Why Aren’t We Eating Our Veggies?

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Antioxidants Related to Heart Health
A recent study published this month in the American Journal of Medicine (Oct 2012) found a strong relationship between antioxidants in the diet and risk for heart attack. The researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that women who had the highest levels of “total antioxidant capacity” from fruits, vegetables, coffee, and whole grains also had the lowest risk for heart attack over a 10-year period (approximately a 20% reduction compared to women with lower antioxidant intake).


You would think this new study would be terrific news because eating more high-antioxidant foods like fruits/veggies and whole grains is a low-cost and effective way to significantly reduce a primary killer of millions of people every year. Unfortunately, we know from numerous population surveys that despite the widespread understanding that dietary antioxidants are “good” and that eating more fruits/veggies is associated with reduced risk for chronic diseases including obesity – we’re simply not consuming nearly enough fruits or vegetables to make a meaningful difference for our health.


For endurance athletes, the importance of getting enough antioxidants in your diet cannot be overstated. Every time we’re out there going hard, we’re also bombarding ourselves with damaging free radicals – from the sun, the air we’re breathing, and the ramped-up metabolism that is simply the cost of high-intensity exercise. The more we exercise – and the higher the intensity – the more free radicals we produce and the more havoc they can wreak throughout the body. Luckily, exercise also stimulates our body’s own production of protective antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, glutathione, and super oxide dismutase. Unfortunately, if we’re truly training hard – such as for a marathon or Ironman or ultra – its likely that our free radical protection overwhelms our ability to produce enough of our own antioxidants – meaning that getting them from the diet is even more important.


Pitiful Diets

The recommended intake of fruits and vegetables is 10-12 servings per day (which varies slightly based on age, gender, calorie needs, and slight differences between guidelines from different health organizations). Data from both the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the USDA (United States Dept of Agriculture) indicate that the average consumption of fruits and vegetables in the USA is 1.8 servings per day (which is pitiful).


A recent study from the CDC of fruit and vegetable intake among adults and teens in the USA found pretty much the same pitiful intake (Medscape J Med 2009; 11(1):26), with fewer than 1 in 10 Americans meeting the recommendations for daily fruit/veggie intake. Only 3% of adult women were found to meet the recommended intake of both fruits and vegetables – with men (2%) and teens (1%) doing even worse.


The most-consumed “fruit” in the CDC study was orange juice  (followed closely by apple juice and bananas) – and the most-consumed “vegetable” was potatoes (as French fries) followed by lettuce and pizza sauce. Some of the most nutritious vegetables – those that are dark green and orange because they are rich in carotenoids – were almost non-existent in the CDC study, despite their intake being linked to reduced risk for stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.


Research results like these are almost enough to make a nutritionist like myself rip my hair out (if I had any hair) because we KNOW that if people ate more fresh fruits and veggies that their antioxidant levels would rise and their risk for a wide range of chronic conditions would fall (along with their weight). Alas, we’ve been encouraging people to eat more fruits/veggies for decades and the numbers just don’t seem to budge – lots of people just don’t seem willing to eat their peas.


Where Do Antioxidant Supplements Fit In?

If you’re not eating your fruits and veggies – please make an effort. But if you can’t – or won’t – eat the recommended amount, then maybe an antioxidant supplement can “make up” for some of the health benefits that you’re missing? Yes and No.


It’s not uncommon for people to learn about the potential health benefits of antioxidants, get excited, and run off the deep end with mega-doses of isolated vitamin supplements. Yes, it’s true that “too few” antioxidants in your body can lead to a range of health problems – but it’s also true that “too many” of certain antioxidants can also lead to problems. We see this most clearly in situations where people supplement with mega-doses of isolated synthetic antioxidants such as vitamins C or E or minerals such as zinc or selenium. Such mega-doses can actually create an imbalance in the body that causes oxidative damage from free radicals – rather than prevents the damage. Talk about unintended consequences!


However, a well-formulated and balanced antioxidant supplement (such as Intense Defense) can certainly deliver the “antioxidant equivalent” of 10-12 servings of fruits and vegetables (depending on the content of vitamins/minerals, carotenoids, and flavonoids). Intense Defense is the only dietary supplement specifically formulated for endurance athletes to:


  • Provide (essential nutrients)
  • Protect (from environmental toxins and tissue damage)
  • Promote (optimal endurance, energy metabolism, and lean muscle mass)


Intense Defense provides your body with a comprehensive balance of essential nutrients – vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and phytonutrients to ensure optimal nutrition & support health and wellness.


  • Full complement of highly-absorbed essential vitamins, chelated minerals, and plant-derived fatty acids including:

?       A full clinically-effective amount of Vitamin D (2,000IU)

?       Proprietary blend of natural Vitamin E Complex including Annatto Tocotrienols to support cardiovascular function with all 8 members of the vitamin E super-family (alpha- beta- gamma- and delta- forms of both tocopherols & tocotrienols)

?       Minerals are provided as fully-reacted amino acid chelates to optimize tolerance (no GI issues) and absorption


Intense Defense protects your body with our “Wicked-Mend” proprietary blend of nutrients. Wicked-Mend accelerates tissue repair by controlling oxidation, reducing inflammation, and supporting liver detoxification pathways to protect you from the harmful effects of toxins in the environment (air and water pollution) as well as those generated by exercise (oxidizing free radicals and inflammatory cytokines).


Wicked-Mend includes:

?       Anti-inflammatory plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids

?       Network of antioxidant phytonutrients (Curcuminoids, Phenols, Zingerberenes, & Ursolics)

?       Support of Phase I & Phase II Detoxification pathways (Glucarates, Silymarins, & Thiols)


Intense Defense promotes optimal energy metabolism with our “Wicked-Burn” proprietary blend of nutrients. Wicked-Burn maintains lean muscle mass, enhances endurance performance (glucose-management and blood flow), and promotes fat-burning.


Wicked-Burn includes:

?       Bioactive amino acids, Leucine & HMB (hydroxymethylbutyrate)

?       Mitochondrial supportive nutrients, Beta-Alanine & Quercetin

?       Beta-oxidation enhancers (fat-burning), Fucoxanthin & Fucoidin


Combined with Energ-Ease (before exercise) and Recover-Ease (post-exercise), Intense Defense gives your body a broad-spectrum array of premium nutrients to help you perform at your peak potential.


This is all great – and Intense Defense can truly make a meaningful difference in your training nutrition, but keep in mind that supplements can never fully “replace” our need for fruits/veggies because missing from the supplement will be the soluble and insoluble fiber as well as miscellaneous phytonutrients that are naturally found in the plants. Remember – your first approach to ensure optimal antioxidant protection is to consume 10-12 servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables on a daily basis – but when “life” gets in the way and you find yourself short on fruit/veggie intake, you can reach for a balanced antioxidant supplement to help fill the gap and help protect your health.


About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers) and physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst). He competes in Ironman triathlons and runs ultramarathons – which he finds easier than getting his 10-12 servings of fruits/veggies everyday.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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