By Sherry Kughn
Spa food: How Safe?
April 7, 2004 -- Shakes and power bars sold at the spa are packaged as
prettily as candy. Their labels state that consumers can use them to more
effectively lose weight, gain muscle and increase stamina. Spa food is
convenient, often sold straight from the cooler in the form of shakes and
drinks or sold from the counter as a nutrition bar. But is the spa a place
qualified to offer nutritional advice?
Sherry Kughn is a Jacksonville State University graduate student
majoring in English. She works in the JSU News Bureau through the
Graduate Assistantship program. She has 12 years news experience
at The Anniston Star and served for five years as The Star’s executive
secretary. Sherry can be reached at
Shakes and power bars should
not be used to substitute for a well-balanced diet consisting of complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy
- Dr. Tim Roberts
"Shakes and power bars should
not be used to substitute for a well-balanced diet consisting of complex
carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy
products," said Dr. Tim Roberts, a Jacksonville State University assistant
professor of Family and Consumer Sciences. "These products tend to be
high in protein and may serve as a 'quick' energy source following periods
of moderate to intense exercise."
Most shakes and power bars consist of
whey protein, eggs, and/or soy protein for the purpose of building muscle
after exercise. In addition, simple carbohydrates (sugars) are added as an
energy source for the body's cells with vitamins and minerals aiding in the
metabolic process. The ratio of proteins to carbohydrate varies among the
various brands, and both tend to be okay for the consumer.
scenario, though, may occur when a diabetic has uncontrolled blood sugar
(blood sugar levels are not within normal range 80 to 120 mg/dl), according
to Roberts. For instance, if a diabetic's blood sugar were to drop too low
during exercise, the individual could exhibit nausea, cold sweats, dizziness
and even coma. Therefore, individuals should always monitor their blood
sugar before, during, and after exercise.
The balance between blood
sugars, exercise, and food intake should never place a person into a "yo-yo"
situation, said Roberts. The diabetic who is careless with their medication
and their sugar intake, and the person who is unaware they are diabetic can
get into a situation where their blood sugar goes up too high and then
down too low. This might cause an out-of-control situation that could have
Spa food is similar to other "nutrition" foods sold
in health section of grocery, department, and specialty stores. They often
contain chemicals, herbs or added vitamins that might cause contradictions
with medications and/or food allergies. Common herbs are sometimes added to
processed foods. One example is the flavoring of the herb licorice. It can
raise blood pressure and counteract the effects of drugs used to treat
hypertension. People taking blood pressure medications might want to check
labels before eating any processed food. Ginseng is a stimulant that might
increase a person's stamina, but it can also raise the blood pressure and
cause the side effect of anxiety.
Care needs to be taken, too, because
the health food industry grew quickly. In 1997 the entire sport nutrition
industry was about $1 billion and by 2002 it was $6 billion. Regulating and
testing each product is an overwhelming task, and the consumer should
realize that not all the effects of supplements and their combinations may
be fully understood. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of
1994 boosted the responsibility of the supplement food industry by requiring
labels for each product and requiring the listing of essential nutrients in
those food substances, such things as garlic, fish oils, psyllium, enzymes,
The DSHEA also requires companies to state whether the
product should be taken as a pill, tablet, or liquid; whether it should be
labeled as a dietary supplement; and whether it contains one or more of the
following ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an amino acid, or a
"concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combinations of these
Brandi Green, a registered/licensed dietician and co-owner
of Nutrition Challenge, Inc., in Oxford, says too much protein consumed from
any source might be dangerous. "Protein is broken down by the kidneys," she
said. "If a person is eating extreme amounts and not drinking enough water,
too much protein can lead to kidney damage."
How much protein is
enough? The size of a person and their lifestyle is the consideration. The
average person, though, on a normal diet, should consume about one ounce of
protein for breakfast, about three ounces for lunch and about three ounces
for the evening meal. Proteins vary widely in fat content, too, said Green,
and lean proteins are better. The non-dieting person should watch the intake
of too many fatty proteins, such as cheeses, some forms of beef and pork.
Even chicken and fish, if fried, can add too much fat to the diet. Spa food,
too, can contain as much or more fat as natural foods.
Green said buying
spa food is convenient but a little too expensive. She said she sometimes
carries nutritious snacks to eat on the way home from working out, such as
peanut butter crackers or half a sandwich. "People can certainly get the
same nutrition from other foods," she said.
A sampling of the expense of
spa foods at a local health spa show nutrition bars cost $1.75 to $2.25.
Nutrition shakes costs $2.25 to $3.25. Bottled water costs $1.75. Foods made
or packaged at home costs a fraction of that cost.
The average sports
nutrition product (spa food) may or may not be effective for the average
consumer in reaching their goals of losing weight, building muscle, and
increasing stamina, nor will they harm the healthy consumer. They are pricey
and should be consumed with caution by those who are less than in the best
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