Health News & Opinion

Hi, I'm Ben

BenMy name is Ben Hanson. As the Lead Web Content Specialist (fancy name for "writer") for Swanson Health Products, I get to learn a lot about vitamins and supplements, the different natural health disciplines and overall wellness. I'm not an expert...yet...but I hope to offer some insight into health and nutrition that you can apply in your own life.

When I started at Swanson, I was your average American: more than a little overweight, low energy levels, eating a diet of processed foods and I rarely got enough exercise. My body was craving a change, and working for Swanson gave me the perfect opportunity to learn how to improve my health the right way. If you're looking for a change, you've come to the right place. If you're looking for a vibrant community, I invite you to check out our Facebook page (where I spend a large chunk of my day).

Check back often to get the latest news and updates in the world of health and wellness, or consider subscribing to our RSS feed. And if you're looking for the best deals on discount vitamins and minerals, sign up for our emails to get even better deals with our weekly promotions and sales.

Cheers to Good Health!

BUSTED: Top 5 Myths of Probiotics!

Thursday, April 24, 2014 by Ben H

Probiotic Myths

1) Some Probiotic Strains Are Better Than Others

Ultimate 16 Strain Probiotic combination formulaYes and no. The biggest problem is that while probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in your intestinal tract, there are trillions of organisms in your intestinal tract and dozens if not hundreds of different strains of good bacteria there as well. As a result, it’s impossible to say for certain which particular probiotic strain is “best” because it varies greatly from one person to the next. What’s ideal for you will be different than what’s ideal for your neighbor, because your two bodies maintain differing levels of those trillions of organisms. This is also a big reason why most people prefer probiotic combination formulas like Dr. Stephen Langer’s Ultimate 16 Strain Probiotic instead of formulas offering just one or two strains of probiotics.

One thing that makes it even more confusing is advertising. Company A may promote a study done on their product suggesting that the single strain they are using is the “most important” or “best strain” compared to any other—this can even confuse the health professionals. Studies are good to show a benefit for a product, but some are designed to show a specific result that virtually any probiotic will offer. When that information isn’t shared (that the one particular study could’ve been done on any strain and likely show the same outcome), it makes the highlighted product look unique and different when in reality it’s unlikely any different than a hundred other strains.


2) All Probiotics Need to Be Refrigerated

The need for refridgeration will vary from product to product, so it’s important to pay attention to the label. If it doesn’t say anything about refrigeration, you can assume it’s not needed.

Twenty years ago, it was commonly understood that if the probiotics weren’t refrigerated, there was a good chance that the bacteria would die off. However, technology has been developed that allows today’s probiotics to be stable at room temperature… it’s kind of like suspended animation instead of cold storage.

Unfortunately, that old idea was so prevalent that many people to this day still do not trust a probiotic that wasn’t refrigerated. As a result, some companies continue to offer probiotics that need to be refrigerated, further perpetuating this myth. The simple answer is if the bottle says to refrigerate, then it should be refrigerated; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. At this point it’s entirely personal preference whether or not you choose a probiotic that requires refrigeration.


3) If You Can’t Feel Them Working, Probiotics Are Dead

There is an easy way to test the activity of a probiotic when you get it… make a batch of yogurt from one of the pills! There are various recipes online that you can find to make yogurt from a capsule, and it’s the best way to ensure that the bacteria are viable without guessing. Here’s a great vegan yogurt recipe that uses coconut:


Vegan Coconut Yogurt RecipeVegan yogurt


  • 3/4 to 1 cup coconut water
  • 16 ounces (453 grams) raw coconut meat
  • Probiotic powder (approximately 2 capsules worth)


  1. Blend the coconut water and coconut meat until smooth.
  2. Add the probiotic powder (simply open the capsules and dump the contents into the blender) and blend briefly.
  3. Pour into a bowl (or jar) big enough to allow a bit of room to expand. Gently place a lid on top and set your coconut yogurt to culture on your counter for 8-16 hours. The longer it cultures, the more yogurt-y it becomes in taste.
  4. When you’re ready to eat it, feel free to sweeten it and/or add extracts like vanilla, fresh fruit, etc.

NOTE: Yogurt will culture faster in warmer weather so the culturing time may vary. If you live in a cooler climate, you may want to use a temperature controlled yogurt maker. Once cultured, this yogurt will keep for up to seven days in a sealed container in the fridge.



4) Probiotic Supplements Must Be Enteric Coated

There has been a lot of research on this question, and you’d be surprised by the findings: research has shown that probiotics are better without the special coatings.

