Let’s Talk Nutrition: Are Your Health Pros Rainbow Advocates?
This week’s post is by guest blogger and Yale educated CNM, Beth Genly. Read more about her here
How often is your health care provider reminding you to eat whole foods, including a full rainbow of fruits and veggies? How about your fitness professional? Or, are the people you are relying on for health advice still mainly suggesting you consume multivitamins or vitamin-fortified processed foods “for insurance?”
There are some supplements that have truly solid science behind them. Folic acid for pregnant women is one of them – although, if you’re eating green leafy veggies on a daily basis, you’re most likely getting enough. The time that folic acid does prove essential in pregnancy is either, 1) during the first few weeks of pregnancy, (which is why you must start taking it BEFORE conception), or 2) if you have certain blood problems or are on certain medications that use folic acid too fast.
However, vitamins aren’t living up to what we hoped and believed they would do for our general health, not even as “gap insurance” for those of us that struggle to find a way to get access to whole foods – whether the barriers are finances, location, or lifestyle. The well-constructed, large scientific studies are showing disappointing, null, or even negative health results for isolated nutrients. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, for example.)
Vitamins and minerals are healthiest when eaten in nature’s whole food packaging, not in pharmaceutical magic bullets. In supplement form, they may be best used sparingly and briefly, unless a deficiency is diagnosed or as mentioned above, pregnancy is concerned.
A large reason these supplements are so disappointing is that isolated antioxidants can cause oxidative stress. If you want to know how that works, here is an elegant explanation.
But why should we care about oxidative stress (OS)? Well, it’s at the root of a whole host of ills. For today’s example, let’s take physical performance and an active lifestyle. Whatever performance you’re asking of your body this day, your cells (specifically, your mitochondria) have to produce chemical energy to power it. But OS acts against your cells like a bully in the playground, leaving damage and distress in its wake, some of which has long-lasting consequences. Oxidative stress can also play a role in D.O.M.S or delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS is the muscle pain that plagues you 1-5 days after you exercise. OS can contribute to increased risk for injuries, impaired recovery, fatigue, overtraining syndrome, as well as impaired immune function. Eating antioxidants as plant-based whole foods, however, keeps OS at bay. (6) Here’s another link on the contributions of OS in DOMS
Think of your daily intake as a rainbow you need to fill up. Count your daily servings of fruits and veggies (you need 9-13 if you’re an “average person” – whoever that is! I’ve even heard Dr. David Phillips, MD, a sports medicine physician, insist that you need 16-18 servings if you’re a serious fitness buff.) There’s more to that rainbow, too: whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans. And, also, you want to be looking at daily colors – how wide can you make your rainbow, each day? You can make it a game.
White does qualify as a color in your rainbow game, by the way, if it’s in the form of onions and garlic and apples. Brown counts too, if it’s mushrooms and brown rice and walnuts and whole grains and flax seed. How about black? Yes, black can work – blackberries, of course, and black beans are high in antioxidants as well as fiber. But, for you smart alecks out there — Froot LoopsTM? Definitely a disqualifying entry!
If you’ve been alternately nodding and shaking your head through this whole article, as in, “I get it, I get it, but how the heck do I get all this whole food, stay on budget, and stay on track with everything else I need to do in a day?” I hear you! Here are some suggestions:
1) Watch Eating Healthy on a Budget. Dr. Greger is an excellent video blogger, informative, entertaining, and factual. I highly recommend his site, nutritionfacts.org. And try Googling “eating healthy on a budget,” to find dozens of great discussions on this subject. To get you started, here’s a well-written one that gets down to specifics on budget-friendly healthy foods. And this one, which talks about the hidden costs of eating poorly.
2) Consider the one item in a capsule that I do recommend to everyone: Juice Plus. I’ve had my whole family taking this encapsulated, concentrated fruit and vegetable and berry product for 10+ years. It can be a remarkable catalyst for healthy lifestyle choices. The research on this product is compelling, but do read it for yourself to determine if Juice Plus may be right for you and your family.
I’ll leave you with a couple of my current favorite super-easy summer recipes. I thought beets were sort of so-so, until I a friend brought this salad to a potluck. Now I love them.
Orange and Gold Salad
Peel a raw golden beet and grate on the coarse side of your grater.
Grate 2-3 carrots.
Toss together in a bowl.
Splash on your favorite vinaigrette dressing.
Beet Greens – Sweet and Dark
And don’t throw out the beet greens, by the way! Beet greens are fabulously yummy when sautéed with chopped (or grated) golden beet or carrot, and some chopped onion. Toast some sunflower seeds in a dry pan for a few minutes, and toss them on top just before serving. (Beet greens are a great source of folate, and iron, and zillions of other great nutrients.)
- http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/751263 . Iowa Women’s Health Study. “…we found that several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements, including multivitamins, vitamins B6, and folic acid, as well as minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper, were associated with a higher risk of total mortality.”
- http://www.pnas.org/content/106/21/8665.full?linkType=FULL&resid=106/21/8665&journalCode=pnas . “ In our opinion, antioxidant supplements are, at the least, useless.”
- http://nccam.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm#science. “Rigorous trials of antioxidant supplements in large numbers of people have not found that high doses of antioxidant supplements prevent disease.”
- http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/qa/2008/selectqa “…selenium and vitamin E, taken alone or together did not prevent prostate cancer. … The men who took vitamin E alone had a 17 percent relative increase in numbers of prostate cancers compared to men on placebo.”
- http://www.brighamandwomens.org/about_bwh/publicaffairs/news/pressreleases/PressRelease.aspx?PageID=289 “Vitamin C and Other Antioxidant Vitamins Provide No Protection From Cardiovascular Events “
- http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/science-compared-every-diet-and-the-winner-is-real-food/284595/ “”A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”
About the Author
Beth Genly, RN, MSN, CNM, is a Yale-educated nurse-midwife. Now retired, she spent 20+ years providing women’s health care in a variety of settings, from small birth center to university hospital. Now she trains people across the US to build teams that share simple, effective, evidence-based nutrition solutions, including Juice Plus+, that make a big difference; one person, one family at a time. Her dream is to build some teams in Europe as well. She and her husband celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in 2011, and they have two grown children.