Antioxidant Supplements: Do We Need Them?

Antioxidant Foods

Antioxidants and Free Radicals

All cells face constant threats from what are known as free radicals.  We obtain these potential scoundrels from the metabolism of the food we eat, the air we breathe and from sunlight’s action. Free radicals are in varying chemical states, but their main danger lies in their need for obtaining electrons for stability. In order to do this, they “steal” electrons from nearby substances such as body cells and DNA, causing potential damage and destruction. They may damage the instructions in a DNA strand creating a harmful mutation or create  low-density lipoproteins (LDL) that could increase heart disease risk in an artery of the heart, or alter a cell membrane that could affect what enters or leaves a body cell. The body also uses free radicals in a necessary way as part of the immune system to help destroy foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins.

Antioxidants are found naturally in the body such as glutathione, coenzyme Q10, superoxide dismutase among other systems. We obtain many from various foods in the form of vitamins (C, E, beta-carotene and related carotenoids), minerals (selenium, manganese) and various phytonutrients such as flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols, phytoestrogens, and many more found in many plant foods.

Antioxidants probably number in the hundreds or thousands of different substances. Their main function is to act as an electron donor to help squelch the actions of harmful free radicals. Some antioxidants in certain situations can be called prooxidants – electron grabbers. This is likely to be the method found in the defense of the body (e.g. immune system)  Nevertheless, they are all considered to be unique with different roles. “So, no single antioxidant can do the work of the whole crowd.” We obviously need a variety of foods to provide as many as we need to get the job done.

Health Benefits of Antioxidants – What’s the Hype?

Antioxidants came into attention when the research suggested that free radical damage may be involved in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and vision loss. Studies initially indicated that people who ate the most fruits and vegetables had lower risk of these diseases than people who ate lesser amounts. Clinical trials began to test individual nutrients found in fruits and vegetables that were known antioxidants (vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene) to test their efficacy against these diseases. This took the food and supplement industry and media by storm for a long time with proclaiming protection against diseases by consuming large amounts of antioxidants provided by their products.

However, despite these results and disappointments, antioxidant supplements represent a $500 million-dollar industry that continues to grow. Antioxidants continue to be added to cereals, sports and energy bars and drinks, and other processed foods. Lately, however, the hype appears to have abated somewhat due to the reports of no effects of these vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals (my opinion).

Heart Disease and Antioxidants

In the Women’s Health Study, 39,876 women took 600 IU of natural vitamin E or a placebo every other day for 10 years. The results? At the end, the rates of major cardiovascular events and cancer were no lower among those taking vitamin E than they were among those taking the placebo.  One large study (the HOPE Trial) found that those taking Vitamin E versus a placebo showed no benefits vs the placebo and vitamin E and that those in the Vitamin E group actually had higher risks of heart failure and hospitalization for heart failure.  Not all trials were negative, however. In a recent trial of vitamin E in Israel, there was a market reduction in coronary heart disease among people with type 2 diabetes.

In the Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study, vitamin E, vitamin C and/or beta-carotene had much the same effect as a placebo on myocardial infarction, stroke, coronary revascularization, or cardiovascular death, although there was a modest and significant benefit for vitamin E among women with existing cardiovascular disease.

Age-Related Eye Disease and Antioxidants

Some good news for  antioxidant supplements was found in a six-year trial, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). The results were that a combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc offered some protection against the onset of advanced age-related macular degeneration in people who were high risk for the disease.

Potential Hazards of Antioxidants

Several studies have raised some concerns about supplemental beta-carotene.  One study even found that when smokers were fed beta-carotene supplements, the chances of developing lung cancer were increased.  Follow-up studies reported the same results. Another possible caution: In the SU.VI.MAX Trial, rates of skin cancer were higher in women assigned to take vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc supplements.

The studies so far have been inconclusive and are far from providing strong evidence that supplementation with antioxidants have much impact on chronic disease prevention. There was some positive benefits of beta-carotene on cognitive function in the Physicians’ Health Study after 18 years of follow-up; however most studies are of shorter duration, so few comparisons can be made.