In nearly all cases, they come in capsules that are designed to withstand stomach acids in order to deliver the probiotics to the right place within your GI tract, but enteric coating is actually not the best solution. And here’s why...

It's kind of an odd statement, since the enteric coating prevents the probiotic capsule from breaking down in the stomach (too soon to be effective). But the enteric coating process requires a lot of heat, and that heat can destroy some of the probiotics before you even get the product.

So if you start with an equal amount of probiotics in two different pills and have one of them enteric coated, the one without the coating will have a better result in the intestinal tract (when taken with food) than the one that's enteric coated. That's the main reason why most of our Swanson Probiotics are not enteric coated unless the strains are more resistant to heat than they are to stomach acid.


Swanson Probiotics

5) I Don’t Need Probiotics... I Eat Yogurt

There are a couple things wrong with this assumption. For starters, you need to pay close attention to the nutrition facts label on your yogurt to make sure what you’re eating isn’t loaded up with added sugar. Obviously, a carefully formulated probiotic supplement isn’t going to contain hidden calories like some yogurts do.

Then the question really becomes how much beneficial gut bacteria you are really getting from yogurt. There are a couple of brands that have plunked down quite a bit of money on short studies so they can show some benefits from consumption of their yogurt, but the participants in those studies ate the yogurt a few times each day.

So unless you plan on eating a few cups of yogurt every day, you’re not likely to see the same benefits or gain any sort of regular digestive support. Probiotic supplements, on the other hand, deliver carefully measured daily servings of probiotics in much higher concentrations. If regular maintenance is what you’re after, a high quality probiotic formula may be the better choice.


What’s your take? Do you take probiotics on a regular basis? What results have you experienced?

GIVEAWAY: Twinlab® 100% Whey Fuel™ + Complete NutriBullet® System

Monday, April 21, 2014 by Ben H

If you think you’ve still got time before “swimsuit season” arrives, you do... but not much! It’s time to put your plan into action, hit the gym and get back on track with a healthy diet. And the rockstars over at Twinlab® have hooked us up with one amazing giveaway package to help one lucky person kick off their spring rejuvenation in style! (Giveaway details at the end.)

Twinlab 100% Whey Fuel

100% Whey Fuel™

  • 25g protein per serving from 100% whey
  • Instantized for easy, no-blender-required mixing
  • Incredibly thick, rich taste, even in water
  • Enzyme-assisted formula to promote comfortable digestion

Twinlab 100% Whey Fuel is exactly what your workout has been missing. It’s the best tasting protein powder they’ve ever developed. 100% Whey Fuel is a superior blend of high quality, bioavailable whey protein that's completely “instantized,” meaning it dissolves quickly and mixes up easily in your favorite shaker bottle.

Twinlab 100% Whey Fuel Prize

How Does it Fuel Your Workout?

If you’re in the gym, you’re there to create lean muscle mass and tone your body. Twinlab’s 100% Whey Fuel supports muscle protein anabolism, which promotes that muscle growth after you’ve completed your workout. But it also helps promote performance in the gym while you’re cranking out rep after rep (or mile after mile), as well as post-workout recovery.

Clinical studies show that whey protein is one of the most anabolic, muscle-building proteins available, providing a rapid drive of amino acids to skeletal muscle tissue, thereby supporting your weight training efforts in the gym. It’s all about maximizing your gains, and this protein powder is built... well, to put it simply, it’s built to get you built!

Research also shows that whey protein is among the most easily digested and absorbed proteins, and has one of the highest Protein Efficiency Ratios, providing more branched chain amino acids than most other protein powders. It’s a top choice of serious athletes, bodybuilders and power lifters.


GIVEAWAY—Sponsored by Twinlab®

Follow the directions below to enter to win a 3-pack of 100% Whey Fuel™ pouches + a Nutri-Bullet blender! We’ll draw 1 winner next Monday at random from all entries received! (If you're reading this post as an email update, please click here.)




As "Meatless March" Comes to a Close... What Did Our Three Challengers Learn?

Monday, April 7, 2014 by Ben H

Meatless marchThe latest #SwansonChallenge was "Meatless March." Thirty-one days, no meat. One of our three challengers even decided to go vegan, eliminating all animal products from her diet. There were not other official rules other than abstaining from meat in all forms. The goal was to see, if only very unscientifically, how this one single dietary change may affect three very different people who led three very different lives and followed three equally different diets leading up to March. 

