Ironically the answers is no!
I bet you have not thought about this or heard of that but recent research shows that eating too much vegetables and antioxidant supplements is actually harmful. There are several reasons for this. I want to keep this article easy to read and short. For more information please visit the article “Toxic Chemical in Fruits and Vegetables Are What Give Them Their Health Benefits” in ScientificAmerican. It is a subscription only magazine so in case you have no subscription I summarize the main points for you.
Let’s start with the title, which is misleading.
The title lets you see half the truth! Indeed, eating fruits and vegetables is good for you because they contain toxic chemicals that change your cells by creating antioxidants in response. All true! BUT and this is a big “but” coming later in the article: eating fruits and vegetables without any break actually reduces your body’s ability to create antioxidants. Instead free radical elements start running free, causing damage: “free radicals disrupt and sometimes kill neurons… the antioxidants story is not quite so simple” says Mark P. Mattson, chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging and professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
So what is the problem?
Plants and fruits create toxins (pesticides actually) to protect themselves from predators. “The plants produce chemicals that act on neurons called sensilla in the bugs’ mouthparts, which are similar to the taste bud cells in the human tongue. Signals from those cells are transmitted to the brain, which then decides whether or not to eat the plant.” When we eat these fruits and vegetables, the same toxins enter our bodies causing a reaction even if we cannot taste them. Because vegetarians or vegans eat so much fruit and vegetables, the toxins keep on coming. Eating some of these chemicals stress cells mildly and this stress causes them to go through complex metabolic changes with the outcome of releasing antioxidants to clear the toxins (free radicals) from the body. But cells can only do so much! This cell reaction to toxins in fruits and vegetables is called the hormesis (not homeopathy!). A little stress is good. Too much or for prolonged periods stress is bad.
In particular they studied the effect of fruit and vegetable toxins on neurons (brain cells). “Too much stimulation of the receptors can damage or destroy neurons” so being a vegetarian or vegan causes nerve damage in the brain. “More moderate activation of these receptors, however, turns on a chemical pathway in neurons that plays a critical role in learning and memory and in protecting neurons” meaning that if we incorporate fruits and vegetables into our diet but not always and mix in other foods we benefit! “Such discoveries began to raise the question of whether low levels of plant neurotoxins in fruits and vegetables might yield beneficial health effects by inducing similar mild stresses in brain cells.” So too much of a good thing may not be good but little is definitely good!
The bitter taste of many plants tells us not to eat too much of the bad-tasting leaves, roots and fruits or to simply avoid them entirely. There seems to be some innate justification for children not wanting to eat their broccoli after all. For insects, the noxious chemicals help to drive them off, but for us they serve as a warning to limit our intake.
I am sure children will love to hear this. It is also important to mention that those of you who are super-taster–like me–taste bitter taste in more foods than those without such super-tasting ability. After reading this article I now understand that being a super-taster and not being able to stomach Brussels Sprouts and beer among other things may be a good thing!
The effect of these plants on our nervous system can be graphed by an up-side-down U shaped graph (called the biphasic response curve) that shows the threshold at which point the benefit of consuming such toxins in fruits and vegetables turns from good to bad. An example is brought up in the paper that I find very intriguing.
Eating too many Brazil nuts can poison the liver and lungs because of the presence of the trace element selenium. Yet eating just a few supplies an essential nutrient that is incorporated into an enzyme that may help protect against heart disease and cancer.
Because of this “limit” in the particular toxin level’s benefit, the brain’s biochemical processes by hormetic stress dictates when antioxidants are available for brain cells to help and when they are not. Too much stress and antioxidants are no longer made. Some well-known antioxidant vegetables—such as garlic—also increase electrical activity in the brain by leading calcium into the cells. This is further proof that food is medicine. But garlic or any other fruits and vegetables do not visit our brain to open cells or kill free radicals. They merely call on enzymes to work for us. Because our bodies have these natural processes, two important functions may not work for us if we eat too much of these toxins.
Eating too much vegetables and fruits, and eating them all the time, means the cells do not have enough break to recoup their reserve to release enzymes and the toxins negatively affect neurons, often destroying them. Furthermore, taking antioxidant supplements work against the natural system our bodies have evolved to protect us and they prevent the natural process of antioxidant release. Taking antioxidants weakens our immune system.
What does this mean to you?
- if you are a vegetarian but are able to take a day off from your vegetables every now and then and switch to other acceptable non-vegetable food, please do! It will strengthen your immune system and improve your health!
- if you are a vegan, you have some serious thinking to do. I truly honor all faith and support the goal of saving animals by eating only vegetable matter. I can relate to that. But this puts your health at risk. At least give this a thorough thought and make an informed decision that knowingly you are sacrificing your health for the sake of animals. If that is your decision, at least you made that decision with full knowledge!
- Should you continue to take your antioxidant supplements? Absolutely not! They clearly interfere with your body’s natural system for protection; let your body do the work for you!
Your comments are welcomed as always!
Mark P. Mattson Toxic Chemicals in Fruits and Vegetables Are What Give Them Their Health Benefits ScientificAmerican Jun 16, 2015