Health & Life: Is Pill Popping Ruining Our Diet?; RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS BENEFITS AND DANGERS

By Parkes, Diane | Birmingham Evening Mail (England), September 14, 1999 | Go to article overview

Health & Life: Is Pill Popping Ruining Our Diet?; RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS BENEFITS AND DANGERS


Parkes, Diane, Birmingham Evening Mail (England)


How healthy is 'health food'? Are we ensuring ourselves long and healthy lives - or is it all just a big con? Women's Editor DIANE PARKES investigates.

HEALTH food became THE fad of the 1980s and hasn't looked back since. People were no longer just happy buying diet staples - all of a sudden, they started splashing out extra cash on weird extracts and bottles of pills.

But are they really necessary? Indeed, are they good for you? If a person is eating a balanced diet, why should they need any added extras at all?

Part of the problem is that more and more people are not eating a balanced diet. Run off their feet with the hectic demands of modern life, few families now sit down to dinner together.

And even fewer take the time to make sure what they are eating is healthy.

Frozen, pre-cooked and convenience foods have taken over from fresh or garden produce in countless households. While a burger and fries may fill you up, it could be leaving you sadly deficient in nutrients.

Magic cure

The increase in work burdens, traffic, financial concerns and social pressures can leave people feeling battered and suffering from various stress-related illnesses.

Instead of looking for the cause and treating that, isn't it easier to take a 'magic cure'?

Or is it that with the medical profession often only willing to prescribe painkillers, people are taking their health into their own hands and turning to age-old knowledge to benefit their health?

A healthy and balanced diet is a far better bet than popping pills each day, says Birmingham dietician and spokesman for the British Dietetic Association, Lyndel Costain.

"The Department of Health has issued clear, research-based guidelines telling us the vitamin and mineral needs of infants, children, adults, pregnant and breast-feeding women," she says.

"There is worldwide consensus amongst nutrition scientists and dieticians that most people can more than meet these needs simply by making sure they have a healthy, balanced diet."

She goes even further.

"There are so many goodies in food that they simply cannot be replaced by a pill," she argues. "Studies have found that vitamin supplements generally have NO effect on protecting us from heart disease or cancer.

"And some did more harm than good."

Research has shown that the majority of people who use supplements are health-conscious, and so the chances are that they are already eating a healthy diet, and doing plenty of exercise. As such, they are unlikely to be deficient in nutrients.

There is actually a risk in taking too much of some vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, B6 and D and zinc, selenium and beta carotene. And an overdose of some nutrients can reduce the intake of others.

Too much zinc cuts down the amounts of iron and copper which can be absorbed by the body.

"There is a place for supplements, but most healthy people who are taking them may not need them at all," says Lyndel.

"You need to look at the whole picture. Someone could be taking their daily supplements thinking it is an insurance policy. It may stop them being iron-deficient but it will not protect them against cancer.

"One of the problems is that the sale of supplements is an unregulated industry. People could be taking things to combat fatigue, for example, when the cause could be a serious medical reason."

There are, however, some people who may need multivitamin and mineral supplements to ensure they are reaching the recommended daily amounts. These include new vegetarians, dieters, heavy drinkers and many elderly people.

It is also worth checking with your doctor whether supplements would be advisable if you are a woman with heavy periods, planning pregnancy, pregnant or breast-feeding, a vegan, heavy smoker or on a restricted diet.

"If people want an insurance policy, the best bet is a multi-vitamin," says Lyndel. …

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