Are the Benefits of Organic Food Underrated or Overrated?

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Pesticides have been classified as probable carcinogens for 25 years. Different pesticides have been associated with different cancers through a variety of mechanisms, including genetic damage--direct hits to our DNA or chromosomes--and epigenetic modification, changes in the way our genes are expressed. These effects have been documented in workers who are spraying the pesticides, but exposure to pesticide residues that remain on food is much smaller.

More recently, higher cancer rates have also been noted in people who live in areas where pesticides are heavily sprayed, but what about the food we buy at the store? Organic fruits and vegetables have fewer pesticides, but even the levels on conventional produce are generally well below acceptable limits. There is still scientific controversy about the safety of some pesticides even under the regulatory limits, however, given the possible additive effects of the mixture of pesticides to which we're exposed. The pesticide approval process also doesn't take into account toxic breakdown products such as dioxins that can form once pesticides are released into the environment.

Cadmium is another issue. In the largest review to date, involving hundreds of studies, not only did organic foods have more antioxidant phytonutrients, but lower concentrations of cadmium. Cadmium is one of three highly toxic heavy metals (along with lead and mercury) found in the food supply. Cadmium accumulates in the body, so we should try to keep intake as low as possible. Organic crops only have about half the cadmium, which is thought to come from the phosphate fertilizers that are added to conventional crops.

Of course, not all organic foods are healthy. The organic food industry is now worth tens of billions of dollars, and they didn't get that way just selling carrots. We can now buy pesticide-free potato chips and organic jelly beans. Organic foods can be even worse because, for example, people falsely judge organic Oreo cookies to have fewer calories than conventional Oreos, and so may eat more. Forgoing exercise was deemed more acceptable when the person had just chosen an organic dessert rather than a conventional one. In fact, leniency toward forgoing exercise was slightly greater after choosing an organic dessert than after eating no dessert at all--organic cookies were effectively viewed as having negative calories! Organic junk food is still junk food.

Not only do people tend to overestimate the nutritional benefits of organic foods, they also overestimate the risks of pesticides. People think that as many people die from pesticide residues on conventional food as die in motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Surveys have found organic food buyers may think eating conventional produce is almost as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes. That kind of thinking is dangerous because it could potentially lead to a decrease in overall fruit and vegetable consumption.

If just half of the U.S. population were to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by a single serving a day, an estimated 20,000 cancer cases might be avoided each year. That's how powerful produce may be. But, because the model was using conventional fruits and veggies, the pesticide burden from those extra fruits and vegetables might result in 10 additional cancer cases. So overall, if half of us ate one more serving, we'd just prevent 19,990 cases of cancer a year.

Now that was a paper written by scientists-for-hire paid for by the Alliance for Food and Farming, which is a bunch of conventional produce growers, so they probably exaggerated the benefits and minimized the risks, but I think the bottom line is sound. We get a tremendous benefit from eating conventional fruits and vegetables that far outweighs whatever tiny bump in risk we may get from the pesticides. Why not reap the benefits without the risk and choose organic? Great! But we should never let concern about pesticides stop us from stuffing our face with as many fruits and vegetables as possible.

My video, Are the Benefits of Organic Food Underrated or Overrated?, was the final installment of a 5-part series on organics. The first four videos are:

I've covered the issue of cadmium in our diet before in Cadmium and Cancer: Plant vs. Animal Foods and Male Fertility and Diet. Heavy metals are found concentrated in seafood and organ meats, but can also be found in certain supplements and protein powders.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Are the Benefits of Organic Food Underrated or Overrated?

Vegsource.jpeg

Pesticides have been classified as probable carcinogens for 25 years. Different pesticides have been associated with different cancers through a variety of mechanisms, including genetic damage--direct hits to our DNA or chromosomes--and epigenetic modification, changes in the way our genes are expressed. These effects have been documented in workers who are spraying the pesticides, but exposure to pesticide residues that remain on food is much smaller.