I (Ben) had been working full time hours at Swanson, as well as coaching high school swimming in the evenings for nearly seven months striaght. I had made excuses not to visit the gym or pack a healthy lunch, so my lifestyle had definitely veered into the unhealthy.  Courtney, a long time vegetarian, was already eating quite a healthy diet when this challenge began. After toying with the idea to make the change to a vegan diet, she decided now was the perfect opportunity to give it a go. And finally, Dillon was our in-house CrossFit athlete, abiding by the Paleo diet full of meat protein. Yes, he loves bacon and talks about it non-stop.Of the three, most of us were more interested to see how Dillon would handle "Meatless March."

And now that the month is over, it's time to hear what they learned and see the actual physical results from their before and after blood tests...

Blood Test


Ben's Meatless March Review:

Now that “Meatless March” is over, I can say with the certainly that only comes from experience that “going vegetarian” is not difficult. My 31-day experiment went by quickly, without any pain and hardly any sorrow over the loss of meat. And, frankly, I am a bit surprised how easy it really was.

Ben's Meatless March Results

My friends asked me (and my wife, Emily, who thankfully joined in whole-heartedly with this challenge) throughout the month how things were going, what was I eating, how badly did I just want to cave in and order up a pepperoni pizza... And I smiled and politely told them that no, I was actually doing just fine. I felt great. I had lots of energy. I remembered what hunger really felt like. And oh what glorious regularity did I enjoy. Here’s my candid tip: if for no other reason, try going vegetarian for a month simply to clean house! The first four days were a bit uncomfortable, but from then on it was smooth sailing.

And the Indian food. Oh my heavens the Indian food. My wife and I discovered an entirely new cuisine thanks to some friends who drug us out to a locally-owned placed called India Palace. We ate there four times during the month and have already been back once this month... still opting for the vegetarian dishes we enjoyed in March. Committing to a diet forces you to explore new and wonderful foods that you would otherwise lie to yourself about “trying later.”

Other favorite foods from “Meatless March”:

  • Black Bean Taco Pizza (on the grill)
  • Breakfast Enchilladas with Eggs, Peppers & Black Beans
  • Hummus (it’s the perfect side/app for any meal)
  • Grilled Garlic Mashed Potato Pizza w/Broccoli (yes, it may be better with bacon, but...)
  • Homemade Broccoli Cheese Soup
  • Cheesey Ranch Baked Potatoes (can you see why I didn’t lose any weight?)
  • Indian Food, all of it... with all of the amazing spices

Vegetarian Dishes

The one slight disappointment with the whole thing was the fact that I actually gained a couple of pounds. I specifically chose not to change anything else about my current diet simply for the fact of creating the best test results (only change one thing to make sure any changes can be attributed to that one change). My diet over the winter—leading into “Meatless March”—was not that healthy and certainly not conducive to miraculous weight loss, so the fact that minimal change happened on the scale shouldn’t really be a shock. But, alas, I still held out hope.

After four days now of being “back on meat,” I should also mention how quickly my body went back into a more lethargic state of being. I had gotten used to feeling lighter (although that must’ve been my imagination, clearly), never being at all bloated and pretty evenly energized throughout the day. After the few meals I did indulge (or over indulge) with a cheeseburger or a slice of sausage pizza, I definitely felt slower and heavier.

Conclusion: I think this vegetarian diet is pretty great, although I’m not ready to make the switch full time. After talking it over at length with my wife, I think our plan is to be weekday vegetarians. If any of you have thoughts or tips on this, please share in the comments section below. And share any other thoughts or suggestions you may have for any of us, sharing what works best for you.


Courtney's Meatless March Review:

A couple things surprised me about this challenge. First, how judgmental people got. I really shouldn’t be surprised by the judgy-ness, obviously; people love to give you their opinion. But how freely other people decided that my personal dietary choices were deserving of ridicule—and that it was somehow their place to do so—was hurtful and offensive. Really, why should a random Facebook friend care if I opt not to eat eggs? I had a family member express relief that I don’t plan to stay 100% vegan. We have dinner with you once a month. Maybe I’m just feeling defensive, but is it really that hard?Courtney's Meatless March Results

Second, the fact that I found myself eating fewer vegetables than I used to. Before, we would have a (veggie) burger and roasted broccoli, or (portabella) steaks and green beans. This past month, however, we’d have (veggie) pizza or a noodle stir-fry. Not that these things weren’t delicious, but I actually miss a having dedicated vegetable component. An easy enough fix, though.

I can’t say I noticed any real difference in how I felt, my energy levels, or much else. I was unhappy to see my weight has gone up, albeit slightly, but that was more likely due to a total lack of policing of how much or how often I was eating than anything else.

Vegan Food!

