Health Matters: A postscript to a previous column, featuring an orange slice

Ryan Hunton

A little over a month ago, I wrote about the ongoing debate regarding multivitamins and their long-term benefits for consumers. I concluded the column as follows: “One thing for sure: eating a diverse combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains is the best way to give us the nutrients that we need. There is likely no equivalent to that which nature provides.” The use of the word ‘likely’ in the final sentence presents the general uncertainty in some of the complex matters of nutrition science. These concluding statements constitute my personal beliefs. I would like to expand on these beliefs in this column, and here to accompany me is an orange slice.

Research at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University has found that there is no clear difference between the biological effect of vitamin C from a natural source such as an orange slice and synthetic vitamin C in a multivitamin or tablet. However, in a natural source like an orange slice, vitamin C is in the company of thousands of other chemicals that it, more or less, ‘grew up with’ as the orange blossomed from the orange tree and ripened over time. Many of these lesser-known plant chemicals that work with vitamin C have not yet been thoroughly studied or discovered and may provide benefits in addition to those of vitamin C. Not to mention, have you smelled your multivitamin? The scent will not tickle your olfactory senses like the aromatics of a freshly peeled orange.

I would now like to equate the consumption of an orange slice to matters of love. If you are like me (at least to some degree), you believe that love between two people is more than the product of brain circuitry, more than a few rightly timed and measured electric sparks and chemical reactions that cause two people to come together like gas molecules in a glass bottle called Bowling Green. Likewise, I feel that the nutritive effect of eating a plant food, such as an orange slice, cannot be explained only by physical phenomena. I find something divine in the way that thousands of plant chemicals interact collectively to provide unique effects to each person at each moment that he or she consumes a fruit or vegetable. It is a form of love, I think. When you eat an orange slice, it speaks uniquely to you, your body, and its present condition. In other words, an orange slice is greater than the sum of its chemicals.

Finally, if the previous comments sound far too religious (or romantic) for your agnostic mind, know that we as humans are evolved to eat the food stuff from plants and, to some degree, animals. I remain skeptical as to whether synthetic multivitamins or even ‘natural’ multivitamins can provide benefits equal to those benefits from regular consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Some believe that taking a multivitamin daily (as part of a balanced diet) will lead one and all to better longevity and health. This has not yet been concluded by scientific research. I believe that an orange slice provides much more for the health of an individual than the collection of known chemicals that it holds. I believe that plant foods in general provide (and have provided for many, many years) nourishment for the body, for the mind, and for whatever else there may be in each of us. They have been providing this well-being for thousands of years.

In conclusion, the next time that you eat an orange slice (or other natural food item)…

  1. Think about where your food came from: What kind of plant did the food come from? What part of the world? Which hands touched this food before it reached your kitchen? What is the food’s history? How has this food changed over thousands of years? How can it be prepared? How did it become available to you?
  2. Experience your food with multiple senses: Really taste your orange slice. Smell it before you place it in your mouth. Hold it up to the light to see how the juice glows inside. Listen to it (if you want). Imagine the slice breaking down into invisible portions as it becomes absorbed into your blood stream and travels throughout your body.
  3. Know that you are carrying a legacy from our ancestors: Humans have evolved to eat the foods of the earth. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are evolved to carry the nutrients that we enjoy. Perhaps I was made for this orange slice. Perhaps it was made for me. Perhaps it is love.