After attending the Natural Foods Expo in Los Angeles you might have been led to believe the way to eating “naturally” is to pop a pill or drink a beverage laced with green tea extract, quercetin, or Curcumin. These hot breaking news nutrients can have tremendous benefits for your health.
But are taking supplements really “natural?” Can we take what is in Mother Nature and replicate the benefits in a pill? So far the research is leaning towards eating your nutrients. However, the lure of a magic pill for benefiting your health remains. Here’s what we know right now:
So far we’ve identified about 13,000 nutrients in foods known as phytochemicals or phytonutrients. Phytochemicals are substances that plants naturally contains to protect themselves against sunlight, bacteria or viruses and oxidation – kind of like a natural sunscreen. Simply put, once we eat these plants, our immunity increases, and we become more resistant to diseases such as cancer, heart disease and other medical problems.
It is estimated there are over 100 phytochemicals in just one serving of a fruit or vegetable. For example, a carrot can contain as many as 100 different carotenoids, whereas a beta carotene supplement has only one type of carotenoid. Furthermore, you receive the benefit of the fiber and fullness of the actual food when you eat the carrot.
Apples contain the phytonutrient quercetin. Extensive research by food scientist Rui Hai Liu at Cornell University found that both the apple skin and the fruit contain nutrients to help lower cholesterol and inhibit or kill cancer cells.
Curcumin is responsible for the yellow color in the popular Indian curry spice turmeric. Known for being an anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant, some research shows turmeric can be helpful in preventing development of medical issues related to oxidative damage such as cancer and heart disease.
UCLA Neurologist John Ringman studied Curcumin supplements in Alzheimer’s patients. The study results showed no differences in patients treated with Curcumin supplements versus a placebo. However, this study and others do show Curcumin has poor or uncertain absorption when taken in supplement form versus used as a food spice.
Tea contains a type of phytonutrient called EGCG. Green tea contains the most EGCG of all the varieties of tea. However, all tea leaves are good sources. EGCG has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. It is also associated with reduced rates of prostate, stomach and colon cancer. However, studies to date show drinking the tea has the most potent and effective benefits.
The discovery of nutrients in foods is ongoing. The research shows eating your phytochemicals through food instead of popping a pill is currently the path to health and definitely more “natural.” I guess Mom was right when she told us to eat a balanced diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Make sure to consume a mixture of color to obtain your phytonutrient needs.