How to eat well and save money

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - 13 Business - By ZHENG YIRAN

Three years ago, when I was in the United States for my post­grad­u­ate stud­ies, I re­ceived an un­ex­pected call from my grand­par­ents one day. I knew then and there I needed to go shop­ping for their di­etary sup­ple­ments.

They are big fans of cod liver oil, odor­less gar­lic cap­sules, grape seed ex­tract cap­sule, Ginkgo Biloba and Cal­trate.

Ev­ery time I flew home for a va­ca­tion, my grand­par­ents would re­quest me to fetch them their fa­vorite di­etary sup­ple­ments. They be­lieve such prod­ucts are good for their health. Typ­i­cal shop­ping bills would to­tal up some 8,000 yuan ($1,151) a year.

If you think that’s a lot, hang on a se­cond. Their friends spend tens of thou­sands of yuan on di­etary sup­ple­ments. Be­lieve it or not, there are sto­ries, prob­a­bly apoc­ryphal ones, that an old cou­ple here and an ag­ing pair there sold off their homes just to buy di­etary sup­ple­ments!

A re­cent re­port from Chyxx, an on­line in­dus­try in­for­ma­tion net­work, showed that this year, the sales rev­enue of China’s di­etary sup­ple­ments mar­ket is es­ti­mated to reach nearly 293 bil­lion yuan, grow­ing some 11 per­cent year-on-year. The re­cent years had wit­nessed dou­ble-digit growth rates, with av­er­age con­sump­tion level be­ing 12 per­cent that of the US, show­ing great growth po­ten­tial.

With the in­crease in per-capita dis­pos­able in­comes and the rise of peo­ple’s health­care aware­ness, China’s con­sump­tion groups are pay­ing more at­ten­tion to health, and thus gen­er­at­ing huge de­mand for di­etary sup­ple­ments.

Mul­ti­ple fac­tors are at work. For one, the idea of con­sump­tion it­self has changed in China. Then there is the predica­ment of ag­ing. Poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions are be­ing tweaked to help grow the health­care prod­ucts mar­ket, mar­ket in­sid­ers said.

Promis­ing as the mar­ket is, frauds are not un­com­mon.

Yun Wuxin, who re­ceived his PhD in agri­cul­ture and bio­engi­neer­ing from Pur­due Univer­sity in the US, said most di­etary sup­ple­ments don’t have a clear ef­fi­cacy. What the mer­chants claim in their ads are not proven sci­en­tif­i­cally.

Kong Xian­wei, head phar­ma­cist at the Pek­ing Univer­sity Third Hos­pi­tal, said: “Di­etary sup­ple­ments can’t re­place medicines. So, con­sumers should go to a hos­pi­tal to get reg­u­lar treat­ment. They can’t blindly rely on over-the-counter di­etary sup­ple­ments.”

Agreed Fan Zhi­hong, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Col­lege of Food Sci­ence & Nu­tri­tional En­gi­neer­ing, which is part of China Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity. “Di­etary sup­ple­ments can’t take the place of a nu­tri­tious, whole­some daily meals. Con­sumers should not blindly trust those high-end health­care prod­ucts. In ad­di­tion, dose ra­tio­nal­ity should also be con­sid­ered.”

On Nov 1, the China Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued a guide­line that the gov­ern­ment should fur­ther fine-tune laws and reg­u­la­tions on health­care prod­ucts, and in­crease the thresh­old for reg­is­tra­tion.

Be­sides, the scope of in­spec­tions should be ex­panded, and pun­ish­ment for fraud­sters should be made more se­vere, it said.

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