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Vitamin C pill vs. The Orange… FOOD FIRST!


One of the most facinating things I learned in grad school was how powerfully healthy food is on it’s own when compared to individual supplements. When we eat fresh produce and obtain our nutrients in the context of food, we really do benefit from not just a few nutrients, but a whole package of healthy goodness that goes beyond just a few vitamins and minerals . Supplements usually are sold as a single nutrient or a limited number of nutrients.

Aquiring a cold for example leads many people to seek out vitamin C supplements. Often times people will purchase 1000% of the daily recommendation of vitamin C since they have heard many health claims that this is the power house against a cold. It may help don’t get me wrong. But do you know what else will help? Food. That’s right. Try an Orange.  “An orange??? How could that have enough vitamin C in it to boost my immune system?” You may be asking. We have somehow created this belief in our culture that we need megadoses of vitamins to help our bodies heal, or to boost immunity. We need food. It just so happens that food was designed (or evolved) to become quite supportive of our body’s needs. Additionally, often times our body can not even absorb the amounts of vitamins contained in some of these supplements and sports drinks. You just excrete them past a certain point, despite the “energy” that the label may claim it will give you.

Take the orange for example, 139% of your  daily vitamin C requirement is in one orange. That is plenty of vitamin C in one day for your body’s needs. Not only do you benefit from the vitamin C,  vitamin A, thiamin, folate, calcium, and potassium, additionally you are getting many different types of phytonutrients when you eat an orange. Let’s review what a phytonutrient is real quick. It is a plant compound that often times is responsible for the color of the plant. It is not an essential nutrient for a body process like it’s cousins vitamins and minerals are, but they often times are found to have anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties. So they are non-essential nutrients with beneficial side effects. One of the stars of the phytonutrient show in oranges is a flavone compound called herperidin. This phytonutrient in animal studies has been found to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, and cholesterol results. Interestingly this compound is found mostly in the white pith of the orange… which you won’t find in the vitamin C supplement! You also will not find this portion of the plant in orange juice. UNLESS you pulverize your own whole orange with a little of the white pith attached in your blender. Which I highly recommend. With three ice cubes, a cut up pear, and a mint leaf.

My point is that fruits and vegetables are highly under rated for their nutritional content. And for whatever reason in our society… supplements are highly over rated in their nutrition potential (in my opinion anyways). Don’t get me wrong, supplements are certainly useful in certain situations! And I do take supplements daily for the vitamins that I find important for my life stage and difficult to obtain from food (vitamin D). However, after getting my Master’s degree in nutrition which I worked very hard to get, I am here to tell you… FOOD FIRST!