“To Eat or Not to Eat” That is the Question

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The other day, after a long walk (up a big hill), I was complaining about the stiffness in my legs when my friend asked,  “don`t you take magnesium?”  I was initially a little stumped by the question and wondered what my sore legs had to do with a supplement?

Later in the week, my mother-in-law asked, if she should switch from her fish oil to a Krill oil supplement.  As a nutritionist, I had the same answer to both questions.  Save your money, eat real food.   I decided I had to write about–the value of the food supplement.

Today, we all want to be healthy- to live a long life free of major sickness or ailments.  In an effort to achieve this, people spend a lot of money on supplements, to treat or prevent aches and pains, believing they will get all the nutrition they need from these supplements.

Practically every magazine, newspaper or TV commercial will include messages on the benefits of food supplementation.  Nutrition supplementation includes things like multivitamins, foods fortified with calcium, nutrition replacement drinks, powders that can be mixed with water or juice, capsules or pills and the list goes on and on.

It is wrong to assume that supplementation would have the same effect on or be absorbed the same by everyone.  My mother is a great example.  As a slight woman, she worries about osteoporosis – bone loss that can lead to bone fractures.  In an effort to prevent bone loss; mom took a calcium supplement and her body reacted!  She experienced cramps in her feet and her eyes become red and sore.  She stopped the supplements and the reaction went away.  Today, her cupboard of opened but unused calcium supplement is rather impressive and she still hasn’t found one that she doesn’t react negatively to.

Let’s look at some of the tactics to get us to buy supplements.

Marketing Campaigns That Separate You – From Your Money

1)    Poor soil conditions

We need supplementation because our food supply is compromised.  Soils are depleted of nutrients like zinc, calcium and selenium and since most of our foods come from the ground – our food supply lacks the essential vitamins and minerals needed meet our body’s nutritional requirements.

Ali’s Solution: eat a wide variety of food and if you have spare money- buy organic.  Either way if you have variety you`ll get adequate vitamins and minerals to meet your daily nutrient requirements.

2)    Early harvesting of fruits and vegetables

Remember the days when you went to the supermarket and could only buy in-season produce, I do.  Those days are gone! Today in the coldest of cold months you can buy bananas, plums, mangoes and strawberries. Foods once reserved for summer or fall are now available all year round.

How is it that summer foods can be purchased in our local grocery stores when the temperature outside is so cold that going for a walk is almost unthinkable? The foods are picked when they are immature, stored in temperature and humidity controlled warehouses and shipped in temperature and humidity controlled containers so they ripen on route.  If you’re lucky -the bananas are no longer green but yellow when they arrive on the shelf for you to buy.

Ali’s Solution: eat a wide variety of in-season foods, they’re cheaper and have a higher nutrient content than those shipped around the world.  Frozen is always great too and offers value for money.

3)    Too busy to eat

On the run with a million things to do; no time for a meal – enjoy a liquid meal replacement drink (a meal in a glass) and you’ll be ready to face the day.

Ali’s Solution:  Not so quick, food does more than just provide vitamins and minerals it provides dietary fiber that helps us to lower cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk, is a natural laxative, and helps us to stay satiated (full) between meals.  Learn to slow down, smell the flowers and enjoy a meal.

4)    Stress destroys our digestive enzymes

Our busy stressed-out lives reduce our ability to process foods – vitamin supplementation helps digestion.

Ali’s Solution:  slow down; go for a walk, or sit in the park and try some deep breathing exercises.  Inhale deeply to the count of four – hold for a moment – exhale to the count of five, continue for 5 minutes.  Sit a few more minutes before carrying on to the next task or chore on your to-do-list.

The above are just some of the campaigns aimed at getting you to buy nutritional supplements.  When you buy, someone is making money!  If you choose to spend money on supplements that`s fine, however; I encourage you to take stock of what you’re taking and ask yourself- how do they make you feel? Do you feel better or worse when taking them?  Remember, just because something is marketed to make you feel better, doesn’t mean it will.

There are times when supplements can be beneficial, for example when you feel a cold coming on, a mega dose of vitamin C (drinking a large glass of orange juice or taking a 500 mg vitamin C capsule) may mask the symptoms.  However, the reality is once your body has absorbed all the ascorbic acid (vitamin C) it needs the unabsorbed water soluble vitamin will be excreted in your urine and flushed down the toilet – there goes your money!

You should be aware that some medical conditions, medications and stages of life can increase or decrease your requirements for nutrients.  One classic example is women of child bearing years for whom it is recommended that a folic acid supplement is taken daily.  The risks, to mother and child, in the event of an undiagnosed folate deficiency, can lead to long term health implications.  Here the cost versus the benefit ratio is worth the added money for a Folate (B vitamin) supplement.  Folate is a water soluble vitamin so any excess will be excreted in your urine with no risk of toxicity.


Ali`s Recommendation:  If you want to be healthy and reduce your chances of sickness – eat real food.  Choose from a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods including beans, nuts, colorful fruits and vegetables, and natural whole grains.  Try to mix and match different foods each day to increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.

If you decide that you need/want to take supplements, please take the time to consult your local nutritionist or physician for guidance on the potential positive/negative effects of supplementation depending on your individual health status.

If you have any questions about this blog or how healthy eating please drop me a line at ask Allison.

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