Supplements are an invaluable source of preventive medicine and treatments for disease, and they are an integral part of the individualized nutritional programs we offer our patients. But the centerpiece of wellness and your first choice for radiant health should be a well-balanced diet based on whole foods.
For one, such a diet necessarily excludes food-like products that can be a drag on health – hyper-processed products typically loaded with sugars, unhealthy fats and synthetic additives (often including synthetic vitamins to make up for nutrients lost through the rigors of heavy processing).
What you don’t eat (or eat little of) matters at least as much as what you do eat.
But more, our bodies were designed to best assimilate nutrients as they come in their natural “packaging.” That orange you had at breakfast, for instance, is a great source of vitamin C, but it also contains folate, fiber, B1, potassium, copper, calcium – not to mention a wide array of phytonutrients such as anthocyanins and polyphenols.
All of these work together to make that orange a powerful, antioxidant-rich, health-supporting food.
And that’s the true nature of “vitamins.” They’re not isolated compounds but, as Dr. Royal Lee put it nearly 60 years ago, “a working process consisting of the nutrient, enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, and trace minerals activators.”
This is why when you need to supplement, whole food supplements are preferred.
The fact that whole foods have the upper edge was highlighted earlier this fall by a study published in Advances in Nutrition. The research focused on lycopene – a phytochemical found in tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant. It’s been seen to benefit heart health and may protect against cancer and an array of other inflammatory conditions.
The basic question of the study was simple: Are lycopene supplements as effective as lycopene consumed via whole foods, tomatoes in particular? (Of all fruits and vegetables, tomatoes have the highest lycopene content by far.) Reviewing the literature, the authors found it somewhat wanting.
However, at present, the available clinical research supports consuming tomato-based foods as a first-line approach to cardiovascular health. With the exception of blood pressure management where lycopene supplementation was favored, tomato intake provided more favorable results on cardiovascular risk endpoints than did lycopene supplementation.
Now, there’s an important caveat to this paper: It was funded in part by the Tomato Products Wellness Council, a trade group of tomato growers, processors and brands. Obviously, they have a stake in these findings, and through recent years, we’ve seen more than enough evidence of how Big Food funding can skew nutritional research just as Big Pharma funding can skew drug trials, and so on.
Even so, the findings make good sense in light of what we already know about how our bodies use the nutrients we give it. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with eating more tomatoes. But they’re far from the only good source of lycopene. Others include
- Red peppers (cooked)
- Asparagus (cooked)
- Purple cabbage
Image by Deb Collins