Healthlines: Taking food supplements can be helpful

Updated 04 December 2013

Healthlines: Taking food supplements can be helpful

Our bodies need a balance of nutrients to be healthy and strong. Ideally, it’s better to get the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need through real food rather than through supplements, since all the nutrients in food often work together to enhance absorption.
Feeling healthy and full of energy is a sign that you are eating a balanced diet containing food from all the food groups.
At this time of the year many people are returning from leave from all over the world. Air travel is the perfect place to pass on bugs and viruses, so keeping your immune system strong is very important to avoid catching coughs, colds and flu.
Starting afresh after the summer is a good time to rethink your health. Benefit from taking a fresh look at your eating practices to support your immune system. Establishing healthy eating routines is important for a strong, healthy body. Our nutritional needs are not static: we are all individuals and have different nutritional needs based on the genes we inherit, our age and our lifestyle. As our bodies age we need to take greater care of them as they do not thrive on a lack of nutrients. The sooner you begin taking care of your body the better for preventing problems in later life. What you do today affects your health in the future.
Some experts, like Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, say that if you keep a balanced diet containing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy products, you can skip the supplements. However, other experts say that most of us overestimate how well we’re really eating and that taking a daily multivitamin is like an insurance policy so that your body has some of everything it needs to heal and protect.
Many doctors recommend multivitamins in particular, for the variety of essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients they provide.
Antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E and the minerals zinc and selenium) are your protectors that protect you against contracting disease. Think of your immune system as an army defending your body from hostile viruses, bacteria, yeasts and free radicals (damaging molecules). To picture how antioxidants protect your body, try to imagine how lemon juice (vitamin C) stops a halved apple from turning brown (oxidizing) on exposure to air. A similar process happens inside your body. Antioxidants protect your body’s tissues against damage. Antioxidants mainly come from fresh fruits and vegetables: get into the habit of eating at least five portions a day. The natural pigments that give fruit and vegetables their colors are also protective.
So always eat a colorful plate of food. This is healthy and will support your immune system.
Equally important to eating healthy is keeping control of your stress levels.
Stress is a major suppressor of the immune system. In times of stress, make it a point to eat well and protect your immune system. We tend to eat badly when stressed, and turn to caffeinated drinks and sweet treats and fat snacks. In the long run these have a negative effect on our immune health. B-vitamins, found in whole grains, fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables, beans, liver, eggs and Marmite, are important for energy production and to counter the worst effects of stress. Try and lead a balanced life, as the body likes a balance of work, exercise, family, prayer, hobbies and relaxation.
Few people realize that the digestive tract is actually the largest immune organ in the body and that healthy bowel bacteria can make a real difference to the immune health. Symptoms of disturbed digestive health could include excessive wind, bouts of abdominal bloating, thrush, loose stools, and constipation. Keep beneficial bacteria in good shape by eating lots of fiber from fruit and vegetables, and whole grains such as brown rice and oats. You can also eat bio yoghurt daily and have healthy whole grain cereal for breakfast. Checking your digestive tract is healthy: your bowel movements should be regular and you should produce a firm stool.
Immune Boosters
Vitamin C is both anti-viral and anti-bacterial, and it is essential for building white blood cells (the chief soldiers in your immune army). It is needed to make collagen, which ‘glues’ cells together making them less penetrable to invading organisms. A daily dose of vitamin C can help make the immune system work more efficiently.
Zinc is critical for immune health and a deficiency is linked to poor wound healing and a susceptibility to infections.
Many healthy people under 50 eating a healthy balanced diet do not need vitamin or mineral supplements. However food in the Gulf has often traveled many miles so many doctors recommend a good quality daily multivitamin as an insurance policy for your health. Taking a few carefully chosen supplements is a simple way to make up for any shortfall. With so many different dietary supplements out there, conflicting messages can occur, making it hard to choose which ones to take. But if I had to pick just two daily ‘must-takes’ they would be a high quality multivitamin. If you do not spend time outside or in light sun, speak to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.
Taking vitamins is never a substitute for eating a healthy balanced diet; try when possible to eat local produce. Always wash fruit and vegetables.
Healthy Recipe of the Week
Quick cod and tomato supper (serves 4)
This is a great recipe if you are in a rush because you just pop it all in the oven and it is a colorful plate of food.
2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped
2 red onions cut into wedges
250g cherry tomatoes
Handful black olives
340gr passato or tomato pasta sauce
400g can butter beans, drained
4 skinless cod fillets
Small bunch basil
Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7.
Put the peppers, onions, tomatoes and olives into a large, deep baking tray and cook for 15 minutes until they start to soften and char at the edges.
Stir in the passato, butter beans and seasoning, then make four little areas and to pop in the cod.
Return to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes until the cod is cooked through. Sprinkle over the basil and serve with crusty bread.
Ask Alva
I am a vegetarian and I often feel tired; do I need to take vitamin and mineral supplements? – Paromita
Generally vegetarians are very healthy but some may not get enough calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Natural dietary sources would include dairy products, fish, poultry, liver, eggs, red meat, and turkey. Taking a multivitamin should ensure that your B12 levels stay where they should be. Please see your doctor to check your iron levels as you say you often feel tired.
— Alva

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Waste not, want not: Import-reliant NENA region seeks solutions to consumption and storage issues

Updated 16 October 2018

Waste not, want not: Import-reliant NENA region seeks solutions to consumption and storage issues

  • Food security institutions around the world mark World Food Day today, to honor the founding date of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
  • KSA's consultative Shoura Council is looking into a food waste law that could see individuals and organizations fined for excessive waste

DUBAI: With food loss and waste in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) estimated at up to 250kg per person and more than $60 billion annually, a number of initiatives are aiming to tackle the issue across the region, which relies heavily on global food imports, has limited potential to increase production and faces a scarcity of water and arable land.