One of my resolutions for 2014 was to make better dairy choices: ethically and locally sourced dairy where available or non-dairy alternatives. Unfortunately I’ve been finding that most vegan substitutes are awful—they taste like raw tofu blended with plastic. I have a feeling if I permanently committed to a vegan diet, I’d get to the point where I wouldn’t miss it, but I’m just not there yet and I have to admit I will be very happy to have real dairy back in the rotation. There were plenty of vegan keepers though: I liked the pancakes better than the non-vegan version, plus you don’t need to have milk or eggs on hand in order to make them. The vegan hollandaise sauce is good… and so much better for you (and easier to make) than the regular version that uses obscene amounts of butter and egg yolks. My husband has actually requested the Drunken Noodles again. Beyond Meat brand ‘chicken’ strips are perfect for fajitas or boneless hot wings. Earth Balance buttery sticks and spread taste and cook just like dairy butter.

I have a few vegan cookbooks now and some new favorite websites, and I’ll keep trying new recipes. I also plan to keep my lunches mostly vegan and keep vegan meals in the mix for dinner. Every little compassionate choice makes a difference!


Dillon's Meatless March Review:

Four weeks without meat—something I wouldn’t have guessed would be so easy but still challenging. I was surprised how few choices most restaurants had that did not include meat. Many restaurants had only one or two items that I could eat. I encountered only a few places that offered a wide variety of dishes that excluded meat. This experience was eye opening. I have always noticed things like this, but they never really affected me so I didn’t pay it much attention.Dillon's Meatless March Results

I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to come close to reaching many of my nutrient needs. However I was discouraged by eating similar foods again and again. I don’t fault the diet for this—more than likely it was due to the short amount of time. A month is not a lot of time to get comfortable with such a drastic change and experience everything it has to offer.

Am I going to become a vegetarian? I don’t think so. Not because I had a bad experience, I just don’t like having such rigid restrictions with my diet. However, I have learned that I don’t need to eat meat in every dish or with every meal. It could save me money, and judging by my updated health screening, many of my cholesterol panel metrics improved. I look forward to striking a balance between my old diet and a vegetarian diet.

Try This Non-GMO High Protein Weight Loss Shake (For Free!)

Monday, March 24, 2014 by Ben H

Garden of Life believes that healthy soil provides healthy food, which in turn leads to healthy people. Founded in 2000 and headquartered in Florida, the company’s philosophy is raw, organic whole food nutrition... including their RAW Fit High Protein Weight Loss shake.

RAW Fit ProteinRAW Fit was designed to help you achieve your weight loss goals with the right nutrition, grown from ingredients that are non-GMO verified, vegan, gluten free, dairy free and soy free. This weight loss shake is also a low glycemic index supplement that can help fight cravings and satisfy your hunger for safe, yet effective weight management.

  • Raw
  • Vegan
  • Certified Organic
  • Gluten Free
  • Dairy Free
  • Lactose Free
  • Soy Free
  • NO Fillers
  • NO Synthetic Nutrients
  • NO Artificial Flavors
  • NO Artificial Sweeteners
  • NO Preservatives


High Protein for Weight Loss

A healthy weight loss program needs to include an exercise component, and part of that exercise component should ideally focus on the development of healthy lean muscle (as well as fat burning). Ensuring adequate supplies of healthy protein will help prime your body for this lean muscle development. But not all protein powders are created equal.

RAW Fit is an organic, completely raw, plant-based vegan protein powder that makes it easy to add extra high quality protein (28g per serving!) to your daily diet. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that mixes great with your favorite beverage and includes clinically studied ingredients (all raw and organic) to help support your body’s own fat burning potential, maintain healthy blood sugar levels already within the normal range, boost your energy and help you achieve your weight management goals.


RAW Protein Powder

Why Does RAW Matter?

Heat can denature proteins, reducing their availability to your body. So it’s a simple matter of ensuring the protein gets delivered to you in a way your body can recognize and utilize to its fullest potential. Garden of Life’s USDA Certified Organic plant proteins are gently produced at low temperatures, without any added fillers or carriers, preserving their complete amino acid integrity and whole-food, organic, non-GMO goodness.


GIVEAWAY—Sponsored by Garden of Life®

Follow the directions below to enter to win a tub of RAW Fit! We’ll draw 2 winners next Monday at random from all entries received!



NOTE:  If you are reading this in an email, simply click the title of this post at the top of your email to get to the live post on the Swanson Health Blog, where you will find the giveaway entry form. If you’re not signed up but would like to receive free email updates from the Swanson Health Blog with new articles delivered right to your email inbox, click here to sign up!