Marketers have set their sites on those of us in the 50+ demographic for 2012. Retiring baby boomers want to stay healthy and fit and many new products will be introduced promising better brains, healthier joints, and happier hearts. Leatherhead Food Research notes that glucosamine-fortified foods and beverages for joint health will become increasing available in 2012. The food research group also says to expect more omega-3-fats in foods for cardiovascular and brain health. And, the popular trend of adding the word “natural” to foods and beverages will continue in the New Year.
Sounds great, doesn’t it….but is it really? For years food processors have been adding needed nutrients to food to protect the public health; for example, adding (called fortifying in the food and nutrition world) vitamin D to milk makes sense because (1) milk does not naturally contain vitamin D (even breast feeding mothers have to give infants supplemental vitamin D), and (2) vitamin D is crucial for absorbing the calcium in milk. A more recent example of good, “makes sense” fortification is the addition of calcium to orange juice to increase dietary calcium intake.
However, when it comes to adding glucosamine and chondroitin or omega-3-fatty acids to foods, my response is why? Don’t get me wrong…I think glucosamine is useful for some people with osteoarthritis and omega-3-fatty acids are important for good health, but when added to foods there is usually not enough of the good stuff in the food to justify the cost.
Glucosamine and chondroitin may help rebuild cartilage in damaged joints, especially in the early stages of the disease, and some people report it relieves pain. Here is the catch….you need a lot of the stuff to achieve therapeutic levels and it is very unlikely you will get it in a fortified food. When people ask me about glucosamine and chondroitin as dietary supplements, I suggest they take 1500 milligrams of glucosamine and 1200 milligrams of chondroitin in a divided dose (i.e., 750 milligrams of glucosamine and 600 milligrams of chondroitin twice a day) for about 3 months. If in 3 months there is no improvement of symptoms then it is unlikely that it will work for you.
Same thing goes for omega-3-fatty acids….1000 milligrams (1 gram) may lower heart disease risk but therapeutic doses for triglyceride lowering may be much higher, up to 6 grams per day. And, omega-3 is a general term for a type of fat. What you really want is DHA and EPA and not omega-3s from other sources, like flax seed.
And don’t even get me started on the word “natural.” What is natural is real food; a baked potato is natural, potato chips are not. And no hot dog is ever “natural.” Did you know that the Food and Drug Administration does not approve of the claims natural, all-natural, or pure on a food label.
If you want to stay healthy and active, eating whole foods, cooking your own meals, and choosing a wide variety of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein, nuts and seeds is the best way to go. If you want to try glucosamine and chondroitin or omega-3-fats, look for high quality supplements (more on that topic in an upcoming article) or naturally occurring omega-3 foods, like salmon and tuna.