More recently, higher cancer rates have also been noted in people who live in areas where pesticides are heavily sprayed, but what about the food we buy at the store? Organic fruits and vegetables have fewer pesticides, but even the levels on conventional produce are generally well below acceptable limits. There is still scientific controversy about the safety of some pesticides even under the regulatory limits, however, given the possible additive effects of the mixture of pesticides to which we're exposed. The pesticide approval process also doesn't take into account toxic breakdown products such as dioxins that can form once pesticides are released into the environment.

Cadmium is another issue. In the largest review to date, involving hundreds of studies, not only did organic foods have more antioxidant phytonutrients, but lower concentrations of cadmium. Cadmium is one of three highly toxic heavy metals (along with lead and mercury) found in the food supply. Cadmium accumulates in the body, so we should try to keep intake as low as possible. Organic crops only have about half the cadmium, which is thought to come from the phosphate fertilizers that are added to conventional crops.

Of course, not all organic foods are healthy. The organic food industry is now worth tens of billions of dollars, and they didn't get that way just selling carrots. We can now buy pesticide-free potato chips and organic jelly beans. Organic foods can be even worse because, for example, people falsely judge organic Oreo cookies to have fewer calories than conventional Oreos, and so may eat more. Forgoing exercise was deemed more acceptable when the person had just chosen an organic dessert rather than a conventional one. In fact, leniency toward forgoing exercise was slightly greater after choosing an organic dessert than after eating no dessert at all--organic cookies were effectively viewed as having negative calories! Organic junk food is still junk food.

Not only do people tend to overestimate the nutritional benefits of organic foods, they also overestimate the risks of pesticides. People think that as many people die from pesticide residues on conventional food as die in motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Surveys have found organic food buyers may think eating conventional produce is almost as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes. That kind of thinking is dangerous because it could potentially lead to a decrease in overall fruit and vegetable consumption.

If just half of the U.S. population were to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by a single serving a day, an estimated 20,000 cancer cases might be avoided each year. That's how powerful produce may be. But, because the model was using conventional fruits and veggies, the pesticide burden from those extra fruits and vegetables might result in 10 additional cancer cases. So overall, if half of us ate one more serving, we'd just prevent 19,990 cases of cancer a year.

Now that was a paper written by scientists-for-hire paid for by the Alliance for Food and Farming, which is a bunch of conventional produce growers, so they probably exaggerated the benefits and minimized the risks, but I think the bottom line is sound. We get a tremendous benefit from eating conventional fruits and vegetables that far outweighs whatever tiny bump in risk we may get from the pesticides. Why not reap the benefits without the risk and choose organic? Great! But we should never let concern about pesticides stop us from stuffing our face with as many fruits and vegetables as possible.

My video, Are the Benefits of Organic Food Underrated or Overrated?, was the final installment of a 5-part series on organics. The first four videos are:

I've covered the issue of cadmium in our diet before in Cadmium and Cancer: Plant vs. Animal Foods and Male Fertility and Diet. Heavy metals are found concentrated in seafood and organ meats, but can also be found in certain supplements and protein powders.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Clamless Chowder

This soup is reminiscent of New England clam chowder: it’s thick, creamy, and full of potatoes, as well as onion, celery, bay leaves, and thyme. Chopped oyster mushrooms provide a great clam-like texture. A few cashews blended in add richness instead of cream and butter, and if you want a seafood flavor, simply add some...

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The post Clamless Chowder appeared first on Straight Up Food.

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Fast Food Restaurants in Children’s Hospitals

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The food industry spends billions on advertising. Promotion costs for individual candy bars can run in the tens of millions. McDonald's alone spends a billion dollars on advertising every year. Such figures dwarf the National Cancer Institute's million dollar annual investment promoting fruit and vegetable consumption or the 1.5 million spent on cholesterol education. That McBillion goes a long way.

Children's food preferences are being molded by McDonald's even before they learn to tie their shoelaces. By the early age of three to five years, preschoolers preferred the taste of foods and drinks if they thought they were from McDonald's. This was true even for carrots--baby carrots placed in a bag with McDonald's logo reportedly tasted better. And if they get sick, children can continue to eat McDonald's in the hospital.

