Exulting in the Unthinkable

April 19, 2011 in Antioxidants, Health Claims, Mediterranean, Nutritionism by Joyce Bunderson

This past Saturday, the week before Easter, we had an annual event that brings anticipation and smiles to our grandchildren each year.  I call it Easter Egg Extravaganza Event – yes, I get a little excessive with the alliteration. This year there were 805 plastic money-filled eggs hidden, over our acre of gardens and hillsides. There’s also a bunny hop sack race and piñatas filled with goodies. It’s lots of work for the grandparents, but the children have a really enjoyable day and we all get to take pleasure in the sparkles in their eyes.

I tell you about the children’s’ smiles and delight at finding eggs, hopping in sacks and breaking piñatas, because I think that I can best describe the pleasure I felt when recently reading an article. I was as exultant as a child finding an Easter Egg, winning the hopping race and breaking a piñata, all rolled into one.

I’ve been planning to write again about my discouragement with the continuous growth of nutritionism (see below), when I bumped into an article titled: The whole foods movement: ‘Age of the unthinkable’ for processed foods? Caroline Scott-Thomas wrote her report on Donald Wilkes’ talk at the Nutracon conference in Anaheim in March and reported how American consumers are rejecting processed and functional foods and embracing whole foods. If I said that I shed a tear for the food processors that continue to foist all kinds of artificial and highly processed ingredients on us, and position them as healthy alternatives to real food, it would have been a crocodile tear. I realize that his talk is encumbered with fear for the food processors. He said that the supplements industry could also find itself in a difficult position. Wilkes said that the consumers questioning of functional ingredients “is not going away; it’s only going to get bigger.” I say, “Hooray!”

My favorite line from Wilkes’ talk is: “People don’t want their diet to be a medicine chest…..” I realize that he’s seeing some writing on the food processors’ wall, and is trying to help his fellows save their businesses, but to me, it is a glimmer of hope. Hope that more and more of us are realizing that real whole foods offer more than impoverished processed food with a few additives that sound like nutrients thrown in to mollify the consumer’s legitimate quest for health. It makes me feel that I’ve not wasted my time. It makes me feel that we’ve taken the first baby step toward realizing the harm of nutritionism. I realize that we, as a nation, have such a long way to go, but it’s at least a real glimmer of hope, that it may be possible to stop the insanity of nutritionism.

Wilkes said; “The internet is a pulpit for whole foods.” I say, “Wonderful!”  The Internet levels the playing field; we who are trying to inform the public don’t have the multimillions that the food processors have at their disposal for “education through badly biased advertizing”. They see the general model that is emerging for eating whole, healthy, colorful plant foods and nutrient-dense foods as something to be afraid of – I see it as something to embrace. Lastly, Wilkes says; “Companies, even in the ingredients business, can invent…There are ways to deal with it but it needs a certain amount of ingenuity and creativity.” Then Wilkes praises companies that have managed to find ways to capitalize on the whole foods focus, “including Häagen Dazs, Minute Maid Simply Orange, and Mamma Chia whole chia seed beverage. I wish I had the time to learn how Häagen Dazs capitalized on the whole foods focus. But, alas, I’m only given 24 hours each day.

Wilkes stance about the large number of food and supplement recalls being behind the fear of the processed food industry, does not seem to have slowed other processors. I share with you some of my recent frustration and my decision to write, yet again, about nutritionism being alive and well.


I’m convinced that Fytexia didn’t get the memo, or hear the talk by Wilkes. They sent out an advertisement for their product, Oxxynea. I must admit that it made me wildly frustrated. I received this advertisement and thought; “Oh dear, will we ever get the message to the public?” It’s interesting to me that Fytexia’s marketing gurus would use a picture that looks like it’s right out of the Book of Genesis (a beautiful devious being, offering us an apple – OK, not really an apple but two green capsules; it just looks like temptation using an apple.) With all the money behind the graphics and marketing that this French company is spending, the outlook seemed so bleak to ever get the message for real whole foods to the public. Suggesting that you can take two capsules a day and get all the nutrients condensed from 22 fruits and vegetables is ludicrous. Companies like this have learned that the public is becoming aware of the benefits of the Mediterranean-style of eating, but then sets out trying to convince them that they can get the benefits of real Mediterranean eating in a couple of capsules a day.

