Doctor’s Tip: More about micronutrients in childhood nutrition
Today’s column is another in a series about childhood nutrition, taken from the 2020 book “Nourish, The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families,” by Stanford-affiliated pediatrician Reshma Shah, M.D., M.P.H. and well-known dietician Brenda Davis. So far, macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) have been covered as well as vitamin and mineral micronutrients. Dr. Michael Greger’s evidence-based website nutritionfacts.org was also used for today’s column.
Under micronutrients we still need to cover antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and phytochemicals. These aren’t as critical for human survival as vitamins and minerals, but are necessary for optimal human health.
ANTIOXIDANTS prevent oxidative chemical reactions that produce harmful free radicals. Examples of oxidation is rusting of metal when left out in the rain, and the white of an apple turning brown when it’s cut in half. Oxidation in our bodies contributes to aging, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and several other disorders.
Antioxidant content of thousands of foods has been determined, and antioxidants are found in abundance in whole plant foods, and in small amounts in animal-based foods (meat, dairy, eggs and seafood). On average, plant foods have 64 times more antioxidant content than animal-based food. The antioxidant content of the highest antioxidant plant food is 289,711; the highest antioxidant animal food has a content of 100. Of note is that human breast milk is loaded with antioxidants.
Plants with a strong flavor such as herbs and spices have particularly high anti-oxidant contents. Plant-based medical providers tell their patients to “eat the rainbow.” Vegetable examples are greens, red cabbage, red onions, peppers, tomatoes, carrots and sweet or purple potatoes. Fruit examples are berries, oranges, limes, lemons, kiwi fruit, mangoes and watermelon. Grain examples are brown or, even better, black rice.
The antioxidant vitamins are A, C and E, but taking them in pill form — at least in the case of A and E — causes instead of prevents problems, likely because high doses of single antioxidants become pro-oxidants (cause oxidation).
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MICRONUTRIENTS: Inflammation plays a large role in many diseases. Animal-based diets cause inflammation due to compounds such as heme iron and interleukin-6. Sugar and refined foods are also inflammatory. Colorful fruits and vegetables, omega-3 (EPA and DHA), nuts, seeds and some spices have anti-inflammatory properties. In general, a plant-based diet is anti-inflammatory and an animal-based diet is pro-inflammatory (causes inflammation). When patients switch from an animal to a plant-based diet, they often remark after two weeks that their aches and pains went away.
PHYTOCHEMICALS: Phyto comes from the Greek word for plant, so phytochemicals are found only in plants. A few examples are: 1) Lycopene, found in tomatoes, watermelon and guava, has antioxidant properties and also cuts prostate cancer risk. 2) Flavonoids, found in oranges, lemons, grapefruit, papayas and peaches, inhibit tumor cell growth and detoxify harmful substances. 3) Indoles and lutein, found in spinach, kale, collards and other greens, builds healthy cells and genetic material. 4) Allyl sulfides, found in garlic, onions, chives and asparagus, destroy cancer cells and support the immune system. 5) Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, purple grapes and plums, destroy free radicals. 6) Resveratrol, found in grapes, berries and plums, may decrease estrogen over-production.
Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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