People use dietary supplements for a wide assortment of reasons. Some seek to compensate for diets, medical conditions, or eating habits that limit the intake of essential vitamins and nutrients. Other people look to them to boost energy or to get a good night's sleep. Postmenopausal women consider using them to counter a sudden drop in estrogen levels.
Vitamins can be natural or synthetic. Natural vitamins are extracted from food sources, while synthetic vitamins are formulated in laboratory processes. The only vitamin for which there is a noted difference between the natural and synthetic forms is vitamin E. The natural form is labeled d-alpha-tocopherol while the synthetic form is named dl-alpha-tocopherol, with the extra "l" signifying laboratory production. Natural vitamin E has been shown to be slightly more absorbable by the body than the synthetic version, although for other vitamins no significant differences in absorption have been noted.
Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s a larger portion. If you don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy greens or round off the meal with fruit.
Loss of taste. Some medicines alter your sense of taste making you lose your appetite. Ask your health care professional if there are alternatives to the medicine you're taking. You might also experiment with spices to make foods tastier. Also, rotating tastes of each food on your plate, rather than eating one food at once, can help you taste various flavors better. Foods with strong scents also taste better, since taste and smell are linked.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food pyramid system (www.mypyramid.gov) provides a good start by recommending that the bulk of your diet come from the grain group—this includes bread, cereal, rice and pasta— the vegetable group; and the fruit group. Select smaller amounts of foods from the milk group and the meat and beans group. Eat few—if any—foods that are high in fat and sugars and low in nutrients. The amount of food you should consume depends on your sex, age and level of activity.
If you do decide to diet, you still need to maintain good nutrition. You want to cut back on calories, not nutrients. And while you want to reduce fat, don't eliminate it entirely. Some studies suggest that older women who maintain a higher body-fat percentage are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis and other conditions associated with menopause. Fat cells also retain estrogen, which helps maintain the calcium in your bones. Younger women should be careful, too: a low body fat percentage can lead to infertility; below 17 percent may lead to missed periods, also known as amenorrhea.
There's a lot of advice out there on how to eat healthy, and if we're being honest, it can sometimes feel like too much to think about. Especially when you're hungry (AKA always). Remember when you were a kid and eating was as simple as open, chew, enjoy? Yes, those were simpler times. Now, knowing how to eat healthy doesn't seem quite as straightforward. Between the diet fads, gourmet trends, and a rotating roster of superfoods, eating well has gotten, well, complicated.
As continual research on the properties of supplements accumulates, databases or fact sheets for various supplements are updated regularly, including the Dietary Supplement Label Database, Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database, and Dietary Supplement Facts Sheets of the United States. In Canada where a license is issued when a supplement product has been proven by the manufacturer and government to be safe, effective and of sufficient quality for its recommended use, an eight-digit Natural Product Number is assigned and recorded in a Licensed Natural Health Products Database. The European Food Safety Authority maintains a compendium of botanical ingredients used in manufacturing of dietary supplements.
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"Creatine is one of the most popular supplements, with over 100 studies consistently showing it can work in muscle cell recovery in athletes who engage in high-intensity, short-burst activity such as sprinting or weight lifting," notes Clark. "But it does not work for endurance or recreational athletics." (She cautions anyone taking creatine to be sure they stay well hydrated to avoid cramping.)