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An informed choice, not an excuse for lazy eating

by Grace Leung

JULY 2011

Nowadays, being healthy seems to be a very complicated task. As urban lifestyles become frantic yet sedentary, more and more people are exercising less, eating the wrong kind of food, and indulging in vices like drinking and smoking. Simply maintaining your current health condition, or even just your weight and waistline, takes a lot of effort.

Adding to the challenge is the difficulty in planning wellbalanced meals. This may be due to lack of information on nutrition, the prohibitive cost of food, or the lack of time allotted for preparing meals. The last reason accounts for the popularity of fast food meals and processed food, yet these unhealthy choices are not the only bad options in the market today.

What’s wrong with our food?

“The quality of the food that we eat is far below what we had 20 or 30 years ago, in terms of mineral content,” says Victor Vesuña, M.D., medical consultant for GNC (Philippines), a retailer of nutritional supplements. He explains that the difference may be due to the focus on mass production. “In the 50s, they ate free-range animals that eat a wide variety of food. Now, animals are confined in cages, are only fed one kind of food, and they are under stress. They inject them with antibiotics and hormones to make them big and fat. This goes into the system of the animals, and then goes into our system.”

Vegetables, he points out, are raised on overused, depleted soil and bombarded with pesticides that can be harmful when ingested.

Dr. Vesuña believes that the low quality of food, plus the inability of the average Filipino to buy a wide variety of food and plan his meals make it necessary to take dietary or nutritional supplements and compensate for deficiencies.

The U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 describes a dietary supplement as “a product that contains substances like vitamins, minerals, foods, botanicals, amino acids and is intended to supplement the usual intake of these substances.” Supplements come in pill, tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid form and are taken orally. The ones most of us are familiar with are multivitamins, calcium tablets, and protein drinks.

Dos and don’ts

If you do decide to take dietary supplements, here are a few guidelines:

• Consult a medical professional. Determining what nutrients you need should be based not only on your gender, age, or lifestyle. A doctor will also look into your overall health condition, including any diseases you may have. Certain diseases may be causing the deficiencies, and you need to address the disease, not just the deficiency.

• Research. Sales advises, “You have to do a lot of reading about the supplements you are taking. What may be good for others may not be good for you. You have to be careful.”

• Don’t think vitamins are harmless. Anything in excess, including vitamins, can be toxic. Frane cautions, “Some vitamins can be easily excreted in the urine because they are water-soluble, but others are fat-soluble. Overdosing could lead to problems.”

• Be aware of drug-to-drug interactions. There are supplements that should not be taken together, because they may hamper each other’s effectiveness. Some, on the other hand, are best taken together because one encourages the absorption of the other. Ask your doctor about interactions that should be taken into consideration.

• Don’t expect miracles. Supplements are not wonder drugs or miracle pills. The very name says they are only meant to supplement a healthy lifestyle. Don’t get drunk every night and expect to compensate by simply taking a liver capsule, or chain-smoke and hope herbal supplements can save your lungs. Popping a pill cannot take the place of a good diet, regular exercise, and adequate rest.

To continue reading our story on supplements, read our HealthToday July issue now out on the newsstands.


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