What to do? There is abundant evidence that the first observations of fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption were correct since subsequent studies have supported the fact that consumption of antioxidants via eating natural whole foods provides protection against many of our common chronic diseases.

Bottom Line: Get your antioxidants from whole, natural foods, not supplements. Research is still limited and results are not conclusive, but supplement companies still claim benefits even though more evidence of safety and efficacy is sorely needed.

Weight Loss and Fitness: An Opinion

The following article by Shannon Hilson writing on Medium is one of the best weight loss experiences ever This article is written by a real person in a real life situation, not by some so-called diet expert. Some experts tend to  espouse nutrition platitudes, leaving the reader feeling guilty, depressed and tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. (my opinion).

This article can pertain to not only dieting (aka as torture), but weight management (staying at your desired weight goal).

The bottom line: Dieting is just not a pleasant state of mind or body – no matter how easy a Nutrisystem commercial may seem – “just eat the food….”

For a sensible approach:

CLICK HERE.

Who Lives Longer? Why?

A flag concept of a dinner plate with the flag of France on it.

More lessons are to be learned from the French culture. They just keep giving and we (the U.S) just keep ignoring their clues reflected by their lower disease rates (some of the lowest on the globe).

For example, the cardiovascular disease rate: 86.89 deaths in U.S per 100,000 population; 43.25 in France. The obesity rates are much higher in the U.S. than in France. However the lower rates are climbing in France due to less adherence to their traditional diets and their higher intake of Westernized fast and processed foods.

The dietary lessons are relatively simple suggestions(in my opinion). The  French generally do not diet or snack. They enjoy food and eat sensibly when it comes to portions. There may be others that are more complex. Please check out the table and graph in the article.

CLICK HERE.

The Simple Way to Eat?

Was a new diet part of your 2020 resolutions?  Great, but forget the new fads, diet pills, and starvation deprivation. There are many of the old diets still around- keto, paleo, Whole 30, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig to mention a few.  Just look at the magazine covers at the supermarket checkout – keto seems to have taken over all the others. The keto diet is quite restrictive, difficult to maintain and the long-term effects are not known. There is little evidence that  this type of restriction, although shown to be effective for weight loss, may not be a lifestyle choice for most people. Is there a better way? In my opinion, yes. The best diet is one you can live with and with a few adjustments compatible with the foods you choose. The best diet is one that with a little guidance and knowledge, is decided by you.

The following article is worth looking at if you want a simple approach.  All you need is a plate, a bottle of water, real food and of course, your commitment. And even better, this plan lets you be in control in following a reasonable and evidence-based plan that can fit easily into your lifestyle.

The article speaks for itself and provides a few links to add to the basics, i.e. some things you need to know like a guide to non-starchy vegetables. Oh, you may have to give up fast food and processed foods for a while. But, you may be glad when you realize that you will feel a lot better (and healthier) and the effort will be well worth it.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to say that weight loss itself is easy – it ‘s hard work but worth it when your goals are either weight loss or just changing to a healthier lifestyle.    That is why this plan is appealing. it is straightforward and makes sense.

So join the new “non-diet” approach that will help you lose some pounds but even better, eating for health. That is what eating should be about, not body image, eating disorders and food restriction. Learning how to eat rather than  just what to eat  is the answer (my opinion). ENJOY!!

One more thing – Always consult a registered dietitian, certified nutritionist, and your primary physician to discuss any dietary change to make sure it is nutrient dense. Also make sure you have no underlying medical problems like high cholesterol, hypertension, pre-diabetes, diabetes or digestive issues, for example.

CLICK HERE.

Blue Zones Cities USA

Dan Buettner’s groundbreaking ambitious Blue Zone project is beginning to transform American cities into Blue Zone cities  and has so far helped thousands of people lose weight, reverse disease, and increase life satisfaction by changing in part the way they eat, live, and connect.

The original Blue Zones areas helped shape these transformations. Practically speaking, Americans cannot be expected to eat the same foods as the Blue Zone inhabitants did. That would be impossible in the U.S. food environment. However, lots of lessons can be learned from their way of life that led them to longevity and health in their older years than anyone could have imagined. Get a brief glimpse of how one city (Ft. Worth, TX) transformed themselves into better health outcomes. Small changes can make a difference over time.