Nearly 1 in 3 children's hospitals have a fast food restaurant inside, leading parents to have more positive perceptions of the healthiness of McDonald's food (See Hospitals Selling Sickness). They can also just buy the naming rights altogether: The Ronald McDonald Children's Hospital, for example. In teaching hospitals, though, Krispy Kreme tops the list. Hospitals may wish to revisit the idea of serving high-calorie fast food in the very place where they also care for the most seriously ill.

This is reminiscent of the fight against tobacco back in the 1980's when public health advocates made radical suggestions, such as not selling cigarettes in hospitals. By working to make our hospitals ultimately smoke-free, we become part of a global campaign to completely eliminate the tobacco scourge. The task is difficult, but so was eradicating smallpox. Maybe it's time to stop selling sickness in hospitals.

For more on health entities appeasing the junk food industry, see my video Collaboration With the New Vectors of Disease. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the registered dietitian organization, has quite the shady history which I document near the end of my 2014 annual review presentation From Table to Able.

Even cynical me was surprised by my profession's hostility towards nutrition. See:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: davef3138 / Flickr

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Bile Binding Beets

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In my video Breast Cancer and Constipation, I discussed how fruits and veggies bind carcinogenic bile acids in our gut. Since bile acids are absorbed back into our systems, they may increase our risk of not only colon cancer but also other cancers as well. In light of this, researchers publishing in the journal, Nutrition Research, concluded that to "lower the risk of diet and lifestyle-related premature degenerative diseases and to advance human nutrition research, relative bile acid-binding potential of foods and fractions need to be evaluated."

They found that some vegetables bind bile acids better than others. We know that those eating more plant-based diets are at a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. This could partly be because of phytonutrients in plants that act as antioxidants and potent stimulators of natural detoxifying enzymes in our bodies. Veggies can also lower cholesterol and detoxify harmful metabolites, functions that can be predicted by their ability to bind bile acids.

A group of USDA researchers studying this topic discovered three important things. First, they found an over five-fold variability in bile acid binding among various vegetables that had similar fiber content, suggesting that bile acid binding is not just related to total dietary fiber content (as previously thought), but instead some combination of unique phytonutrients yet to be determined.

Second, they discovered that steaming significantly improves the bile acid binding of collards, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, peppers, cabbage, beets, eggplant, asparagus, carrots, green beans, and cauliflower, suggesting that in this way steaming vegetables may be more healthful than those consumed raw.

Finally, they ranked multiple vegetables for bile binding ability. Which vegetables kicked the most bile butt? (in my video, Which Vegetable Binds Bile Best?, you can see a visual comparison of bile binding ability.) Turnips turned up last. Then came cabbage, cauliflower, bell peppers, spinach, asparagus and green beans. Mustard greens and broccoli were better. Eggplant, carrots and Brussels sprouts basically tie for the #5 slot. Then collards at #4. Kale got the bronze, okra the silver, and beets the gold. Kale, surprisingly, got beet.

The researchers concluded that inclusion of all these vegetables in our daily diets should be encouraged. When consumed regularly, they concluded, these vegetables may lower the risk of premature degenerative diseases and improve public health.

More raw versus cooked comparisons in

Beets also have a number of other remarkable properties. Check out my video series on Doping with Beet Juice as well as Hearts Shouldn't Skip a Beet, and Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr

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Is it Better to Bake, Boil, or Steam Sweet Potatoes?

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I previously talked about the cancer fighting properties of sweet potatoes (See Anti-Cancer Potential of Sweet Potato Proteins) and what would happen if you centered your diet around them (The Okinawa Diet: Living to 100). It seems that the only potential downside to eating too many sweet potatoes is that you could get yellow palms (or nose as you can see in the video, The Best Way to Cook Sweet Potatoes), a harmless condition called "carotenemia." Caused by elevated levels of beta carotene in the blood, it was first noticed a century ago when carrots were introduce into infant diets. It's treated mostly by just reassuring parents that it's harmless, but if we don't want our child's nose to be yellow, we can decrease their beta carotene intake and in a few months it will be gone.

