Why Whole Foods are Better

Why whole foods are better and Frankenfood setbacks chronicled around the world.

| June/July 2004

Why Whole Foods are Better

There's just no substitute for meeting your nutritional needs the old-fashioned way. "It doesn't matter how you try," says Cornell University food scientist Rui Hai Liu, "vitamin supplements cannot match the combinations of compounds in whole foods." Taken together within a whole (minimally processed) food, these substances are synergistic, producing a stronger effect than any of the individual nutrients does on its own.

Liu and his colleagues came to their conclusions after years of studying more than 8,000 antioxidants and other chemicals found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They found that because these compounds differ in their molecular size, polarity and solubility, they produce a powerful natural combination that is more biologically available to human cells, organs and tissues than any single nutrient or pill.

One medium apple, for example, with only 6 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, has enough other antioxidants — quercetin, procyanidins, carcchin and epicatcchin — to produce as much antioxidant activity as 1,500 mg of vitamin C supplements.

In the case of whole grains, part of the advantage comes from the digestive process itself. Compounds in whole grains are bound in the cell walls and until recently were believed to be an indigestible part of the fiber. In fact, 90 percent of the compounds are bound, passing through the stomach and small intestines undigested.

But Liu found that the bound compounds are released further down by the microflora in the colon. These compounds in whole wheat have potent antioxidant and anticancer properties that can profoundly affect colon health. Refined grain products even "fortified" with added vitamins cannot compare.

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