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Oct 11, 2012

Why Aren’t We Eating Our Veggies?

Antioxidants Related to Heart Health

A recent study published this month in the American Journal of Medicine (Oct 2012) found a strong relationship between antioxidants in the diet and risk for heart attack. The Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that women who had the highest levels of “total antioxidant capacity” from fruits, vegetables, coffee, and whole grains also had the lowest risk for heart attack over a 10-year period (approximately a 20% reduction compared to women with lower antioxidant intake).

You would think this new study would be terrific news because eating more high-antioxidant foods like fruits/veggies and whole grains is a low-cost and effective way to significantly reduce a primary killer of millions of people every year. Unfortunately, we know from numerous population surveys that despite the widespread understanding that dietary antioxidants are “good” and that eating more fruits/veggies is associated with reduced risk for chronic diseases, including obesity, we’re simply not consuming nearly enough fruits or vegetables to make a meaningful difference for our health.

Pitiful Diets

The recommended intake of fruits and vegetables is 10­–12 servings per day (which varies slightly based on age, gender, calorie needs, and slight differences between guidelines from different health organizations). Data from both the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) indicate that the average consumption of fruits and vegetables in the USA is 1.8 servings per day.

A recent study from the CDC of fruit and vegetable intake among adults and teens in the USA found pretty much the same pitiful intake (Medscape J Med 2009; 11(1):26), with fewer than 1 in 10 Americans meeting the recommendations for daily fruit/veggie intake. Only 3% of adult women were found to meet the recommended intake of both fruits and vegetables­—with men (2%) and teens (1%) doing even worse.

The most-consumed “fruit” in the CDC study was orange juice  (followed closely by apple juice and bananas) and the most-consumed “vegetable” was potatoes (as French fries) followed by lettuce and pizza sauce. Some of the most nutritious vegetables—those that are dark green and orange because they are rich in carotenoids—were almost non-existent in the CDC study, despite their intake being linked to reduced risk for stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

Research results like these are almost enough to make a nutritionist like myself rip my hair out (if I had any hair) because we KNOW that if people ate more fresh fruits and veggies that their antioxidant levels would increase and their risk for a wide range of chronic conditions would fall (along with their weight). Alas, we’ve been encouraging people to eat more fruits/veggies for decades and the numbers just don’t seem to budge.

Where Do Antioxidant Supplements Fit In?

If you’re not eating your fruits and veggies, please make an effort. But if you can’t or won’t eat the recommended amount, then maybe an antioxidant supplement can “make up” for some of the health benefits that you’re missing? Yes, and No.

It’s not uncommon for people to learn about the potential health benefits of antioxidants, get excited, and run off the deep end with mega-doses of isolated vitamin supplements. Yes, it’s true that “too few” antioxidants in your body can lead to a range of health problems, but it’s also true that “too many” of certain antioxidants can also lead to problems. We see this most clearly in situations where people supplement with mega-doses of isolated synthetic antioxidants such as vitamins C or E or minerals such as zinc or selenium. Such mega-doses can actually create an imbalance in the body that causes oxidative damage from free radicals rather than prevents the damage. Talk about unintended consequences!

However, a well-formulated and balanced antioxidant supplement can certainly deliver the “antioxidant equivalent” of 10­–12 servings of fruits and vegetables (depending on the content of vitamins/minerals, carotenoids, and flavonoids). This is great, but the supplements can never fully “replace” our need for fruits/veggies because missing from the supplement will be the soluble and insoluble fiber as well as miscellaneous phytonutrients that are naturally found in the plants.

For example, MonaVie Juices and RVL Shakes are formulated to deliver the antioxidant equivalence of 10–12 servings of fruits and vegetables per serving of product. So, while they can be a great way to “fill the gap” when you can’t eat as many fruits and vegetables as you should, you should still try as hard as you can to get as many servings of fruits/veggies as you can each day.

Remember, your first approach to ensure optimal antioxidant protection is to consumer 10–12 servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. But when “life” gets in the way and you find yourself short on fruit/veggie intake, you can reach for a balanced antioxidant supplement to help fill the gap and help protect your health.

To find out how to have your antioxidant status measured, check out the new MonaVie VIEW at www.monavie.com

About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers) and physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst) and serves as MonaVie’s VP of Product Innovation & Education. He competes in Ironman triathlons and runs ultramarathons, which he finds easier than getting his 10–12 servings of fruits/veggies every day.

 

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