“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The quote from Hippocrates summarizes the position of Joshua Trentine, president of Overload Fitness, on supplements, which includes the use of vitamins, minerals, herbs/botanicals, powders, shakes, bars, and sports performance supplementation.
Before looking any closer at the legitimate health benefits to supplementation, it’s important to remember that a supplement is something added to complete a thing, make up for a deficiency, or extend or strengthen a whole.
“In all likelihood, a supplement is not going to provide any additional benefit, enhancement or protective effect if there is not a deficiency present,” Trentine says.
Smart Business spoke with Trentine about nutritional supplements, when they make sense in a diet and what better options exist for optimal nutrition.
While nutritional supplements seem to be popular, what might be a better option to maintaining a nutritionally adequate diet?
U.S. consumers spend more than $20 billion annually on supplements, which in most cases is a waste of money. Marketing hype, unrealistic expectations, poorly applied or incomplete science and consumers’ thirst for the next magic pill fuels this multi-billion dollar industry. There are plenty of snake oil salesmen pedaling the next high profit margin, life-changing supplement.
Personally, I would rather see consumers pump the $20 billion spent on supplements each year into foods from small farms. Small family farms are the backbone of a community, a nation and of society. A landscape of family farms is settled, balanced and generally sustainable. Including foods from these sources provides the greatest opportunity for nutrient-dense food and for optimal health.
How can consumers be sure they are getting all the nutrients they need without supplements?
We must remember that any and every vital element for our health and performance is or was once present in our food supply. In theory, we should be able to obtain any and every nutrient we need for optimal heath from the food we eat. However, this is nearly impossible, as current food processing has nutritionally depleted our food supply and negatively impacted farming practices.
In 1936, some astute scientists were blowing the whistle that nutrients and trace minerals necessary for healthy plants were not added back into the soil by commercial fertilizers. Consider, for example, the nutritional profile of apples. Within an 80-year time period, the amount of calcium in apples has dropped 48 percent; phosphorous has been reduced by 84 percent; iron is down 96 percent; and the amount of magnesium present is down 82 percent. The significant declines in mineral levels and vitamins are occurring in all of our fresh foods including fruits, vegetables, meats and grains.
Compounding the problem, in today’s society, we start with a nutrient-depleted food supply that is processed to remove the enzymes and allow for a longer shelf life. Once it arrives in a consumer’s home, the food is cooked on a stove or in a microwave, which further inactivates many of the nutrients and food factors.
What are a few steps that should be taken prior to deciding on supplementation?
We should always keep in mind the golden rule when it comes to the optimization of our nutrition supply: How it is in nature is how it should be. The first step any concerned consumer should take to fortify their diet is to consider their food supply. For example, fresh produce and meats from small organic farms or local farmers markets will be far more nutrient dense than frozen products in a grocer’s frozen food section.
The next step is to take these organically grown foods and prepare them in ways that will provide the most nutrient density. Keeping in mind the rule about how it is in nature, when we begin to isolate certain food parts we really can’t project what the final outcome will be. Modern science still does not trump Mother Nature. When foods are eaten in their organic, unprocessed form, or in close concentrate form, we’ll receive benefits from its balanced nutrient profiles and associated enzymes for proper absorption. We simply cannot dump in massive amounts of food parts and believe that we can derive optimal benefit as this could lead to a greater imbalance in our system.
The final step if you believe that you might require the addition of a specific nutrient that has gone deficient in our food supply is to use reliable lab and testing procedures before dumping random supplements in your body. Simply adding supplements without testing more often than not will throw a person’s system off further. Your nutritionist or doctor might look at blood work or even hair tissue mineral analysis before recommending a prescription and dose of supplements.
In all cases the body is dynamic and your specific needs can vary based on quality and choice of foods, current metabolic/hormonal state and even the time of year. So regular testing is recommended when a person is considering supplements to bolster their diet.