They’re not alone, as food security institutions around the world mark World Food Day on Tuesday, to honor the founding date of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945. 

“If, on a global level, we could recover one third of food wasted, it could feed 870 million people,” said Colin Kampschoer, communications officer at the UN’s World Food Program. “In 2017, one in nine people didn’t have enough to eat — this equals 821 million people. Globally, a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to about 1.3 billion tons per year. For example, at the moment we waste almost half of the fruit and vegetables we produce in the world, while we waste 24 million slices of bread each day.”

Saudi Arabia ranks first in the world in food waste per capita. According to the FAO, reducing food loss and waste is vital for sustainable food systems and regional food security. “The high percentage of imported food into the region, combined with the Middle East being a major contributor to food waste, means that it places a heavy burden on the earth’s resources, including water, energy and fossil fuels, that are required to produce and distribute food,” said Ryan Ingram, founder of TerraLoop, a food loss and waste consulting company in the UAE. 

“Greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste are 25 times more harmful to the environment and accelerate climate change. If food waste were a country, it would rank as the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the US.”

The region loses and wastes up to 20 percent of cereals, 50 percent of fruits and vegetables, 16 percent of meat and 27 percent of fish and seafood. 

The FAO estimates that food waste at the consumption stage in the region is 34 percent, and is found mostly in urban areas. Significant wastage is also said to take place during religious holidays, wedding ceremonies and family gatherings, and in the hospitality industry such as in restaurants and hotels. “Major weaknesses for the region include a significant lack of arable land, water scarcity, a hot climate, insufficient investment in agricultural research and high dependence on global and regional markets,” Ingram said. “This is in addition to population growth and increasing local food consumption each year, which also place increased pressure on already-strained food and water resources.”

Food consumption in the GCC has grown from 48.1 million metric tons in 2016, with estimates that it will reach 59.2 million metric tons in the GCC by 2021. And with a compound annual growth rate of 4.2 percent and 800 million undernourished people in the world, much work needs to be done. 

“The Middle East, like most prosperous societies, has access to plentiful food supplies,” said Jeffrey Culpepper, chairman of Agrisecura in the UAE, which provides sustainable solutions for food security purposes. “That excess promotes waste, especially in high-end hotels and restaurants. Many times, portions are valued in quantity, not quality, so too much is put on your plate.” 

He said hot climates add to difficulties in storing surpluses. “Mandatory management of food waste by governments is required,” he added. “As opposed to dumping in landfills, it can be digested into bio-fuel or composted. By having smaller portions on the plate, savings can be used to offset storage cost of waste for collection.”

Landfills are also quickly reaching capacity. “By recycling food waste, it will take pressure off landfills and create useful byproducts like bio-fuel and compost,” Culpepper said. “Also, in a world where food shortages and hunger are a major problem in many countries, wasting food has become a moral issue.”

Others called for implementing a law to combat food waste, such as enforcing a fee on restaurant-goers who leave unfinished plates. “Monitoring large food-waste producers, like catering companies, hotels, markets, malls and airlines, is vital,” Ingram said. “There is also a need for national and regional guidance and awareness campaigns in all sectors, including residential, commercial and government, as well as pre-Ramadan.”

He suggested measuring waste at the source and creating a feedback loop to the supply chain so that procurement is reduced. “What gets measured, gets managed,” Ingram added. “Developing community projects that tackle food waste at the source and educating the producers and public about the issue and how to be a part of the solution, can also help. Developing policies that help overcome future food security challenges requires further research, and development and future strategies need to be aligned with research and development to ensure resilience and sustainability.”

Many initiatives are starting to emerge across the region to tackle the issue. The UAE Food Bank collects food from hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and farms to distribute to people in need, such as laborers.

Terra Loop sees itself as the Middle East and Indian Ocean’s first food waste auditing consultancy, helping people to understand their food waste, from five-star hotels and resorts to shopping malls and restaurants. Its objective is to guide them to solutions that reduce their “FoodPrint,” taking responsibility and improving their bottom line.

In Saudi Arabia, the Eta’am Food Bank, launched in 2010, helps to feed the underprivileged by distributing excess food from hotels, banquets and weddings to the poor and needy. “Other corporates in the Eastern Province now also participate in the scheme,” Ingram added. “Eta’am also promotes food-related culture and provides hands-on experience in the safe preparation of food through the Food Academy Initiative.” 

Moreover, the Kingdom’s consultative Shoura Council is looking into a food waste law that could see individuals and organizations fined for excessive waste. It also proposed the establishment of a national center to offer guidance and awareness on food waste. 

“There is a growing awareness in local communities on the problem of excess food waste with several local initiatives having been started to recycle residential food waste,” Culpepper said. “These efforts are important but still too small to make a significant difference. The big generators of food waste are hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals and government institutions, as opposed to residential, so it will require a government policy to force commercial food-waste producers to recycle.”