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Should healthy lifestyles come from a bowl or a bottle

MANY people recognize that their stressful occupations mean they may be lacking in vital nutritional elements. But should they correct this with pills or with natural foods? Zhang Qian weighs the problem

Li Rong is busy every morning. She washes, dresses, eats breakfast, puts on make-up. And takes a handful of pills.

The 36-year-old accountant at an IT company is not sick. The pills she takes, she believes, can make her feel even better. One calcium pill, one fish oil capsule and a complex vitamin pill are never missed from her daily diet.

With the idea of "sub-health" - chronic stress-related symptoms - widely accepted by citizens, many citizens realize that they need to reinforce themselves in advance. And for busy young white-collar workers, extract pills are good choices as they are efficient to take and need no preparation at all.

According to a survey published on Shanghai Evening News in early March, half of the office workers take nutritional pills of different kinds as a reinforcement.

The survey was carried out on, with 1,853 people taking part. More than 70 percent of the respondents were female. The results showed that 36 percent took natural foods such as almonds, walnuts and wolfberry, 27 percent took vitamin pills, 14 percent took calcium pills, 10 percent took ginsengs, 8 percent took dispelling toxin pills like aloe extract and 5 percent took patent TCM medicines like Liuwei Dihuang Wan (the six herbs pill including Rehmanni).

Asked whether the nutritional pills helped keep them in a?good working order, 63 percent people said it was "hard to tell," while 22 percent said "yes" and 16 percent said "no."

Li started taking nutritional pills about two months ago. As she has to spend most of her time typing at desk, she often suffers from eye-strain and a stiff neck. A friend recommended vitamin A pills to help relieve eye strain and improve her eyesight. She went to a shop and was amazed at the range of pills with different functions.

"It seems that you can get anything you lack there," says Li.

According to Li, she is not the only one who takes nutritional pills. Vitamin pills and fish oil capsules are very popular in her office as they are believed to help improve immunity.

Yet in most cases, you will not lack anything as long as you have a balanced diet, according to Yang Yuexin, chief committee member of the Nutrition and Healthy Food Branch of the Chinese Nutrition Society.

Yang admits that many city residents in China are short of calcium, iron and vitamin A, as reported in a research by WHO. But if that can be made up through daily diet, it is unnecessary to take pills.

For example, drinking about 300ml milk every day will perfectly meet the body's need for calcium. And for those who are allergic to milk, yogurt will work just as well while also relieving problems with constipation.

Retiree Dong Lina is a big fan of dietary therapy. The 55-year-old loves preparing nutritious dinners for her family, especially reinforcing soups.

Pork bone soup and fish soup are her favorites as she believes that the colloid in animals can help nourish skin and improve memory more effectively than Vitamin E pills. Sometimes, she also put herbs like ginseng and milkvetch in soup to reinforce energy in the TCM style.

"Pills may be helpful, but they don't taste good," says Dong. "And I just cannot help doubting that pills with so many different brands can be reliable."

Foods can be divided into four categories according to processing, says Yang. They are natural foods, extracts of natural foods, restructured foods such as turning triglyceride in food to diglyceride and chemically compounded foods like vitamin and calcium pills.

Natural foods, of course, are the best choice for most people as they are safe and easier to absorb. The second is an extract of a natural food, the third is restructured food and chemical compounds are the last choice.

"I know that extract pills may not be as absorbable as natural food, but I just don't have that much time to study the functions of every food type and make dishes that mix and match everything properly," says Li. "Besides, I must absorb something if I keep taking it everyday."

Apart from relatively poorer absorption, nutritional pills may also be dangerous if too many are taken. Though lacking vitamins may cause health problems, taking too many in the long term can lead to vitamin poisoning, according to Han Ting, director of Nutrition Department of Shanghai No. 10 People's Hospital.

For example, taking too much vitamin A won't improve eyesight, but will cause headaches and dizziness; overeating vitamin C can lead to scurvy and stones in the urinary system.

Some people take nutritional pills strictly according to the dosage recommended for an adult, but they tend to forget that they have also taken nutrition through their meals. The pills may lead to excessive vitamins or microelements in their systems.

Nutritional pills are not useless, says Yang, but they are usually only recommended for those suffering from severe nutrition deficiencies.

"You cannot expect to make up a major deficiency in a short time with foods as you only have one stomach and one mouth," Yang says. "In these cases, tiny pills with a high nutrition concentration can help."

And if you are traveling where fresh vegetables are not available, fibrin or vitamin pills can help. But do remember not to take too many.


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