Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why You Should Choose Food Over a Supplement

While I don’t sell supplements, I do take a few, as my physicians advise. There are just certain nutrients I need that are hard to get enough of through diet. (I’ll explore those in an upcoming post.) With that said, I still use my diet to get the vast majority of the substances I need. Perhaps you can, too.

Hardly a day goes by without a claim by a marketer promoting a new antioxidant substance or compound, aimed at countering the damaging effect of oxidation caused by free radicals. This is serious stuff, as studies suggest that oxidation can damage DNA and transform normal cells into cancerous ones. Oxidation can also damage the eyes, the brain, and cartilage. Yet the American Heart Association now recommends against taking antioxidant supplements because clinical trials have not confirmed the benefits of these substances. In fact, some studies have even suggested a risk among certain populations.

The good news in all of this may lie in the reason some of these studies have been unsuccessful: it may take combinations of antioxidants to have a protective effect. These combinations are best found in whole foods and accessed through a varied and nutritious diet. In fact, according to Consumer Reports onHealth September 2007 issue, the average person has no need for supplements of vitamins A, C, E, or beta-carotene, known for their antioxidant effect.

There is considerable misinformation about supplements. Labeling a substance as “natural” does not make it safe; consider arsenic or hemlock. The idea that a supplement has been used for centuries does not guarantee its effectiveness or safety; many Chinese herbs can have damaging side effects. Some supplements interfere with prescription drugs and may in fact cause harmful effects. Finally, supplements are only loosely regulated by the government; studies confirm that the labels often do not accurately reflect the true ingredients of the contents.

Instead of looking to pills, focus on a broad selection of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. These foods will get you the entire array of plant chemicals along with the fiber. Look for variety in colors, as each color generally represents a different and important set of phytochemicals. Select dark and bright red, orange, yellow, green, purple and white foods. Rather than focusing on “super foods,” broaden your choices. This way you can omit a food you don’t like without much negative impact. Finally, be sure to maintain overall good eating habits as the inclusion of one star food such as pomegranate juice or dried plums (prunes) will not compensate for generally unhealthy habits.

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