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Health Talk 

Catherine Wilbert, owner of Nutri-Sport and a fitness trainer, nutritionist and body builder, discusses supplements with Kandace Power Graves.

Q: Although you sell pharmaceutical-grade nutritional supplements and fitness products in your store, you've said that your ultimate goal with your customers is not to get them on supplements, power bars and other products. What do you mean?

A: I like to educate people about what the supplements really do and the misleading information out there. The Food & Drug Administration does not regulate the industry. You can make claims on a label about things ... that aren't necessarily in the product. How the things are processed (when the product is made) is directly correlated to their bioavailability -- your body's ability to absorb and utilize those nutrients. There's also the food issue. For me, it's more important for people to understand that supplements are just that; they are not intended to replace food or nutrients. For the most part, most diseases and conditions can be dealt with nutritionally. Many conditions are caused by poor nutrition or lack of nutrition.

Q: What does that poor nutrition stem from in America?

A: People don't mean to eat badly. There are people who think they're making good food choices but aren't getting what they think they are out of what they eat because of misleading labels. When you go into a food store, you need to be aware of ... the hidden things in the food. Transfats, the bad fat, for instance, is not broken down on a food label. You have to look further on the label and know to look for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and to know those fat grams aren't calculated on the nutrition label. There's a trend of people wanting to be more proactive in their own health ... by making positive lifestyle changes. What we eat is important and there are supplements that make a huge difference. The downside of the trend is that the more popular it becomes, the more people are going to be out there trying to make a buck. People need to know what they're looking for.

Q: So there's no one thing you can do to make things perfect?

A: It is a holistic approach. Whether it's dealing with an illness or just weight loss, everything in your lifestyle matters: what you eat, the supplements you take, your activity level, what you do to alleviate stress in your life. There's a connection on all levels; it's all inter-related. Your body is one big chemistry project; everything in our bodies has an impact on something else. That's why you have to find what works for you.

Q: What do you consider to be the elements of fitness or wellness?

Nutrition plays a key role. If you exercise and you don't back that up with nutrition, it's self-defeating. Three hours of aerobics without eating ultimately will break down the muscle, but then you're not eating, which slows down your metabolism, and you gain weight.

Q: How do people get to a balanced level of wellness?

A: Total reprogramming. You have to eat more to speed up your metabolism. If you exercise and weight train, you're doing half the equation. You also need protein ... to rebuild the muscle tissue broken down through exercise. You need good, solid nutrition. That became evident to me on a personal level when I began bodybuilding. I realized that with dieting strictly for competition how much ... my body changed by what I ate. I could eat things one day and see a difference the next day. The more refined you try to get your body, the more you realize that every nutrient is a chemical reaction.

Q: Is changing lifestyle the biggest hurdle for the common Joe?

A: Absolutely. Everything is set up in our society to be easy. It's much faster and easier to eat drive-through fast food than to plan to have the right food with you when you need to eat. We also make it very cost effective to eat worse. It's cheaper to get a combo meal and super-size your fries. Sometimes the side dish is worse than the main course. A large chocolate shake from Burger King has more fat and calories from saturated fat than a 20-oz. T-bone steak or 20 strips of bacon.

Q: Let's discuss the positive side of supplements or herbal products as alternatives to traditional medicine or over-the-counter therapies.

A: Medications just treat symptoms. They don't really get to the cause of the problem. Nutrition sometimes can get to the problem; nutritional supplements sometimes can do the same thing and get to the deficiency ... and the symptoms go away. You're taking a more non-invasive approach and for a shorter period of time. You fix the source of the problem and usually it doesn't recur, or you know what to do when it does. When you take medication, you take it to get rid of the symptoms, but you don't get to the cause. The medications also often cause other problems that cause you to need more medication.

Q: Has prevalence of information about the availability of supplements and herbals hurt or helped?

A: The Internet is awesome and it's dangerous. It educates people just enough so that they think they're doctors. Infomercials are even worse. Just because someone spent a lot of money for an infomercial, doesn't mean it's true. My biggest challenge is to educate people so they know what they're doing. Knowledge is power. You don't need a personal trainer for the rest of your life, just to help you learn how to do it right.

Q: If you could have everyone's attention for 60 seconds, what point would you try to make?

A: That little bitty changes that you may think are so insignificant can make a huge impact on the quality of your life. The amazing thing is that if you just make a couple of little changes, they will produce such great results that those results are going to motivate other good changes. It's not about making all the changes all at one time; that doesn't work. Little changes are easy to do. You can't change years of habits in a day. You can't change a lot of health issues that accumulated over a long period of time ... but we can reserve them with little small changes to the foods we choose to eat and little changes in our activity levels. Little changes bring profound results.

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