Fact or fiction: Can you really swap that healthy salad for a little pill?

I recently received a question from a reader that made me think of the 1960s cartoon, “The Jetsons.”

Even though the show was supposed to be set 100 years in the future, some of us already use its “space-age” technologies. We chat via video, use robotic vacuums, and watch flat-screen TVs (although I’m still waiting for my flying car!).

We could debate about whether these innovations add to or subtract from our daily lives. But one thing there’s no dispute about is humankind’s increasing reliance on fake, supposedly “new-age” foods—like the “food pills” Mrs. Jetson would serve for dinner.

Which brings me to my reader’s question:

Dr. Micozzi has commented on fruit juice relative to the actual fruit and the significance of its matrix. But I would like to ask him about dehydrated fruits (and veggies) that are then ground and sold as an expensive pill. Is the water an important part of the matrix? Does grinding the dehydrated fruit also further destroy that matrix? Is this form still of nutritional value for someone who doesn’t eat fruits and veggies in their fresh mode?

My short answer is this: Fruit and vegetable pills may have been adequate nutrition for the Jetsons, in a cartoon, but they do next to nothing for the rest of us, in real life. So, let’s take a deeper look into why I think you should avoid these cartoonish concoctions—now and in the future…

The numbers don’t add up

When you eat a “rainbow” of fresh produce, you’re ingesting dozens of nutrients—including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. That’s why I always advise consuming six to eight servings of whole fruits and vegetables a day.

Indeed, this cornucopia of compounds helps protect against diseases (like breast cancer, see page 4) by balancing your immune system, fighting inflammation, lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, and supporting a heathy gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome.

So the real question is: How can a couple little “fruit and veggie pills” possibly provide meaningful doses of all of the many different nutrients found in six to eight servings of whole fruits and vegetables?

Well, they can’t. It’s scientifically and mathematically impossible.

There’s proof behind my logic

I don’t often talk about “proving” something in science because it’s a matter of weighing evidence from many different sources, which are constantly evolving and adding data. But when it comes to physics and mathematics, there are indeed proofs in which we can know something to a degree of metaphysical certitude.

And that applies to “food” pills.

I’ve performed calculations proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the tens of thousands of milligrams of individual nutrients and phytochemical ingredients present in the recommended six to eight daily servings of whole fruits and veggies (totaling about 4 kg wet weight) cannot possibly be packed into supplement capsules containing only a few hundred milligrams total.

In fact, a proper dietary supplement formulation focusing on just one specific kind of nutrient combination typically requires hundreds of milligrams, in multiple capsules, and ultimately is only able to address just a half-dozen targeted nutrients and phytochemicals.

So when you try and substitute pills for whole fruits and vegetables, there’s no question you’re missing massive quantities of vital nutrients. It’s simple physics, biology, and chemistry—and arithmetic.

But what about the water?

Fruits and vegetables can be up to 90 percent water, so the argument some pill manufacturers try to make is that they concentrate the nutrients by taking out the water. But you also can’t possibly dehydrate meaningful amounts of whole produce, with meaningful doses of all their ingredients, into those little pills.

Think of it this way…I like the old Contadina tomato paste commercials about getting “eight great tomatoes into a little, bitty can.” (Eating eight tomatoes is a great way to get nutrients like lycopene, which I helped discover back in the mid-1980s—as I discuss on page 4).

But the small can that holds eight dehydrated tomatoes (or any other fruit or vegetable) is only about 14 ounces (the equivalent of about 400 grams or 400,000 mg).

Meanwhile, most standard-size, high-quality dietary supplement capsules only contain about 400 mg of any single nutrient as a starting dosage. So how could a 400 mg pill contain the entire 400,000 mg smorgasbord of nutrients that’s supposedly packed into fruit and veggie pills?

You could dehydrate your produce to be as dry as the Gobi Desert, or the sands of the Kalahari, and it’s still arithmetically, physically, and chemically impossible! In fact, for the theory behind dehydrated fruit and veggie capsules to work, the whole food would need to be 99.99 percent water—which you know, taste, see, and feel just can’t be the case.

Beyond the matrix

Of course, my concerned reader astutely pointed out the importance of the matrix in fruits and vegetables. This fiber matrix, which is essentially the connective tissue in produce, holds the nutrients in place. It also influences the digestion, metabolism, and absorption of all of the ingredients, creating a slow, gentle effect that adds to the overall nourishment of the blood and the body.

For example, the matrix is what makes the fructose (or fruit sugar) “safe” in fruits, helping to release it slowly into the body. Eating whole fruits with fructose in their natural food matrix is nothing like consuming ultra-processed confections or soft drinks with refined sucrose (table sugar), or so-called high fructose corn syrup—which is a really nasty misnomer because it’s only a little isolated fructose artificially added to refined corn syrup.

(Store-bought fruit juices have some of the food matrix broken down, and possibly some of the pulp, fiber, and nutrients removed, depending on how the juice is processed and bottled. As liquefied fruit, you end up getting a bigger dose of fructose.)

So, the upshot is that the matrix in fruits and vegetables is very important to ensure that the healthy constituents are properly absorbed and used in the body. And that’s yet another reason why fruit and veggie pills, which remove that weighty matrix, are not a good choice.

The importance of plant chemicals

Having said all of this, one question remains: Do you absolutely NEED fresh, whole, organic fruits and vegetables in your daily diet? Or can you be adequately nourished on a diet of full-fat dairy, organic, free-range meats, and wild-caught seafood—without plant-based foods (or with a daily dose of fake fruit and veggie pills)?

Well…meat, seafood, and dairy contain essential fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E), bioavailable essential minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, and more), and complete proteins—which are difficult to get from plants—and they also contain the water-soluble nutrients (vitamins B and C) you do get from plants. (Red meat actually holds the primary storage reserves for vitamin C in the body.)

As I’ve written before, there are human societies from both prehistoric and modern times that grow no crops and eat mostly meat or seafood (for example, the Inuit people in the Arctic). So it is possible to survive and even thrive without eating plant-based foods. On the contrary, science shows there are all kinds of nutritional deficiencies associated with a purely plant-based diet.

BUT, if you don’t eat any fruits and vegetables, you’re missing out on phytochemicals. Phytochemicals aren’t classified as nutrients, but have many beneficial properties that are just coming to light. They’re not yet well enough studied to be considered essential nutrients, but we do know they’re important for health (to some extent, it’s a semantic question).

So the single, most important thing you can do to ensure you’re providing your body with optimal nutrition is through focusing on your diet. After all, a healthy, balanced diet is the No. 1 way to boost your health and longevity. Just remember, dietary supplements should only  “supplement” a healthy, balanced diet. Meaning you shouldn’t ever take them as a replacement or substitute for eating fresh, whole, organic fruits and vegetables.

Plus, you know my concern that many supplements—including so-called “combo” formulas like multivitamins—don’t contain anywhere near the necessary dosages to have a truly lasting effect.

That’s why my Smart Science Nutritionals line doesn’t include a multivitamin—or a “fruit and veggie” pill. Because at the end of the day, these pills are a non-starter, a flawed concept, and impossible to achieve what they claim.