Get Your Nutrients From Food, Not From a Bottle
by Wendy Romig, DCN
Antioxidants, phytonutrients, superfoods: these nutritional terms are widely used in supplements marketing, on food packaging and online. But are the benefits they tout hype, or are they based on scientific evidence?
Antioxidants are an important part of our daily dietary needs, yet it’s common for people to have severe deficiencies in these essential nutrients. According to the National Institute of Health, antioxidants have health-promoting benefits which may lower the risk of chronic illness and counteract the effects of oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress results from our body’s energy production pathways leading to the release of free radicals, not unlike a car engine producing toxic exhaust fumes. While free radicals naturally occur in the body, their presence can lead to changes in our DNA, cellular damage, cellular mutations and inflammation, all of which can contribute to cancer, atherosclerosis, macular degeneration and other health issues.
Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables bind to free radicals, safely removing them from the body and protecting the cells from mutation or damage. Nutrients like Vitamins C, A, E, lutein, lycopene, and flavonoids have been widely studied over the years for their protective, anti-inflammatory effects.
Vitamin C is most commonly associated with citrus fruit. However, Vitamin C can be found in many vegetables as well, including broccoli and kale. Studies show that Vitamin C is beneficial for heart health, in cancer treatment and improved immune function. It is water soluble and an essential nutrient in our diet, meaning the only source is through our food. Deficiencies in Vitamin C can lead to bruising, bleeding gums, poor immunity and slow wound healing.
Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds and dark leafy greens. Vitamin E may be beneficial for eye health and heart disease, though one should be cautious with high dose supplementation, because Vitamin E can be stored in fat cells of the body. Vitamin E oil is commonly used topically to help repair damaged skin tissue. Vitamin E deficiencies can lead to neuropathies, vision issues, and muscle weakness.
Vitamin A and beta carotene are fat-soluble nutrients that are found in orange foods like carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, etc. Vitamin A is most commonly associated with eye health, but also is critical in pregnancy for fetal development. It’s important to note that high doses of supplemental vitamin A can be toxic.
Lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Evidence shows that these nutrients are beneficial for eye health, specifically supporting the macula of the eye. Some studies suggest diets rich in carotenoids may reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Flavonoids are polyphenols that have significant antioxidant effects in the body and are plentiful in fruits, vegetables, coffee, chocolate and green tea. Flavonoids have been studied for their benefits in cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and brain health.
Supplementation of antioxidants can offer some benefits to health, but the first goal should always be to increase your intake of foods containing these nutrients. Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet offers an abundance of antioxidants and other health benefits including improved energy, blood sugar control, better digestion and increased well-being. It’s yet another case for eating lots of veggies.