FINDING THE RIGHT nutritional balance can be a contentious issue, with experts divided into camps of often contrary but passionately held beliefs. For proof, just flip through a couple of health and lifestyle magazines. There is the popular Atkins diet, which limits carbohydrate intake to less than 40 grams per day. Turn a few more pages and you will likely run into articles discussing the issue of carbohydrate addiction. If you follow these diets, you are forbidden to eat any breads, pastas or carbohydrate-heavy fruit, except during a one-hour window each day, when you can binge to your heart's content. Then there are the vegans, the vegetarians, and those who believe in organic foods. Confused? You should be, as the food debate is vocalised by people who generally say that a particular diet has improved the way they feel, which is a pretty subjective measure at the best of times. Joining in this crowded debate are two local entrepreneurs who favour food supplements and strongly believe that it is almost impossible to create a nutritionally balanced diet by shopping at the supermarket. At the core of their philosophy is the conviction that much of the food we buy is poor in nutrients, as a result of either soil degradation or food processing. Our bodies need supplements to combat the effects of stress and urban pollution; and our bodies can more efficiently process the nutrients from supplements rather than natural foods. If this sounds far-fetched, speak to Leighton and Linda Tsai, the husband-and-wife directors of the food supplement company PowerSports. They supply sport drinks, energy bars and food supplements in gyms across Hong Kong, and have an exclusive distribution deal with all California Fitness outlets. To say the Tsais are passionate about the product they sell is an understatement. Their story of going from nutrient popper to nutrient pitchman, however, is one about necessity rather than business ambition. In 1994, frustrated they could not find high-quality nutritional aids to supplement their active lifestyles and work-out regiments, the Tsais started to import muscle boosters and other supplements from the United States. They soon found themselves distributing products to friends and local fitness instructors. After months of watching their spare bedroom fill with boxes of products, Leighton Tsai decided to quit his day job and go into the nutrient distribution business full-time. The year was 1995. 'We were going to the gym and not really getting any results. We looked at our diets and realised there were things missing, like protein, so we began importing supplements from America,' he says. 'The products available in Hong Kong were four times more expensive than in the US, and they were second-rate.' PowerSports ranks among the top two nutrient distributors in Hong Kong. The Tsais admit they have a vested interest in promoting what they sell, but say they genuinely believe in the product and its potential to do good. They have adopted the role of educators on good eating and how to build a nutritionally-balanced diet modelled on the idea that Hong Kong must catch up with the United States in terms of eating awareness. In this respect, Hong Kong lags the US by about eight years. The Tsais stress the importance of a healthy diet, despite the busy work and lifestyle schedules placed on most of us. 'Health awareness for me is to make educated decisions about my food,' says Linda, pointing out that people often do not have the time to prepare healthy meals. 'So many people do not realise why we eat food for a start. But Sars has changed all that.' She says nutritional aids are the fast foods of our times, because of the hectic schedules of modern living. Apart from shopping, cooking, and washing, the average person has to gulp down a lot of food just to meet minimum requirements. It is more realistic, Linda says, to consume a nutritional meal replacement than to slave over the stove. An average morning for her begins with a packet of Myoplex, a nutritional drink fortified with vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates which, she says, provides much of her nutritional requirements for the day. 'Aside from a Myoplex, I'll have vitamins, sometimes a juice or toast, but always something with protein,' she says. 'The key to breakfast is eating adequate food.' Leighton also relies on supplements to make up his daily nutritional requirements. As a general rule of thumb, he says, most people need one gram of protein daily for every pound of body weight. At 92.5 kilograms, Leighton would have to consume half a dozen steaks and a dozen eggs to meet his daily requirements. As a vegetarian, this is out of the question, and one of the reasons he consumes up to three protein drinks, one packet of Myoplex, as well as vitamins, amino acids and a post-workout Creatine mixture daily. Even with all the topping up, he still requires about 100 grams of protein and 2,500 calories from his daily meals. A common mistake made by those seeking to lose weight is to adopt the starvation diet. By skipping meals, he says, your body learns to store calories. The result is decreased metabolism and loss of muscle mass. Ultimately, this can lead to thin physiques, which are anything but healthy. 'When people, especially women in Hong Kong, want to lose weight, they starve themselves and lose water weight and muscle,' Leighton says. 'But muscle is a furnace for burning fat. It also helps you look toned. You may look thin but you are technically obese. Starvation is the wrong way to go.' Instead of using a weight scale to measure health, look at your body fat ratio. If you are unhappy with your weight, the best way to trim down is to eat better foods regularly and be aware of what your body will store at different times of the day. For example, it is a bad idea to eat heavy pastas at night, because your body will tend to break down the sugars and store them as fat. A better idea is to load up on proteins and mineral-rich salads in the evening, as these will replace much of what your body has burned off during the day. Carbohydrates should be consumed at breakfast or early lunch. 'Most people eat accidentally,' he says. 'They think: I am hungry, let's get something to eat. They just pick a restaurant and pick food on impulse, based on what might taste good, rather than looking at the macro ingredients of food.'