meat-cancer” connection that seems to show up in some association studies has little to do with meat and everything to do with the chemicals and hormones that the meat is filled with.

Sure, you can buy that kind of meat a lot cheaper than you can buy pasture-raised. But you’re kicking the can down the road. You may not be paying more cash at the register right now—but payment will come due just as sure as death and taxes, and it won’t be cheap.

That many diseases and conditions are lifestyle related is no longer in doubt. Lifestyle choices—and dietary choices especially—have a huge influence on cancer, cognitive impairment, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Calories are cheap in the standard American Diet, but the costs of that diet are anything but. You just don’t have to pay for them right now.

But pay for them you will. Make absolutely no mistake about that.

So does it cost more money to eat healthy? Sure it does—at least at first. But it costs even more not to eat well. You might not notice it right now, today, at the cash register. But a decade or two from now, the bill will come due.

And it won’t be fun.

Look, one of the most difficult lessons any of us as parents have to teach our children is to look at the long range picture. A 20 year old doesn’t care about what happens when he’s forty (let alone sixty)—he cares about Friday night. (That’s why it’s so hard to get kids to save money.)

But are we adults really any different?

Look, I have an advantage over a lot of you in that I’m in my 60’s and I know how this game turns out. I’m passionate about making people understand how much it matters to eat well when they’re younger because I know what it feels like “on the other side”. I’m 67, look 47, feel 37, and act 27. I have boundless energy. I get up without an alarm clock at 6 AM. I play tennis every day. I have a healthy libido and a wonderful relationship. I have a great career, amazing health, an optimistic outlook and I look forward to every day.

And I know—I know—that’s because I’ve been eating well (albeit a bit more “expensively”) since I was 38. And, like a person who’s been putting a few bucks away every month since he’s twenty and now, at 70, is enjoying millionaire status, I’m enjoying the results of 30 years of spending a little more and eating a little better.

And I can tell you that it’s worth it. Big time.

So does meat from grass-fed cows, eggs from free-range chicken, organic coffee and milk and strawberries and all the rest of it cost more? Sure it does. In the short run.

But if you can lift your head over the horizon to see the long view, that extra cash you’re laying out now will pay off in benefits you can’t even imagine.

Do the math. And then tell me whether or not it’s worth it.

I think it’s a no-contest. How about you?

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I’m often asked by magazines to compile lists of the most important supplements to take on a regular basis. One supplement that always makes the cut—no matter what—is magnesium, and here’s why.

First of all, magnesium deficiency can affect virtually every single organ system in the body. It’s involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions in the body, including fat, protein, and glucose metabolism, muscle and membrane transport, and energy production.

In a classic article called The Importance of Magnesium to Human Nutrition, Michael Schachter, M.D, devotes a full four paragraphs to the possible symptoms and problems associated with getting too little magnesium—they range from salt and carbohydrate cravings to panic attacks, PMS, mitral valve prolapse, palpitations, cramps, muscle tensions, and insomnia.

When I was a personal trainer and clients came to me with muscle cramps, the first order of business was always to make sure they were getting enough magnesium and potassium through supplements and food. That almost always takes care of the problem.

Second of all, it’s a relaxer—magnesium actually helps open up the blood vessel walls, making it very important for keeping blood pressure in a healthy range. (In fact, magnesium is one of the key recommended supplements in the nutritional protocol at the highly regarded Hypertension Institute in Nashville. You can read about it in my friend Mark Houston, MD, MA’s excellent book, “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Hypertension.”)

Third of all, it’s terrific for helping to lower or at least stabilize blood sugar, making it a top supplement in virtually all of the intelligent diabetes protocols I’ve ever seen. Magnesium also plays a critical role in the secretion and action of insulin. In the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, the risk for developing type 2 diabetes was significantly greater in both men and women with a lower intake of magnesium.

Speaking of which, almost no one is getting enough. Surveys consistently show that almost 3/4 of all Americans don’t even get even the paltry amount recommended in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (formerly National Academy of Sciences). (Those numbers range from 310 mg a day to 420 mg a day depending on sex, age and pregnancy, and most nutritionists I know, including me, consider them laughingly and inappropriately low.) According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 68% of American consumed less than the recommended daily allowance of this critical mineral. Even the National Institutes of Health states that “dietary intake may not be high enough to promote an optimal magnesium status, which may be protective against disorders such as cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction”.

So magnesium supplements always make my list of “most important to take on a daily basis”.

Which brings me to Effervescent Magnesium Citrate by DaVinci Labs.

While I take many of my supplements in pill form, I’m also a big fan of mixing them into shakes and drinks when an appropriate form can be found. I’ve tried mixing regular magnesium powder into shakes and, frankly, it usually doesn’t taste very good. What I love about effervescent magnesium citrate is it actually tastes like an orange drink. You can drink it by itself, mixed in water, or with a whole concoction of other powders, like I do. In fact, the orange, stevia-sweetened powder adds a nice fizzy texture and flavor to even icky tasting powders like the kind I drink regularly!