Joshua Trentine is president of Overload Fitness. Reach him at (216) 292-7569 and visit www.overloadfitness.com.
Insights Health and Fitness is brought to you by Overload Fitness
As health care costs continue to rise, many businesses have scaled back on the benefits that they offer.
However, there are still ways to provide excellent care for employees without breaking the bank. For example, one way that companies are coping with surging health care costs is by implementing wellness plans, designed to encourage employees to take preventive action to improve their health, says Stephen Slaga, chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.
“With the escalating costs associated with health care benefits, employers are having to look at plan design to control the costs of benefits,” says Slaga.
Smart Business spoke with Slaga about how employers can get the most out of their health plans and the elements that make benefit plans attractive to employees.
How can employers make sure their employees are using a benefit plan wisely?
One way is to communicate with your health plan provider to request information about preventive care. Seek information that will tell you if your employees are utilizing the wellness programs available to them to get tests done and discover any potential health problems early. Also, it is key to make sure that employees understand their benefits.
How can employers get more out of their health plans?
Employers need to encourage their employees to use any and all wellness programs that are available to them. The simplest types of wellness programs incorporate basic communications, such as regular newsletters distributed to employees touting the benefits of eating healthy and exercising regularly.
Along with information, a simple wellness plan may also include negotiated discounts at a health club or an annual health fair at which employees can learn about taking better care of their health and where simple screenings can be done.
More aggressive wellness plans mandate participation and follow-up as a condition of participation in the health plan. Such programs identify employees with elevated risk and require that they take certain actions, such as having a comprehensive physical with a physician.
Health risk assessments, which are detailed questionnaires designed to establish a baseline risk level for each employee, are typically available through all plans. By having employees fill out questionnaires, the provider can better understand health histories and serve its clientele more effectively. Questions cover such areas as height, weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, alcohol consumption and smoking habits.
The results garnered from health risk assessments are used to target specific education and coaching for employees with elevated risk. When the provider is able to better serve your employees, the result is healthier employees who are present at work and fully productive.
What are some elements that constitute a good benefit plan?
The employer and employees measure this a little bit differently. Employers want predictable, manageable costs and benefits that are attractive to employees so that they can attract and retain top-quality employees. Employees want the best possible benefit for the least possible out-of-pocket cost.
There are a multitude of plan design alternatives to achieve both of these goals, from co-pays to premium contributions. Such alternatives affect employees differently depending upon their own particular circumstances. Healthy employees typically will favor a higher co-pay in return for lower premiums. Those with chronic conditions opt for the opposite because they are accessing health care more frequently and the costs associated with each visit are burdensome.
How has the attitude toward employee health plans evolved?
The traditional attitude has been to use benefits to attract and retain employees. Until the last five or 10 years, there hasn’t been as much cost sensitivity as there is today. People are learning that when the benefit is paid for entirely by the employer, the cost is more difficult to control. As a result, there has clearly been a trend in recent years to shift costs to the employees to the point where they give some consideration to a cost-value proposition. We are now seeing employees who understand and consider the costs of the benefits they are receiving on an individual transaction basis.
How can a company measure whether its benefits program meets the needs of its employees?
Employers should seek input from their employees whenever they can to better understand the experiences that the staff is having with regard to benefits. There is some sensitivity to the issue because people want privacy with respect to their health care. You have to respect those privacy issues, but if you can encourage communication, you will improve employee satisfaction.
How does having a strong benefits package help employers attract and retain key employees?
It can have a very significant impact. Typically, the decision varies by employer, depending upon how aggressively it needs to compete for employees in the marketplace.
Employers should be cautious when shifting costs and responsibility onto their employees. There is a delicate balance between making employees accountable and responsible for the decision making about their health care and shifting so much burden onto them that they become disgruntled with how they are being treated and leave for other employment.
Stephen Slaga is chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care
The cost of providing health benefits to employees continues to be a burden for many employers that are already struggling with tight finances. Now, more than ever, offering competitive benefits is an important tool for companies seeking to recruit and retain employees, but it is becoming more difficult, as health benefits often account for one of the top three expenses for a business.
