(Dietary changes should be discussed with a health care provider.)
Before I begin let me share a joke that my elementary school daughter told me recently. “Before Mt. Everest was discovered, what was the tallest mountain in the world?”
I’ll give you a minute… The answer, of course, is Mt. Everest. Before anyone knew it was there or knew how tall it was, it still existed, standing above all else, affecting the weather patterns and even the light in the areas around it.
Back to our regularly scheduled chat about healthy eating: We eat healthily to get, among other things, enough vitamins and minerals. The body needs dozens of these, such as:
VITAMINS MINERALS A Calcium B1-B3 (in which many a milk drinker is deficient) (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin) Copper B5-B7 Iodine (Pantothenic Acid, Pyridoxine, Biotin) Iron
(Folic Acid) (of which many get an excess) B12 Potassium (“Vitamin K”)
(The Cobalamins Family) Magnesium C Selenium D Sodium (on which many overdose) E Zinc
These are important enough that the government has recommended that we, daily, take in a minimum allowance, and important enough that we sometimes supplement what we get in our food, in pill form, in case we fall short of achieving the goal.
A few of the fancier, more up to date supplements may also contain lycopene and/or lutein and possibly some carotenes. These aren’t vitamins OR minerals; they are phytonutrients. We need these too, but until recently this fact was not known, and the process to isolate many of them is still unknown. As a result, there are few supplements for them, indeed no RDA for them, and the foods we over-consume are not enriched with them.
Fortunately, this does not have to be problem -- for two reasons. First, in much the same way that Mt. Everest had long been standing whether or not we were aware, vegetables have contained phytonutrients and have been feeding phytonutrients to us – more than 25,000 of them – since long before we knew they existed. While the body uses dozens of vitamins and minerals, it uses tens of thousands of phytonutrients. Which leads us to the second reason you don’t need – indeed shouldn’t want -- a supplement. Scientists are discovering more and more phytonutrients all the time and are discovering that they work in combination with each other. If we rely on a supplement rather than on plants as a source of phytonutrients, we may not get them all, and the isolated ones we do get may provide us little benefit if they cannot work in conjunction with all their natural partners.
What benefits will we miss out on if we don’t follow our grandmothers’ advice and eat our vegetables? These phytonutrients are the antioxidants that kill cancerous cells, and even better, repair DNA damage before it leads to cancer. They also repair other cellular damage that leads to the outward appearance of aging as well as the chronic diseases and ailments that we associate with aging – not to mention the fact that phytonutrients decrease inflammation & boost our immune systems for better health today as well as in the future. (This is by no means an exhaustive list of benefits, both because there are too many to list here, and because new benefits are being continually discovered.)
One last thought. Phytonutrients are in the micronutrient family. You may have heard that micronutrients are non-essential nutrients, that only the three macronutrients, carbs, fat, & protein, are classified as essential, as necessary to stay alive. This is true; micronutrients don’t keep you alive; they keep you healthy. You can stay alive for a long time in an unhealthy state, but can you LIVE your life that way?
CHALLENGE #22 of 50:
Eat those vegetables – again – the whole rainbow of them! Remember that something touting “a full serving of fruits & vegetables” on the label does not necessarily provide much benefit if it just has a little squeezed vegetable or fruit juice stirred in. Different nutrients are found in the skin, flesh, juice, ribs, pith, zest, etc. as well as the different plants and colors.
QUOTE of the WEEK:
FOOD is an important part of a balanced diet.