When picking out varieties at the supermarket, the intensity of the yellow or orange flesh color of the sweet potato is directly correlated to its nutritional content, so the more intense the better. Though if you really want intensity, sweet potato varieties don't just range from white to yellow and orange, but from pink to deep purple. The natural pigments that cause these colors may have special anticancer effects.

What is the best way to cook sweet potatoes? Boiling may actually retain most of the antioxidant power of sweet potatoes, compared to roasting and steaming. If we compare baking to boiling microscopically, boiling helps thin out the cell walls and gelatinize the starch, which may enhance the bioavailability of nutrients. At the same time, the glycemic index of boiled sweet potatoes was found to be about half that of baking or roasting, so boiled sweet potatoes give us less of a blood sugar spike.

Make sure to keep the skin on, though. The peel of a sweet potato has nearly ten times the antioxidant power as the flesh (an antioxidant capacity comparable to that of blueberries). However, the peel's nutrition really takes a hit when baked, which wipes out over two thirds of the antioxidants, whereas microwaving or boiling are comparatively much gentler. The same is true for the rest of the sweet potato. Baking can also cause an 80% drop in vitamin A levels, twice as much as boiling. Therefore, from a nutritional standpoint, boiling rather than baking should be recommended for cooking sweet potato.

Boiling may theoretically be best, but sweet potatoes are so incredibly healthy that the actual best way to prepare them is whichever way will get you to eat the most of them! The exception is deep frying, which can lead to the formation of acrylamide, a potential human carcinogen.

What about cooking methods for other vegetables? See my video Best Cooking Method.

Want more information about acrylamide, the potential crispy carb carcinogen? See my video Cancer Risk from French Fries. And for why deep frying in general might not be good, Deep Frying Toxins and Carcinogens in the Smell of Frying Bacon.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Avital Pinnick / Flickr

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Foods for Glaucoma

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Glaucoma is the second leading cause of legal blindness in white women, and the number one cause of blindness in African-American women. In a study I profile in the video Greens vs. Glaucoma, researchers chose a population of African-American women to study the effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on glaucoma risk because they were specifically interested in studying the effect of foods with the highest concentration of those eye-protecting phytonutrients like zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin is found primarily in plants such as kale and collard greens. (It is also found in eggs--find out how much in Egg Industry Blind Spot). However, we'd be lucky if we could find one in ten white people eating even a single serving of these dark green leafy vegetables a month, whereas nearly nine out of ten African-American women in the study consumed this amount.

What did the researchers find? Well, as I've stressed over the years, all fruits and vegetables are not the same (see for example, How to Reach the Antioxidant "RDA"). Whether the participants hardly ever ate bananas or had one or more every day didn't seem to matter much in terms of the risk of glaucoma. However, eating only a couple oranges every week was associated with dramatically lower risk. Orange juice was not associated with a lower risk, though, even if drunk every day. A similar finding was found for peaches: fresh peaches seemed to help, but canned peaches didn't.

Similarly the intake of vegetables in general as a catch-all term didn't seem to matter. For example, whether subjects ate a green salad twice a week, once a week, or zero times a week didn't seem to matter when it came to reducing glaucoma risk, but most people's salads are pretty pitiful. It was a different story for kale and collard greens: just two or three servings a month was associated with half the risk of glaucoma compared to once a month or less.

It may be especially important for white people to consume kale and collard greens. The lighter our eye color, the more greens we need to eat. Blue eyes let 100 times more light through, so people with blue or gray eyes appear significantly more vulnerable to damage compared to brown or black. Green and hazel fall somewhere in the middle.

This is interesting: carrots appeared to be less protective in black women compared to white women. They suggest it could be a difference in food preparation methods. Perhaps the African-American subjects tended to eat carrots raw, limiting the absorption of certain nutrients, while they chopped and prepared their collard greens with oil, making the nutrients more bioavailable because the absorption of carotenoid phytonutrients depends on the presence of fat. This is why I encourage people to eat nuts or seeds with the greens--such as a little tahini sauce or something.

Why not just take a zeaxanthin pill? We don't know what exactly it is in these wonderful foods that's working their wonders, so it's probably better to just eat our greens rather than supplements. In fact, people that take calcium or iron supplements may even be doubling, quadrupling, or septupling their odds of glaucoma. It's better to get most of our nutrients from produce, not pills.

I wish there were more studies on under-represented populations. I've covered a few, such as Preventing Breast Cancer By Any Greens Necessary, but I am constantly on the lookout for more.

My other videos on glaucoma include Prevent Glaucoma and See 27 Miles Farther and Dietary Treatment of Glaucoma. For more on eye health check out my video, Dietary Prevention of Age-Related Macular Degeneration.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: bruno garciact / Flickr

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Add Beans, Berries, and Greens to More Meals

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After we eat, our bodies create free radicals in the process of breaking down our food. That's why we need to eat antioxidant-rich foods with every meal to counteract this oxidation caused by metabolism. We can't just have berries on our oatmeal in the morning to meet our Minimum Recommended Daily Allowance of Antioxidants and call it a day. Each and every meal should contain high antioxidant foods, which means that each and every meal should contain whole plant foods. Antioxidant rich foods originate from the plant kingdom, due to the thousands of different natural antioxidant compounds naturally created by the plants we eat.

Consuming fruits--which are high in phenolic phytonutrients--increases the antioxidant capacity of the blood. When fruits are consumed along with high fat and refined carbohydrate "pro-oxidant and pro-inflammatory" meals, they may help counterbalance their negative effects. Given the content and availability of fat and sugars in the Western diet, regular consumption of phenolic-rich foods, particularly in conjunction with meals, appears to be a prudent strategy to maintain oxidative balance and health.

And of all fruits, berries may be the best source of phytonutrients. In the video, How to Reach the Antioxidant "RDA", you can see an example of the spike in oxidation caused by a Mediterranean meal of pasta, tomato sauce, olive oil, and fried fish. Obviously, given the spike of oxidation, there were not enough tomatoes. Add a glass of red wine, which contains berry phytonutrients from grapes, and we can bring down, but not blunt completely, the level of oxidation. So the meal needs even more plants.

In a study I profile in the video, researchers gave subjects standard breakfast items, resulting in lots of oxidized cholesterol in their bloodstream one to six hours after the meal. But all it took was a cup of strawberries with that same breakfast to at least keep the meal from contributing to further oxidation. In my Food Antioxidants and Cancer video, you can see a comparison of breakfast with berries versus breakfast without.

If we don't consume high-antioxidant plants with breakfast, by lunch we'll already be in oxidative debt. Let's say we ate a standard American breakfast at 6 a.m. If we didn't eat that cup of strawberries with breakfast, by the time lunch rolls around we'd already be starting out in the hyper-oxidized state, and lunch could just make things worse. Since western eating patterns include eating multiple meals a day, including snacks, one can only speculate on the level of biological unrest.

If we have some berries for breakfast, at least we'd be starting out at baseline for lunch. This acute protection is likely due to the antioxidant effects of the strawberry phytonutrients. What if, by lunch, we could be even better than baseline? How about our meals actually improving our antioxidant status?

If, for example, we eat a big bunch of red grapes with our meal, the antioxidant level of our bloodstream goes up and our bodies are in positive antioxidant balance for a few hours. We get the same result after eating enough blueberries. And imagine if in these ensuing hours before our next meal we were sipping green tea, hibiscus tea or even whole cranberries? (See Pink Juice with Green Foam). We'd have a nice antioxidant surplus all day long.

One group of researchers conclude: "These data provide an interesting perspective for advising individuals on food choice when consuming a moderate- to high-fat meal is unavoidable." (Unavoidable? So what, if we're locked in a fast food joint or something?) They suggest chasing whatever we're forced to eat with some berries. Reminds me of those studies I've talked about suggesting that smokers should eat lots of kale and broccoli to reduce the oxidative damage to their DNA. Of course, they could also just not smoke.

In a single day, the systemic stress of all the fat in our blood and "redox imbalance" (being in a mild pro-oxidant state after meals) may seem trivial. Over time, however, these daily insults can lead to problems such as heart disease, contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths a year (See The Power of NO).

I strive to eat berries every day and so should everyone. If we are going to drink wine, red is preferable (See Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine).

See how quickly stress can eat our antioxidants in: Antioxidant Level Dynamics.

I used a similar meal-components technique to illustrate the potent antioxidant power of spices. See Antioxidants in a Pinch.

All fruits and veggies aren't the same. I make this point in different ways in videos like Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better? and Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants.

I have a series of videos on which foods have the most antioxidants. See Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods. Note these are measured based on test tube tests. There are more sophisticated ways to measure antioxidant activity. See Anti Up on the Veggies.

What's the cheapest common source of whole food antioxidants? See Superfood Bargains for a dollar per dollar comparison. What's the cheapest uncommon source? See Dragon's Blood.

Are there diminishing returns to getting too many antioxidants? See Maxing Out on Antioxidants.

So if we have that bowl of berries in the morning to meet our minimum daily antioxidant needs can we just call it a day?. Hint: the title of my follow-up video is: Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Vegan Feast Catering / Flickr

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How to Get Enough Antioxidants Each Day

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We need to get a daily minimum of 8-11,000 antioxidant units a day in our food just to stay out of oxidative debt (see my video on The Reason We Need More Antioxidants). To reach that minimum, all we have to do is eat lots of fruits and vegetables, right? Not exactly. Let's say I ate a whole banana during breakfast (in addition to whatever else). For lunch I eat a typical American salad-- iceberg lettuce, half cup of cucumber slices, and canned peaches for dessert. Supper included a side serving of peas and carrots and half a cup of snap peas along with yet another salad. And, finally, let's say I had a cup of watermelon for dessert. I just ate nine servings of fruits and vegetables and am feeling all good about myself. However, I only made it up to 2700 units, less than a quarter of the way to my minimum daily recommended intake. What am I supposed to do, eat 36 servings a day? (For a cool visual of this, check out my video, How to Reach the Antioxidant "RDA").

What if instead of that banana, I had a single serving of blueberries? And instead of iceberg lettuce for that afternoon salad, I ate four leaves of red leaf lettuce, maybe some kidney beans on top, and a teaspoon of dried oregano as a bonus? For a snack, I had an apple and some dates. It's not even suppertime, only had five servings, yet I've left the minimum recommended daily intake of antioxidants in the dust (topping 28,000 units!). That's why it's not just quantity of fruits and veggies that matters, but also the quality. All fruits and veggies aren't the same. I make this point in different ways in videos like Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better? and Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants. If possible, we should try to choose the healthiest options out there.

Now that it's midday and I've reached my daily minimum of antioxidants with those five super servings, can I just eat whatever I want for dinner? That's probably not a good idea. The estimated minimum antioxidant need of 8,000-11,000 units does not take into account the added amounts needed if other oxidant stressors--"such as illness, cigarette smoke, meat consumption, air pollution, sleep deprivation"--are present. If we had to deal with these stressors we'd need to consume more fruits and veggies just to stay out of the red.

In my video Antioxidant Level Dynamics, I profiled a study that used an argon laser to measure human antioxidant levels in real time. The study's most important finding was that antioxidant levels can plummet within two hours of a stressful event, but it may take up to three days to get our levels back to normal. The take-home message is that, especially when we're sick, stressed, or tired, we should try to go above and beyond the antioxidant food minimum. Ideally, we need to be constantly soaking our bloodstream with antioxidants, meaning that we should consume high-powered fruits and vegetables--like berries, beans, and green tea or hibiscus--all day long.

Unsure of which foods have the most antioxidants? I have a series of videos on this very topic. See Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods. (Note these are measured based on test tube tests. There are more sophisticated ways to measure antioxidant activity. See Anti Up on the Veggies). Spices in particular present a powerful source of antioxidants. See Antioxidants in a Pinch.

What's the cheapest common source of whole food antioxidants? See Superfood Bargains for a dollar per dollar comparison. What's the cheapest uncommon source? See Dragon's Blood.

Are there diminishing returns to getting too many antioxidants? See Maxing Out on Antioxidants. So if we have that bowl of berries in the morning to meet our minimum daily antioxidant needs can we just call it a day? See: Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Mr.TinDC / Flickr

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How to Get Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

How to Get Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

What happens if we give one group of kids a plate of cookies and the other group the same number of cookies, but cut in half, and tell both groups they can eat as many as they want? Researchers reported that decreasing cookie size led to 25% fewer cookie calories eaten.

The goal of that study was to help counter obesity-promoting eating behaviors facilitated by the availability of large portions of junk food. The findings "suggest that reducing the size of cookies (without altering the total amount of food) decreases children's short-term caloric intake," a dietary strategy for parents to discreetly decrease unhealthy behaviors. But they were using sugar wafers- what's in those things? Partially hydrogenated oil (trans fats). What's so bad about trans fats? See Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy, Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero, and Breast Cancer Survival and Trans Fat. No one should be eating those cookies. In fact, I can think of another "dietary strategy" to decrease kid's intake--don't give them any!

Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Even in the 'granola crunchy' San Francisco Bay Area, a proposed ban on junk food suggested by parents and school administrators sent a faction of teachers into an apoplectic fit. In Texas, there was so much parental outrage that they got lawmakers to pass a Safe Cupcake Amendment. The amendment, known as Lauren's Law, ensures that parents and grandparents of schoolchildren celebrating a birthday can bring whatever they want to school.

Fine. What if we just offered fruit in addition to the cupcakes at classroom celebrations? In a study outlined in my video, Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School, researchers provided bowls of fresh, cut-up fruit in addition to the party food brought by the parents at two of four kindergarten or preschool celebrations to observe student response. No special effort was made to encourage students to choose the fruit: they just put it out there. Would kids actually eat fruit when there was birthday cake, ice cream, and cheese puffs taking up nearly a whopping third of their daily caloric intake? Yes! On average each kid ate a full fruit serving. Take that, cheesy puffs!

There are entire curricula available now for schools, such as "Veggiecation," where for a whole year classrooms feature a new "veggie of the month," sprinkled with nutrition mantras like "Fiber equals a happy tummy." And they work! "The active engagement of students in tasting and rating vegetable dishes seemed to have contributed to higher consumption of featured vegetables."

One school was able in some cases to double vegetable consumption just by giving them attractive names. Elementary students ate twice the number of carrots if they were called "X-ray Vision Carrots," compared to when they were just "carrots" or generically named "Food of the Day."

How about "Power Punch Broccoli, Silly Dilly Green Beans, or Tiny Tasty Tree Tops?" Selection of broccoli increased by 109.4%, and green beans by 177%. Conclusion: "these studies demonstrate that using an attractive name to describe a healthy food in a cafeteria is robustly effective, persistent, and scalable with little or no money or experience. These names were not carefully crafted, discussed in focus groups, and then pre-tested." They just thought them up out of thin air. And kids were suckered into eating healthier for months by putting out silly little signs. In this school, vegetable intake was up nearly 100%, while in the control school without signs, vegetable consumption started low and actually got worse. So why isn't every single school in the country doing this right now?! Bring it up at your next PTA meeting.

And if we want to get really bold, we can join the nutritious school lunch revolution led by pioneering organizations like the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food (check out their website at www.healthyschoolfood.org).

Whenever I find myself frustrated by half measures, I am forced to remind myself just how SAD the Standard American Diet is. See Nation's Diet in Crisis for a reality check. One of the problems is that parents may not even realize there is a problem (Mothers Overestimate Dietary Quality).

For more healthy eating tricks check out: Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home and Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healthier.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

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