Now, instead of holding my nose when I drink down my daily morning powdered supplement mix, I actually look forward to it.

One small scoop provides 420 mg of magnesium citrate, and—just for good measure—a very nice 390 mg of potassium to boot.

This is a great product that I use every single day. Highly recommended! Try it now »

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Post image for The Science Alkaline Water Companies Don’t Want You To Know About

This is a guest blog by my friend, fitness expert and strength coach Jiini Cicero, BS, CSCS. 

I have a reputation at my gym for being a myth-buster. Not a week goes by that a client doesn’t ask me whether a particular “muscle-enhancing” supplement is legit (usually not) or how many studies support creatine’s efficacy (a good many, actually).

I admit: sometimes I have to research these queries. Such was the case when a long-time client recently showed me her alkaline water.

A few months before, this client had begun one of those pH-balanced diets. You know, the ones that emphasize alkaline-forming foods and frequently include charts to differentiate alkaline and acidic foods. To boost her body’s alkalinity, my client was downing four or five bottle of alkaline water daily.

I was intrigued (though admittedly a little skeptical too) but also determined to get to the bottom of whether this so-called miracle water – and pH-balanced diets themselves – are legit or just the latest hype.

What I found surprised and even disturbed me.

What is a pH-Balanced Diet Anyway?

If you weren’t sleeping in high school biochem, you’ll perhaps recall pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity (alkalinity) of a solution. If said solution is less than 7, its pH is acidic; over 7, it becomes basic or alkaline. For the record, pure water has a pH of nearly 7.

Based on those measures, some foods fall into the acidic camp while others are alkaline. Acid and alkaline foods are easy to classify. Fruits and veggies are alkaline, for instance, while meat, dairy, and grain are acidic.

Here’s where things get confusing. Proponents of pH-balanced diets believe every food leaves an acid or alkaline ash or residue in your body. A food can be acidic but leave an alkaline residue, or vice versa. Lemons, for example, have a pH of about 2 – 3 but leave an alkaline residue.

According to a pH-balanced diet, then, if we eat too many foods that form an acid residue – again, not the same thing as an acidic food – your blood can become acidic and all kinds of bad stuff can occur like cancer, osteoporosis, and sprouting devil’s horns. Okay, maybe not that last one.

That’s where my friend’s chart comes in. Without much research to substantiate them, “experts” categorize foods as alkaline-forming and acidic-forming. As I quickly discovered, many of those lists contradict each other and offer no scientific validation.

Busting The pH-Balanced Diet Myths

You spend your Saturday night at a friend’s house or maybe a movie or club. I spend mine reading studies and consulting critics about pH-balanced diets.

All for you, dear reader: I want to bust some myths so the next time your smarmy vegan sister reprimands you for eating “acidic” meat or your mother warns you certain foods create osteoporosis, you’ll be able to intelligently reply.

Myth #1: You Want Your Body to Be Alkaline.

False. Body tissues have different pH levels. Your vagina, for instance, should be acidic, since yeast infections can fester if vaginal tissue becomes too alkaline. (Sorry, guys, if that’s too much information.) And your stomach is incredibly acidic: about 2.0, in fact. Trust me, you wouldn’t be alive if you had an alkaline stomach!

Myth #2: Meat Comprises Most of the Acidic Food in our Diet.

False. According to my friend Dr. Jade Teta, 70% of the acidic foods in our diet come from grains and dairy. Yes, meat is acidic, which is why you eat lots of veggies with your steak.

Myth #3: Sugar is Acidic.

False. Fat, sugar, and starches have a neutral pH because they don’t contain minerals, sulfur, or protein. Now, combining these foods with other ingredients can shift the balance to acidic or alkaline.

Myth #4: You Can Test Your Urine to Determine Whether You’re Acidic.

False. Yes, food can change the pH of your urine, but measuring that pH is fairly useless because that’s no indication about your blood pH or much of anything else for that matter. “Worrying about the pH of your urine makes about as much sense as worrying about the dirt in your trash,” says Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva.

Myth #5: Food Can Change the pH of your Blood.

False. Blood pH is tightly regulated by your kidneys and other organs, which keep it at 7.4. Even slight deviations in blood pH can create serious and even fatal consequences, so your body has numerous checks and balances to keep that from happening.

Myth #6: Cancer Can Only Occur in an Acidic Environment

False. I hear this all the time: cancer can never occur in an alkaline environment, which becomes a legitimate reason to eat predominantly alkaline foods. Sorry folks, that’s just not true. At about 7.4, your blood’s pH is already alkaline, and like I said earlier, you can load up on alkaline-forming foods but it won’t affect blood pH.