As a result, balancing value for employees with cost management can be a challenge, says Joanne Tegethoff, account executive with JRG Advisors, the management company of ChamberChoice.
“As the cost of benefits continue to rise, employers are looking for ways to manage those costs while still remaining an attractive employer of choice,” says Tegethoff.
Smart Business spoke with Tegethoff about some strategies that businesses can employ to offer competitive benefits without causing an undue burden.
What strategies should employers consider?
Voluntary benefits provide a venue for businesses to offer value to employees without increasing their costs for providing benefits. Voluntary benefits allow a company’s employees to purchase insurance and benefit products based on their own personal needs, through the convenience of payroll deductions. And most of these benefits are available on a pre-tax basis to employees.
Employers should consider offering a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), in conjunction with a medical savings account such as a Health Savings Account (HSA), as their primary health plan, or as an alternative option. HDHP options include up-front deductibles that must be satisfied before services are covered — minimum HDHP deductibles for 2012 are $1,200 for individual coverage and $2,400 for family coverage. The large deductible results in lower premiums than a traditional health plan, encouraging employees to become more educated consumers by better understanding how health care works.
The reasoning is that if health care consumers — your employees — are spending their own money for care, then they are more likely to question that care and not blindly accept procedures such as unnecessary tests. The system encourages them to do so because, until they reach the higher annual deductible, the cost is coming directly out of their pockets.
Can dependent eligibility audits help curb costs?
It is crucial to conduct dependent eligibility audits to ensure that everyone receiving benefits through your plan is eligible to do so. Most employers have policies and procedures in place that outline plan eligibility for their employees and dependents. If someone is on the plan who is not eligible for benefits, the employer is losing money by paying for their care. By conducting eligibility audits and enforcing policies, employers can ensure that everyone who is on the plan should be.
How can employers make employees better consumers of health care?
Provide education that encourages employees to become smarter health care consumers and take responsibility for their health care costs. Structure your policy in such a way that employees are paying more for more expensive services. For example, show them the costs of visiting the emergency room versus a visit to a doctor’s office or to an urgent care center. Also encourage them to purchase generic drugs rather than brand name when available, and show them the cost benefits of doing so.
Finally, educate them about using mail order prescription refill services, and questioning physicians about treatment options and costs.
What other steps can employers take?
Develop and implement a wellness program. Focus on healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes that employees can make. Emphasize that you are concerned for their health and well-being, and show them how being healthier can both improve their lives and help lower their health care costs, as a healthier work force will ultimately lead to lower health care costs for all.
Offering financial incentives for participation, such as gift cards and reduced health care premiums, can encourage employees to participate. In addition, support from upper management for wellness and employee education is critical. Employee health affects productivity and overall financial performance, so it is in your company’s best interest to encourage employee health and wellness. And a little prevention can go a long way.
How can employers address chronic illnesses?
Implement a disease management program for employees with chronic illness, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. These programs typically include health screenings, blood tests and more frequent check-ups, and many insurers offer these services free of charge or for a minimal fee to encourage healthier behaviors.
Also encourage employees to receive routine preventive examinations, including screenings and check-ups. The goal is to keep healthy employees healthy and ensure that those who are at risk or who have medical conditions are receiving the appropriate care. And many employers host onsite health fairs and conduct onsite screenings or health clinics in conjunction with the insurer, which provides the company-sponsored health benefits.
Finally, offering customized benefit statements that show employees how much you pay for health care costs can be eye-opening. Cost transparency can lead to employees making more economical decisions about their health, along with an increased appreciation of benefits provided by their employer.
Talk with your adviser to learn how to begin making these cost containment strategies part of your long-term employee benefits strategy.
Joanne Tegethoff is an account executive with JRG Advisors, the management company of ChamberChoice. Reach her at (412) 456-7233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.