We know that vitamins and minerals are important to keep us healthy. But can popping a vitamin supplement make up for poor food choices like processed foods, fast foods, and a lack of fruits and vegetables? Is that really the best way to be healthy and reap the rewards of vitamins and minerals?
Vitamins and minerals are important to us to keep us healthy and prevent disease, but it’s also important that these vitamins and minerals are attained by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, not by taking a vitamin pill. Fruits and vegetables provide us with vitamins, minerals, and water that form life-sustaining compounds, and they do so in a way that cannot be replicated outside of nature.
But how? Why? It’s all about synergy. What is synergy? Synergy means that there is an interaction of two or more substances that produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Whole fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and groups of vitamins (phytochemicals or phytonutrients) that are interwoven and balanced in such a way to provide humans with all of the vitamins and minerals needed to live. You can take a vitamin C pill, but you’ll never obtain the full effects of the vitamin C complex and all of its synergistic constituents as you would when you eat one single orange. Scientists have not yet been able to recreate a living food because of the synergistic properties of real food. Nature provides for us in a way that no human being can replicate. Isn’t that amazing?
When it comes to plant-based foods, we know that the more you get in your diet, the less likely you are to develop any of the “lifestyle diseases.” Lifestyle diseases include atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases associated with smoking and alcohol and drug abuse. These diseases develop out of poor lifestyle choices, like poor diet, lack of physical activity, not managing chronic stress, smoking, and the overuse of alcohol.
The Medicine Cabinet of Nature:
How do plant-based foods help your body stay healthy? Plant-based foods contain all life-sustaining nutrients: water, protein, vitamins and minerals that your body needs for optimal health. You cannot deduce a single isolated vitamin or mineral as the root benefactor; the beauty in plant-based foods is that the compounds (or phytonutrients) evolved in nature for our sustenance work synergistically. Scientists agree that it is virtually impossible to understand just how these phytonutrients work together. What science does know is that they do work together and can protect people from cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
- Apples: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is not so far from the truth. One apple contains over 26 flavonoids and studies have linked eating apples with reduced risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes. Apples are full of antioxidants which can inhibit cancer cell creation and can help lower cholesterol. They contain a variety of phytochemicals, including quercetin (which helps with breathing) and are strong antioxidants. Studies show that eating just one apple a day can drastically lower the likelihood of heart attacks, stroke, and cancer.
- Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collard Greens, Arugula, Bok Choy, Kale, Radishes, Turnips, Watercress, Horseradish, Rutabaga, Turnips, Wasabi): These are fiber-dense and rich in nutrients, including several carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin); vitamins C, E, and K, folate, and minerals. Research shows that cruciferous vegetables reduce the risk of prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and breast Cancer. Broccoli is rich in sulphoraphane, a compound that stimulates the production of enzymes that flush carcinogens out of the body. In a recent study, it was shown to reduce the incidence of breast cancer in mice up to 60%.
- Garlic and Onions: These contain allylic sulfides and bioflavonoids, which research shows can reduce the incidence of cancer and heart disease, and is also a detoxifier. Just two teaspoons per day is associated with lower risk of prostate cancer. Eating just a teaspoon of garlic and a half cup of onions increases the levels of key enzymes in the blood that help remove toxins from the blood. Onions are rich in allylic sulfides which simulate the production of enzymes that flush carcinogens from the body. A Dutch study demonstrated that they prevent gastric cancer, and an Indian study found that they reduce the incidence of lung cancer.
- Citrus Fruits (Oranges, Grapefruits, Tangerines, Lemons, and Limes): These fruits contain a powerhouse of vitamin C which research shows can help reduce the severity and duration of colds and is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. They also contain a lot of soluble fiber which is helps to lower cholesterol levels and to regulate blood sugar. They contain a plentiful amount of insoluble fiber which helps with weight loss (because it keeps you full). They are rich in flavonoids which help with heart health. Citrus fruits are loaded with potassium which helps regulate sodium levels in the blood and canlower your risk of stroke by 21% and reduce your risk of heart disease. Citrus fruits help you absorb other nutrients, are hydrating, and are great for healthy glowing skin. An American Heart Association Journal found that women especially benefit from eating more citrus fruits.
- Sweet Potatoes:A REAL powerhouse…They help boost immunity, aid in digestion, support respiratory health, help you lose weight, and support healthy blood sugar levels. That wonderful orange color means that sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A which is a powerful antioxidant, linked to anti-aging, is an anti-carcinogen, and helps support good vision. Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin B5, B6, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin. They also help support healthy blood pressure due to their high fiber and potassium content. One study found that a high consumption of vegetables like sweet potatoes that include beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C, and fiber reduced the risk of breast cancer by 50% among premenopausal women.
- Blueberries: Blueberries are a tiny powerhouse that help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy heart. They support brain health as well as lower blood pressure.Research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that eating just one cup of strawberries or blueberries each week can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
- Parsley: This herb is rich in several cancer-fighting compounds including chlorophyll, beta carotene, vitamin C, coumarin, and flavonoids which dramatically prevent carcinogens from being absorbed into the digestive tract.
- Sweet peppers: These contain more vitamin C than orange juice. Hot Peppers contain capsaicin and flavonoids which help to prevent blood clots and improve sinus congestion.
- Carrots: This vegetable contains falcarinol which has been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers. Carrots are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and even carotenoids which helps protect against cancer. They also contain vitamin A which can help with eyesight. Because carrots are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and nutrients, they help with immune function and weight control. Carrots are also a good source of potassium which helps regulate blood pressure.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant which prevents cancer. A university of Toronto study found that tomatoes, when mixed with a small amount of fat, dramatically increase their potency.
Tips to help you increase your fruits and vegetable intake:
It’s easy to pack and bring nature’s medicine chest with you every day!
- “Grab and go” fruits like apples, citrus fruits, bananas, and fresh fruit cups are easy to find and keep in hand during the day. Snack on them whenever your energy feels low.
- Fresh carrot sticks, peppers, and celery are available in most Quick Checks, WaWa’s and to-go areas of Walmart or Target or any supermarket. You can also prep some on days off to take along quickly.
- Dip raw veggies in a ready-made individual package of hummus for extra protein.
- Add a drizzle of olive oil and experiment with fresh herbs for extra fresh flavor.
- Mix fruit or berries with Greek low fat yogurt.
- Add fresh berries to almond milk for a quick and delicious smoothie.
- Have fun with salads…Make it look like a rainbow of colors with a variety of different fruits and veggies added in.
- Add veggies to sandwiches. Stack a low-carb wrap with leafy romaine lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, and peppers.
- Set a goal! Keep track of what you are eating to ensure you are getting at least 4-5 servings each of fruits and veggies every day.
Focus on salads, veggies, real whole fruits and vegetables, and whole foods whenever you can. By making these healthy lifestyle choices, you can reduce your risk of chronic lifestyle diseases!
By: Cynthia (Cindy) Luisi, BA, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach