Fruits and veggies are good for you, but maybe not for the reason you think. Everyone seems to be smitten with the thought that fresh produce is loaded with antioxidants — which reduce oxidative stress on the body, thereby helping us to live both longer and healthier. If this is true, supplementing with antioxidants should garner similar results. But, research related to antioxidant supplementation has been a mixed bag, yielding little proof that supplementing with antioxidants actually helps the body at all. So what’s the deal?
Research on antioxidant supplementation has, on occasion, shown that antioxidant supplements are linked with a significantly higher incidence of disease, like prostate cancer. Although this is far from conclusive, it does beg the question, “Are antioxidants really all we’ve cracked them up to be?”
According to researchers, by supplementing with antioxidants rather than manufacturing them biologically from food, we aren’t forcing our bodies to build up defenses and create a wide spectrum antioxidants of its own. How do we get our body to manufacture its own antioxidants? Stress. Therefore, perhaps it is not the antioxidants in our produce that are beneficial to us, but the small amount of poison within them instead.p
Plants are really trying to kill you, or at least ward you off. Plants, especially hardy ones, are filled with natural chemicals, “biopesticides,” that ward off insects and other eaters to ensure their propagation and survival. These biopesticides stress the body, as they are a type of natural poison. Luckily, thanks to evolution, our bodies have adapted to these biopesticides, which enact all sort of ancient fail-safes once they enter our systems.
“Consider fresh broccoli sprouts. Like other cruciferous vegetables, they contain an antifeedant called sulforaphane. Because sulforaphane is a mild oxidant, we should, according to old ideas about the dangers of oxidants, avoid its consumption. Yet studies have shown that eating vegetables with sulforaphane reduces oxidative stress. When sulforaphane enters your blood stream, it triggers release in your cells of a protein called Nrf2. This protein, called by some the ‘master regulator’ of aging, then activates over 200 genes. They include genes that produce antioxidants, enzymes to metabolize toxins, proteins to flush out heavy metals, and factors that enhance tumor suppression, among other important health-promoting functions.” MOISES VELASQUEZ-MANOFF, Natilus
By eating the small amount of natural poison in plants — not necessarily the antioxidants — we strengthen our bodies to fight further damage and aging in the future. Just as running each day, which stresses the body, builds our stamina and makes us stronger, it seems that eating fruits and veggies toughen us in a similar manner. Antioxidants are important, but they are only a piece of the puzzle. While we spend all of this time and money trying to reduce environmental stressors with antioxidants supplements and creams, it seems that a most ancient and innate source of plant stress may be what protects us after all.