Recently the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) conducted a national survey of over 1,500 Canadians from coast to coast to determine whether we can distinguish fact from fiction when it comes to popular natural health claims.

“Three out of four Canadians reported that they were likely to consider using a natural solution to maintain health and happiness,” said CHFA’s in-house holistic nutritionist. “Our goal this NHP week is to ensure that all Canadians have the necessary information to make educated choices about their health.”

On the whole, Canadians achieved a passing grade. However, the survey revealed some knowledge gaps on questions related to caffeine, protein, serotonin, vitamin C and vitamin D.

Guys vs. gals: How did men’s knowledge stack up against women’s?

Upon digging deeper into the data, there were some surprising findings that showed the differences in the knowledge between men and women. For example, women were significantly more likely than men to consider using a natural solution to maintain health and happiness (82% versus 74%). This openness of women to opt for natural options was often accompanied by better knowledge.

Women were also more likely to answer correctly on a number of questions.  In particular, women demonstrated natural health savvy when asked about organic foods and questions about digestive health. For example, 75% of women correctly answered that probi- otics are linked to immunity, while only 64% of men did so. The approach of the winter months brings with it the rise of cold and flu season. Not many people realize that there is a strong connection between our healthy gut bugs and our immune system. Probiotics have been shown to play an important role in “priming” our immune system to track and eliminate invading winter bugs.

A recent study of school children found that kids who were given a probiotic drink were less likely to get the flu than their class- mates who didn’t receive it (15.7% versus 23.9%). Consider adding a probiotic to your routine and keep your immune system fighting fit this winter.

Men outshone women when asked about the link between caffeine and exercise performance. Men scored higher than women (7% better) by answering correctly that caffeine does, in fact, improve exercise performance.

Scientists are constantly finding new applications for this small molecule that can do so much. Gone are the days when caffeine was relegated to a morning cup of joe. Extensive research has shown that a dose of caffeine before a workout can improve endurance, mental clarity and performance.

The most common dose used in scientific studies is 6 mg/kg of body weight taken an hour before exercise, which allows time for the caffeine to be absorbed and get to work. A typical large coffee can deliver anywhere from 120–360 mg of caffeine. There are many ways of obtaining caffeine, but you should speak with your health care practitioner about adding it to your workout routine.

Province vs. province: How did location affect knowledge?

The survey highlighted important knowledge gaps between regions as well. Albertans were less likely than the rest of Canadians to give a correct response when asked if “eating organic foods significantly reduces exposure to pesti- cides” (51% vs. 62%).

Certified organic products are produced and grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), hormones or antibiotics. By following a simple guide, the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15, developed by the Environmental Working Group, you can minimize your consumption of pesticides by as much as 80%, leading to better health for your whole family. Purchasing certified organic foods also supports sustainable farming practices and animal welfare standards. Other regional knowledge differences were illustrated by Albertans who were more likely to answer correctly to the false statement, “Multivitamins are only important for pregnant women.”

Although a specially formulated multivi- tamin is almost universally recommended for women of childbearing age, multivitamins can play an important role in the health of men and women of all ages. Studies have found benefits, such as reducing some cancers and other chronic diseases and improving symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Nova Scotians maintained top grades when asked if Canadians get enough fibre, with 95% reporting that we do not.

A Western diet full of processed foods means that whole foods are sadly lacking, and fibre intake falls far short of the recommended 25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men. The benefits of fibre include blood sugar regulation, weight maintenance, heart health and gut health, so it’s important to try to fill this requirement.

If you find it difficult to increase your fibre intake through dietary sources, many supplements that provide various forms of soluble and insoluble fibre are available at your local natural health retailer. Speak with your health-care practitioner about which supplement might be right for you.

Natural health products can offer a wide range of benefits to Canadians. Although receiving a passing grade, there is still room for improvement among Canada’s public when it comes to our natural health knowledge. Visit your local CHFA member natural health retailer as a starting point for expanding your under- standing of natural health products.

More Inspiration: You might also enjoy this article on the main 4 myths around supplements.

Author: Michelle W. Book is a Holistic Nutritionist and CHFA Director of Communications. The Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) is Canada’s largest trade association dedicated to natural health and organic products.

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