Myth #7: Studies Show Acidic Foods can Trigger Osteoporosis, Muscle Wear, and Kidney Damage.

False. While these are all legitimate fears, do a PubMed search: very little evidence supports these theories.

Is the Fountain of Youth Alkaline?

If there’s a diet trend, leave it to Los Angeles to hop all over it. Such is the case with alkaline water, which is basically overpriced designer water with a higher pH level than regular water. Extra electrons in this special water, the story goes, can “clean up” free radical damage in your body.

Advocates claim among its benefits, alkaline water neutralizes acid in your bloodstream, prevents disease, increases nutrient absorption, and slows the aging process. That’s why my client was gulping this exorbitant stuff like we were suffering a drought tomorrow.

Dr. Joseph Mercola calls alkaline water “snake oil on tap” with little to substantiate it. “The reality is, most of the circulating information is distributed by clever marketers, with very little scientific validity to back up their claims,” he says.

Wait: that sounds a lot like pH-balanced diets!

More than just wasting money, alkaline water could also wreck your health. According to Dr. Mercola, “If you fall for this ‘water fad’ you could do some major damage.” Not to mention those nasty phthalates you’re putting in your body from plastic bottles!

Focus less on your water’s pH and more on quality. Always use pure filtered water and drink liberally. I use a liter-sized canteen and fill it three or four times a day. Many gyms have filtered water, and I have a purifier on my kitchen tap.

If you’ve got such a huge bank account to buy useless stuff like alkaline water – yeah, me neither – consider switching to pure filtered water and giving that extra money to a charity that funds clean water in impoverished countries.

Beyond the Hoopla: My Take-Away

If you haven’t guessed, I’m not crazy about pH-balanced diets, and neither were the highly credentialed experts I consulted. I didn’t find much science to support their validity. Besides, for most people they’re too confusing and contradictory.

That said, I do advocate a balance of acid and alkaline foods, which mimic what your Paleolithic ancestors ate. So if you eat a grass-fed sirloin, you want to load about half your plate with leafy and cruciferous veggies. If you have a few slices of cheese, throw them on an apple or salad to balance the acidity.

Your mother or maybe even grandmother taught you this stuff decades ago. As usual, they were on to something.

Visit Jini at to get her free e-zine, fitness tips, and lots of other cool stuff. Follow her @jinifit.

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Love is an Inner Game

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In the spirit of Valentine’s day, this is a guest post by my friend, Certified Master Weight Loss Coach Anja Christy. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you’re interested in health, wellness, and perhaps weight loss.  So, you may well be asking “What’s love got to do with it?” Actually, everything.  Let me explain. […]

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Death by Food Pyramid

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Today I want to talk to you about Death by Food Pyramid, the long awaited new book by Denise Minger (more about her in just a moment). Full disclosure—I don’t sell this book on my website, had nothing to do with it’s production, and have never even met the author (though we’ve exchanged maybe two […]

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Jenny McCarthy Thinks Vaccines Cause Autism? Not so fast…

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OK, so what do you know about Jenny McCarthy? People who read People  (sorry, I couldn’t resist..) will know all about her Playboy years, her failed relationship with Jim Carrey, her years on MTV and all the other assorted TMZ fodder— but I’m not talking about that stuff. I’m talking about her views on autism. […]

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Busting Myths About Calories + Cholesterol

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Two of my favorite myths to bust are… The myth that cholesterol causes heart disease. The myth that all calories are the same. Earlier in the year I was interviewed by Jonathan Bailor and here are the myths we busted together… The Great Cholesterol Myth The four major promoters of heart disease (none of them […]

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Rogue Nutritionist in the Raw

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In previous blog posts I pointed you to a controversial new documentary titled Heart of the Matter that included a few brief quotes from me. Those little snippets are actually excerpts from a 24 minute interview by the producer of the film. Here is the full unedited version of the interview if you want to […]

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New Guidelines for Statin Drugs: Watch and Decide!

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On Tuesday, Nov 12, two of the nations leading heart organizations—the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology– released new guidelines on the use of statin drugs for the prevention of heart disease. The new guidelines—about which more in a moment—are a giant step forward towards the goal of having every American over […]

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Controversial New Heart Disease Documentary Comes Under Attack

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Do you have any interest in heart disease, saturated fat, cholesterol or statin drugs? Because if you— or anyone you know or love—is affected by any of those topics, there’s a documentary I really want to urge you to watch. And by the way– the Australian heart establishment lobbied like crazy to keep this from […]

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Video: The Great Cholesterol Myth

There’s Much More Where This Came From Get all the nitty gritty details in my book The Great Cholesterol Myth » The Supplements Mentioned in this Video Omega-3s » Magnesium » CoQ10 » Citrus bergamont » D-ribose » Curcumin » Resvertarol » Vitamin D » Vitamin C » Tweet

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