Healthy Living

Question of the Month

Q. What time of day should I be taking my vitamins? Should I take them with food or on an empty stomach?

A. The best time of day is one when you will remember to take your supplements regularly. Taking your vitamins and minerals consistently is what counts the most. When it comes to food, the fat-soluble vitamins have better absorption when combined with a small amount of fat in a food. While some nutrients (like iron) are best absorbed on an empty stomach, many people find they experience some digestive upset. The best rule of thumb is to take your vitamin at the same time of day, with a meal or with a small snack.

Burned Meat and Cancer Risk

While there are few things better than a backyard barbecue, there are a few rules that will provide a healthier meal for you and your family. The connection between burnt, crispy meat products and cancer risk comes from the chemical transformation by extreme heat of compounds naturally found in meat products. These byproducts of grilling, called heterocyclic amines (HAs), have been linked to increased risk of several kinds of cancer.

So the next time you fire up the grill, try cooking your meat, poultry and fish on a lower heat for a longer period to avoid blackened and burnt parts. Or, simply cut them off and don’t eat them. You can also partially pre-cook the food on the stove or microwave, and finish off on the grill. Buy an instant meat thermometer so you don’t go overboard in the other direction and undercook meat – which also can be a problem. Think of Goldilocks and her porridge: not overcooked, not undercooked, but just right. Aim for an internal temperature of 160 degrees for optimal food safety.

Exercise and Arthritis

One of the best lifestyle strategies to ease arthritis is exercise. Start by first discussing your exercise goals and plan with your doctor. There might be off-limit activities specific to your own joint status. A variety of exercises is compatible for those with arthritis, including warm-water exercise (swimming, water aerobics), walking, tai chi and yoga. The benefits of exercising with arthritis can help support physical strength, improve arthritis symptoms and help provide an upbeat mental attitude. The Pittsburgh area has multiple locations for a program called PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise) to help you get started. Or, visit for more information.

Become a Locavore for Better Health

Want to save money and stay healthy? Become a locavore – a person who shops for locally grown and seasonally available foods. And it’s not just fruits and vegetables. In Western Pennsylvania, we have farmers and local companies producing everything from cheeses to meat to jams, in addition to growing an amazing variety of fruits and vegetables.

All across our region, farmers’ markets make this possible. It’s a great feeling to know where your food is coming from, and it’s nice to give support to our local businesses as well. From spring to the end of autumn, the local growing season provides a continuous bounty of nature’s colorful fruits and vegetables. Freshness is guaranteed, since the food is grown just hours (or less) from where it’s purchased.

Locally grown foods are a win-win for your health, your wallet and the business health of our farming community. Get started by looking for a weekly farmers’ market or farm stand near your home or workplace. You might also consider joining a co-op, where you’ll have the option to participate in a working farm.

If you have a health question for Dr. Fernstrom, e-mail her at

Dr. Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S., is the founder and director of UPMC’s Weight Management Center. She is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s "Today Show" and is the author of The Runner’s Diet. Also visit "Health Journal with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom," a health and wellness blog at

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