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Free Radicals and Antioxidants–Facts You May Not Know/Take 2

On Monday, I started talking about free radicals and antioxidants facts. Today, I have two more. I said I have three, but I’m not sure anymore about the evidence on the third point so I’m just going to skip it.

  • Eating fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of developing cancers, but taking vitamin and mineral supplements doesn’t

Stella wrote a comment yesterday and said:

I just don’t take studies involving extracts or isolated vitamins too seriously. The vitamin isn’t at work with all of the other nutrients in whole foods, so I just question the validity of their results. Plus, that beta carotene study showed that supplement form beta carotene worsened the overall situation for people with certain cancers where as whole food beta carotene (carrots, sweet potatoes, turmeric, etc) did indeed ’seem’ to better the situation

She exactly spelled out my fourth point; that wholesome foods–fruits, vegetables, and whole grains–that naturally contain these antioxidants may prevent cancer, but taking a vitamin E, C, selenium, beta-carotene, or any other supplement won’t.

These antioxidants fall under the big umbrella of phytochemicals; chemicals in plant foods that also include flavonoids, sterols, folic acid, isoflavones, carotenoids, sulfur-containing compounds, and others. Thousands of phytochemicals have been identified, but we still don’t know how they work or if there’s more.  Studies of specific phytochemicals did not show any cancer prevention benefit, but eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans that contain these chemicals does. That’s why your diet should be filled with colorful real foods, not colorful supplement pills. Read this article from the American Cancer Society Web site if you want to learn more about phytochemicals.

  • ORAC report is not the golden measure for antioxidant efficiency

Here’s the catch with Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC): it only measures how antioxidants work to fight one type of free radicals–peroxyl radical. Antioxidants are specific; each one has a specific job in the free radical fighting process, and you need all of them to keep the process going. Plus, ORAC values have been measured for foods in test tubes and there’s no way of knowing how these can be applied in biological mediums, aka inside our bodies.

What does that mean to you? This Web site lists ORAC values. Take a look at the list for ideas on foods and spices to add to your diet. But that doesn’t mean they will prevent cancer or have any measurable effect on your health. Acai berries are on top of the list. Does that mean they are better than blueberries, strawberries, or even apples? Not necessarily; even though that’s what “superfruits” marketers want you to believe–so outsmart them.

The Bottom Line:

Base your diet on a variety of wholesome foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.

Cook with lots of flavor from herbs and spices.

Don’t take individual supplements or any other combination supplements without consulting with your doctor or a registered dietitian. A supplement may raise the level of a certain nutrient in your blood, but it won’t necessarily prevent a disease.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Nicole, RD July 7, 2010, 5:13 pm

    What wonderful, sound, concise advice!

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD July 9, 2010, 1:14 pm

    Thanks Nicole! Hope all is well.

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