 

CLICK ON THE VIDEO.

Eating for Longevity and Good Health

THE BLUE ZONES

Source: The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People, Dan Buettner

What factors have led us to the Standard American Diet (SAD)?  What changed in the American food culture that led us to the current obesity/diabetes epidemics?

As we evolved, we as a species needed calories for survival purposes and our bodies developed many life-saving mechanisms to keep us from starvation. That worked very well for eons until our food environment changed dramatically. “Relatively recently in human history, refined starchy foods took the place of tubers and herbaceous plants in our diets. Sugar crept in. The quality and quantity of foods available changed drastically in the last few decades, with results at once triumphant and disastrous.” Page 153.

Primarily since the mid-20th century, “food science and government policy conspired to favor wheat, soybeans, sugar, and corn over other crops. The food processing industry devised ways to use them to create cheaper food products that could be replicated in factories around the world. According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the number of calories the average American consumed jumped by about 530 calories a day, a 24.5 percent increase.” At the same time, we have managed to have engineered physical activity out of our daily lives. “Page 154.

Our lifestyles need to change to counteract these facts. A study of five “hot spots” on the globe of good health and longevity has shown us the way to become the most long-lived cultures and examples of good health in the later years. These include: Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Ogliastra region in Sardinia, Loma Linda, California, and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rico, collectively called the Blue Zones. How do they live and more specifically what and how do they eat?

These are the “six powerful food practices” of the Blue Zone populations that are associated with longer, fuller lives.

Make breakfast or lunch the biggest meal of the day with a light, early dinner and most food is consumed before noon.   Most do not regularly make a habit of snacking and when they do, a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts is sufficient. An Israeli study found that dieting women who ate half of their daily calories at breakfast,  third at lunch and a seventh at dinner lost an average of 19 pounds in 12 weeks along with a drop in triglycerides, glucose, insulin and hormones that trigger hunger.

Cook at home. Always try to eat breakfast at home. Pack a lunch the night before. Prep ingredients for dinner in the morning and using a slow cooker can make dinner easy. Use Sundays to cook meals for the week and freeze for later use in the week.

Hari Hachi Bu. This saying is a 2500-year-old Confucian adage that reminds Okinawans to stop eating when they feel their stomach is 80% full.  Many people in Blue Zone American cities use the method of wearing a blue bracelet to remind them to use this tool. Wear the bracelet (does not have to be blue)  for six weeks as a reminder to be mindful of this practice that listens to inner signals innately found to detect hunger. After six weeks, it should be part of your eating patterns.

Fast Fasts. You can experience intermittent fasting every 24 hours by scheduling the time you eat to only 8 hours of the day. As best you can, try eating only two meals a day; a big late-morning brunch and second meal around 5 p.m. It is important to consult your doctor before any kind of fasting.  Avoid starvation diets as they may lead to binge-eating. When fasting, eat foods that are nutrient dense and provide plant or animal protein at each meal.

Eat with family and friends. A 2011 study found that children and adolescents who share family meals three or more times a week are more likely to be at a normal weight range than those who share fewer family meals together. Don’t eat alone, standing up, when driving. If you eat alone, avoid reading, watching TV or using your phone – all leads to mindless eating.

Celebrate and enjoy food.  From Buettner: “pick one day of the week and make it your day to splurge on a meal with your favorite foods. The Blue Zone centenarians primarily eat a plant-based diet, but they don’t give up that slice of birthday cake.”  Some are vegetarians; others are not.  Deprivation and restriction can lead to binge-eating.

A new cookbook is now available that is beautifully illustrated with the people and food of the Blue Zones.  Find it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble – The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, Dan Buettner, 2019.

 

How to Like Vegetables?

 

Americans need all the help they can get in eating more vegetables (nutrient dense, low in calories, loaded with fiber).  If you have children, It’s even more important  My personal advice?

Roast them – they caramelize and take on a whole new flavor and texture. Add a little honey and/or butter for more appeal. And it’s so easy on a foil-lined baking pan. Easy clean-up, too. – yes it can be done.

Enjoy the advice and bon appetit.

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