Whole Food Nutrients
What is the difference between Isolated Nutrients and Nutrients in Natural, Plant-Based Foods
To understand the nature of a synthetic or isolated vitamin or mineral, think of it as a refined food. Refined white sugar is often sourced from what was once a nutritional powerhouse – a beet. While the beet is indeed high in sugar, it is also abundant in thousands of other health promoting compounds that make the whole-food beet a powerful weapon in fighting disease and promoting health. Once you extract out the sweetest component of the beet and refine it into a lifeless, calorie-rich white powder, however, you have created a new substance that is entirely different from the beet. You have now formed refined, white sugar, which is a potent disease promoting substance that is literally toxic to your body.
Synthetic vitamins and minerals are similarly refined, lifeless and potentially toxic substances. Synthetic vitamins are not found in nature, but are man-made creations that are concocted in a scientific laboratory. In nature, vitamins do not exist in isolation, but as part of a family of nutrients which include enzymes, precursors, co-enzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, synergistic activators and micronutrients.
For example, the synthetic version of Vitamin C is ascorbic acid. Yet, ascorbic acid is really only one component of the Vitamin C family found in natural, plant foods. All plant foods that are high in Vitamin C are also loaded with substances called flavanoids (such as rutin and quercetin) among other substances that make Vitamin C far more bioavailable[i] and beneficial.
This whole family of nutrients in plant foods is what promotes health and optimal absorption.
We are always trying to find the one component of a food that causes the magical health benefits. Yet, every time we isolate out one compound we find in fruits and vegetables from its natural synergists, it has been shown over and again, in very well-respected studies, to actually promote disease.
Look no further then the example of Vitamin A to clarify this point. There are a natural mix of hundreds of carotenoids (some of which have vitamin A activity, such as beta-carotene) in natural plant foods. When you consume fruits and vegetables, you get a potent blend of these carotenoids that are extremely health-promoting and non-toxic in any dose – in fact, the more you consume the healthier you are.
In contrast, when you isolate out just one of these carotenoids and supplement it, it is highly toxic and promotes disease. For instance, when you take beta-carotene in isolation, it competes for absorption with any other carotenoid you consume during the day. Essentially, you will absorb tons of beta-carotene and absorb none of the other health-promoting carotenoids.
By way of example, as published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
More than 30 case-control and cohort studies were conducted over many years in various populations and indicated that people who eat more vegetables and fruit, foods rich in carotenoids, and carotenoids (beta-carotene in particular), as well as those with higher blood beta-carotene concentrations, have a lower risk of lung cancer than those who eat fewer such foods or have lower beta-carotene concentrations. In contrast, the intervention results from large, controlled trials of beta-carotene supplementation do not support the observed beneficial associations or a role for supplemental beta-carotene in lung cancer prevention; instead, they provide striking evidence for adverse effects (ie, excess lung cancer incidence and overall mortality) in smokers.
In other words, those who ate lots of natural plant foods rich beta-carotene had lower risk of disease, and those who took beta-carotene supplements had greater risk of disease and also lived shorter lives.
Another study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that high blood levels of the carotenoid alpha-carotene may reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and all other causes by up to 39 percent, suggest results from a 14 year study. This study adds “further support to previous findings that fruit and vegetable consumption is beneficial to people’s health,” wrote the researchers who conducted the study.
The people with the highest blood levels of alpha carotene, who had the greatest protection from disease, were not taking alpha carotene supplements. Instead, they were eating foods that were high in alpha carotene, and those participants who had high blood levels of alpha carotene also had extremely high blood levels of all the other carotenoids that were in the natural plant foods they were eating.
The alpha carotene was just a biomarker showing these people had high blood levels of hundreds of carotenoids – and this is what caused the myriad health benefits noted in the study. Simply taking in isolated alpha carotene would have the same potentially harmful effects that taking in isolated beta-carotene shows.
In comparison to the massive health benefits associated with consuming carotenoids in natural plant foods, preformed Vitamin A and isolated beta-carotene are extremely dangerous and should never be taken consistently in nutritional supplements.
Below are listed just a small sample of the hundreds of studies showing the disease fighting potential of carotenoids found in natural, plant foods.
Studies Showing Benefits of Mixed Carotenoids found in Plant Foods
Int J Clin Oncol. 2013 Feb 5. [Epub ahead of print] — provide further support for the protective effects of carotenoids contained in green-yellow vegetables and fruits against colorectal polyps and cancers in Japanese.
J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012 Dec 19;104(24):1905-16. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs461. Epub 2012 Dec 6. — This comprehensive prospective analysis suggests women with higher circulating levels of α-carotene, β-carotene, lutein+zeaxanthin, lycopene, and total carotenoids may be at reduced risk of breast cancer.
J Natl Cancer Inst. 1996 Mar 20;88(6):340-8. — Among migrant populations, intake of vegetables appears to decrease premenopausal breast cancer risk. This effect may be related, in part, to beta-carotene and lutein + zeaxanthin in vegetables. It appears, however, that, of the nutrients and food components examined, no single dietary factor explains the effect. Evaluated components found together in vegetables may have a synergistic effect on breast cancer risk; alternatively, other unmeasured factors in these foods may also influence risk.
Br J Cancer. 2012 Oct 23;107(9):1580-3. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2012.413. Epub 2012 Sep 11. — Study findings suggest a protective effect of dietary carotenoids against nasopharyngeal carcinoma
in a low-risk population, adding further support to a possible beneficial role of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables in cancers of the head and neck.
J Epidemiol. 2013 Mar 9. [Epub ahead of print] — Higher levels of serum carotenoids were associated with lower risk of elevated serum NT-proBNP levels after adjusting for possible confounders, which suggests that a diet rich in carotenoids could be heart protective
Int J Cancer. 2009 Jun 15;124(12):2929-37. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24334. — Laura Mignone and colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health, US, looking at the correlation between dietary consumption of certain classes of vitamins and nutrients in fruits and vegetables, suggest that a high consumption of carotenoids may reduce the risk of premenopausal breast cancer, particularly in smokers.