Page One

The second page of Fytexia’s advertising leads the reader to infer that you get the benefits of eating a list of 22 fruits and vegetables. The advertisement also leads the reader to believe that in taking 2½ Oxxynea tablets you will receive a 5000 ORAC value.  An ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) unit is a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of different foods and supplements. A high ORAC value is believed to be related to effective neutralization of free radicals. It has not been established that the ORAC value is; in and of itself, a health benefit. As has been stated in this blog, a number of times, the science is still trying to catch up to the epidemiological evidence. The evidence is that eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, spices (plant foods with phytonutrients) is related to reduced risk of a number of diseases. Stripping out antioxidants from real foods, drying them and putting them in little caplets have not been shown to be a health benefit.  In my experience, whenever I see ORAC values slapped on marketing materials, it tells my mind, “Oh Really, Alert! Crafty Conscienceless Commercialism!” (Forgive the extra “C’s” in ORAC, but it makes me mad enough to stutter!)

Page Two

Page Two

ORAC is one method to measure antioxidant capacity, but is not the only method; having said that, let’s look at it for just a moment. When a company advertises a supplement, a fruit, a juice or a spice with an ORAC number, are they trying to say the value of the item is equal to the ORAC number?  Certainly, when you take all the nutrients in 22 fruits and vegetables, for example, those nutrients will not all fit into two capsules. Antioxidant capacity is not the only benefit for any fruit or vegetable. There are hundreds of nutrients in foods, and they are involved in numerous reactions in addition to antioxidant activity. As we have said many times, we don’t really know what makes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds (plant foods) so healthy. We don’t know if it is a combination of many nutrients working together, or one nutrient acting upon another; but we do know that it is not only vitamins added to water or foods. This is what nutritionism is all about. Trying to define a whole food as a single nutrient or even a selection of nutrients. There are hundreds of carotenoids, (600 to 800 identified, depending upon which reference you read), for example, but will all those fit into two tablets a day. The answer is, NO.

Please notice that I have not even mentioned all the fiber included in real plant foods. It is just nonsense to think that you can get all the nutrients that you would get from eating 22 different fruits and vegetables in two tablets. What you do get is a heavy dose of nutritionism.

Multivitamin supplements

Yet another study published online on February 22, 2011 by the American Journal of Epidemiology found no benefit, nor risk for taking multivitamins. Song-Yi Park and his group looked at cancer, cardiovascular disease and other causes of mortality. The U.S. National Institutes of Health advises physicians to prescribe multivitamins only for those who need extra vitamins, who cannot eat enough food to obtain the required vitamins, or who cannot receive the full benefit of the vitamins contained in the food they eat. More than half of the U.S. adults choose to take multivitamins according to Jennifer Hsiang-Ling Lin, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Many take multivitamins because they believe that it will prevent chronic disease, but this claim has been evaluated in this new study, showing yet again, that this claim is not supported by the evidence. The favorable finding from this study, unlike other studies, is that they found no relationship of increased risk from using the supplements. Therefore, if you feel like you want to spend the dollars for the supplements, you may not be harming yourself either. You may want to read an article reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD called Getting Too Much of Vitamins and Minerals: The health consequences of going overboard on vitamins and minerals. Americans spent almost $4.7 billion on multivitamins in 2008; so you see why companies like Fytexia are encouraged not only to make ingredients for food processors, but in addition, to make them into pills with a history of having been derived from 22 real foods, thus to sell directly to hapless consumers as supplements pretending to offer the benefits of whole foods.


Vitaminwater is a poster child for nutritionism. If you’re not familiar with Vitaminwater, it essentially is water, with added vitamins, flavoring, sugar and food coloring (like Kool-Aid, vitamins and water). Apparently the Coca-Cola owned company’s new ad claims “flu shots are so last year.” Unfortunately, by the time that the FTC gets them to stop the ads, millions of bottles will have been sold. Do Americans, two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese, need the equivalent eight teaspoons of added sugar in a 20 oz. bottle? In addition, why consume foods (I hate to call Vitaminwater food) that are loaded with food coloring? The food companies, anxious to protect their profits by using cheap petrochemical dyes instead of natural food colorings, strongly argue that we don’t have sufficient evidence to remove food coloring from our foods. Note that The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is sponsoring research and visibility to reduce the dangers of consumers being harmed by these dye chemicals.

I’m truly exuberant that the food processors are having to scramble because some of their customers are now looking for whole real foods. I know that they will continue to say: “made with” when they mean just an iota; “made with fruit” when they mean mostly sugar; and, of course, “has the benefits of 22 fruits and vegetables.” Maybe one day, the food processors will embrace making and supplying foods, which really deliver the health of whole foods that have actually grown in the dirt. Until then, I’ll embrace the ‘unthinkable’ and keep my spirits up, that many of us consumers are actually learning what is going on behind the Wizard’s curtain.