We got used to thinking of nutrition as single nutrients known for their most common benefits. For instance, vitamin A is good for the sight; vitamin C helps recover from colds; or we need calcium for strong bones; isoflavones can reduce hot flashes... Although none of these statements is untrue, it is a big mistake to use this kind of thinking in our search for good health.
The real and safe road to vitality does not reside in bottles of vitamins, but in our everyday plates when they are covered with a variety of whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables. But what is the big deal about eating whole foods? In fact, it is quite simple. Think of an orange, for instance. Everyone knows that it is a good source of vitamin C that boosts our immune system. But it is not only that. Oranges contain thousands of phytonutrients, not just vitamin C. So when you eat an orange, you get much more than vitamin C, and what’s even better is that these thousands of phytonutrients work synergistically, complementing, balancing or enhancing one another. And the best part of it is that we just started scratching the surface regarding our knowledge of phytochemicals. There is so much to be discovered about what nature provides us with to stay healthy.
Eating whole foods means putting an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables (frozen are ok as well), whole grains and legumes (canned are fine, but be careful to the lining of the can), nuts and seeds (preferably raw or dry roasted/toasted at the lowest temperature). Whole foods contain the right amount of nutrients in their natural state, so there is no risk of overdosing a single vitamin or mineral, which can sometimes be dangerous and can be possible when we take supplements.
By eating like this, you don't need to rely on enriched or fortified foods – which are basically packed/processed products that have very little nutritional value and that are injected with synthetic vitamins and minerals. Besides not being in the correct proportion, synthetic nutrients are not absorbed by the body the same way natural vitamins and minerals are. The best example is enriched white flour. After the refinery process destroys almost all fibers and vitamin E from the whole wheat as well the majority of calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and folate, and about 25% of protein, manufacturers inject back thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), folic acid and iron. And we think we are doing the right thing by giving our kids cereals enriched with 7 vitamins and minerals!
It is not surprising that in this state of nutritional distortion our hormonal balance is lost. After all, we need nutrients to make hormones, help the detoxification of some excess hormones, convert inactive forms of certain hormones into their active form.
Having said that, sometimes it is necessary to add some kind of supplements to our whole food way of eating. Living in Canada, it is difficult to escape needing vitamin D, especially if you take or took some medication that depletes it, as it is the case with anticonvulsants that I had to take for several years when I was a kid. The need for supplementing should always be evaluated on a case by case basis, kept temporary whenever possible and preferably be food based.
Therefore, if you don’t get 7 to 10 servings a day of whole fruits and vegetables – even if you have a green smoothie in the morning, a big salad at lunch and soup in the evening – the only class of supplements that I recommend to virtually anybody is a whole food concentrated juice. It does not replace the variety in our plates, but safely adds to it. It's the closest we can get to natural foods in supplement form.