Kim McCorquodale RD, CSO
Now, you may think these topics can’t possibly be covered in 3 short paragraphs, and you are probably right, but here goes…
Phytochemicals are “plant chemicals.” They give color, odor, and taste to the plants they call home. More interesting for us humans, eating phytochemicals improves how our bodies work and helps protect us from disease. Some of the benefits include reducing inflammation, encouraging our immune system, and blocking the growth of cancerous cells. Colorful fruits and vegetables are especially packed with phytochemicals, so aim for at least 5 servings each day. To some, that sounds too hard, and they may wonder, “why not just take a pill?” Taking supplements can lead to overdosing, and research suggests phytochemicals are less effective in pill form. To get the most benefit from these powerful substances- eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, or phytochemicals found in many whole plant-based foods . And, most importantly, when eaten in adequate amounts they help protect our cells from damage that can lead to cancer and other diseases. We are beginning to understand how they work, the best way to consume them, and that mega-doses of any one substance is not a ‘magic bullet.’ We are also realizing there are thousands of substances in plants that interact in interesting ways, and that some antioxidants work better when eaten with others. So, the bottom line is-
Your best source for antioxidants is… wait for it…
the produce section of your local market
I mentioned research, so it’s time to add some tips on understanding what those scientists are saying. The phrase “is associated with” does not always mean cause and effect. In other words, “may” or “suggests” do not necessarily mean “will.” They are only saying a trend has been noticed. Here’s an obvious example of a trend not showing cause and effect:
“As ice cream sales increase, so does the rate of drowning. Therefore, ice cream causes drowning.”
The take home message- It’s up to you to become research–savvy. Make sure you read the whole story when the latest and greatest findings are announced. Remember- one study does not a recommendation make. And keep eating those fruits and vegetables!
Visit the American Institute for Cancer Research and order some of their free pamphlets to read more reliable information on these topics.