HEALTH CHECK: Real Food Is Better Than Vitamins

By Larissa Philliips


Feeding Your FamilyGiven the bounty of produce available this time of year, you may want to consider tossing your multivitamins and start finding your vitamins at the farmers’ market.

Despite nearly a century of reliance on the concept of isolating nutritional elements, researchers are increasingly finding that isolates like vitamins, minerals and other substances such as antioxidants and fiber don’t necessarily work for us on command. For example, people who eat large amounts of beta-carotene have lower rates of lung cancer; but when a group of Finnish scientists organized a clinical study in which smokers were given large amounts of beta-carotene, the smokers actually ended up with a higher rate of cancer.

In a review published in the Nutritional Journal, University of Minnesota Professor David R. Jacobs, Ph.D., and Linda C. Tapsell, Ph.D., of Australia’s University of Wollongong, found that nutritional elements appear to work best when they are not isolated from their food source. The team reviewed studies in which tomato sauce outperformed lycopene; pomegranate juice outperformed polyphenols; and broccoli outperformed glucosinolates.

Even more refreshing – especially for those of us who prefer eating meals to swallowing pills – is the fact that combinations of food outperformed single foods. A pinch of marjoram doubled the antioxidants in a salad, and groups of fruit offered more antioxidants than any one of the fruits on their own.

This backs up Michael Pollan’s support in his most recent book, In Defense of Food, for traditional food pairings. I’ll drink a glass of red wine to all this happy news. And have a salad of organic tomatoes, basil and mozzarella made from the milk of grass-fed dairy cows to go with it. And maybe some dark chocolate and almonds … and tortillas with chorizo and avocados … and some other stuff. Lots of other stuff!

Larissa Phillips is a cooking instructor and food writer for