Phytochemicals in Foods

Phytochemicals Include hundreds of biologically active nonnutritive chemicals found primarily in plants. Most plant chemicals are for plant protection; however, others are known for their human health promoting properties.

The phytochemicals in our diet protect our health in a variety of ways. Some are carotenoids or antioxidants; others provide benefits because they mimic the structures like those found naturally in the body. For example, phytoestrogens such as those found in soy are called phytoestrogens; others are called phytosterols mimicking estrogen and cholesterol functions.

Some stimulate the body’s natural defenses. Indoles, and isothiocyanates found in broccoli stimulate the activity of enzymes that help deactivate carcinogens. Others are health promoting because they can alter the way in which cells communicate, and affect DNA repair mechanisms.

How to Choose Phytochemicals
Choose a few colors of fruits and vegetables each day to look for any recipes found to be appealing.
Spice up food with herbs and spices.
Add vegetables to sauces and casseroles.
Try baked or dried fruit for dessert.
Double your typical serving of vegetables.
Add pesto, spinach, or artichoke hearts to pizza.
Buy jars of chopped garlic, ginger, and basil and add to cooking.
Add barley to casseroles or stews.
Add fruit to cereal or vegetables to eggs.
Dice up some tofu and add it to stir fries.
Include nuts to baked goods or salads.
 Sprinkle flax seed on oatmeal.    
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Bon appetit!!!

Fruit and Vegetables: Disease Fighters!

Phytochemicals: What They Do for Health?

Cruciferous Vegetables

You can’t go wrong with increasing your intake of plants from the Brassica family – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. There are many studies that even help to prevent cancer and heart disease. What makes them so powerful?  They are high in dietary fiber, polyphenols (phytochemicals) and provide over 40 phenolic compounds labeled “cruciferous” meaning their leaves grow in a cross-pattern.  There is some extensive research that reports that cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, an anticancer phytochemical named isothiocyanates fights breast cancer in particular. By the way, use the stalks and leafy greenss from the plant since they also contain a good amount of nutrients.

Anthocyanins

The red color of many cruciferous vegetables is significant. Anthocyanins are pigments that cause the red and purple coloring of many kales, cabbage, and other colorful vegetables . They can lower blood cholesterol.  One study found that healthy volunteers a fed a beverage of primarily broccoli and cabbage two times a day for three weeks showed a significant decrease in the so-called ‘bad” cholesterol, LDL. Follow up studies produced the same results.

What Other Foods Lower Blood Pressure? One important group is those who contain polyphenols – such as berries. They are a large family of phytochemicals particularly in cardiovascular health. Lycopene in tomatoes has been reported to fight prostate cancer.

Benefits come from their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, blood vessel dilating properties, and immune system functions. All fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols, but certain ones like berries, cocoa, tea, pomegranate, olives, and grapes contain especially high amounts. All work together so it’s best to consume them that way and in their natural forms.

Phytochemicals: What Do They Do for Health.

Cruciferous Vegetables

You can’t go wrong with increasing your intake of plants from the Brassica family – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. There are many studies that even help to prevent cancer and heart disease. What makes them so powerful?  They are high in dietary fiber, polyphenols (phytochemicals) and provide over 40 phenolic compounds labeled “cruciferous” meaning their leaves grow in a cross-pattern.  There is some extensive research that reports that cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, an anticancer phytochemical named isothiocyanates fights breast cancer in particular.

Anthocyanins

The red color of many cruciferous vegetables is significant. Anthocyanins are pigments that cause the red and purple coloring of many kales, cabbage, and other colorful vegetables. They can lower blood cholesterol.  One study found that healthy volunteers a fed a beverage of primarily broccoli and cabbage two times a day for three weeks showed a significant decrease in the so-called ‘bad” cholesterol, LDL. Follow up studies produced the same results.

What Other Foods Lower Blood Pressure? One important group is those who contain polyphenols – such as berries. They are a large family of phytochemicals particularly in cardiovascular health. Their benefits come from their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, blood vessel dilating properties, and immune system functions. Certain ones like berries, cocoa, tea, pomegranate, olives, and grapes contain especially high amounts. However, all work in synergy so try to combine them together as much as possible. This action is what makes a plant-based diet easier to follow.

Source: Judith E. Brown Nutrition Now, 7th Edition

Cognitive Fitness and Diet

Eat Right to Maintain Cognitive Fitness

Your brain is fed by the same blood vessels that keep your heart pumping – so it makes sense that when they become unhealthy or your blood pressure is too high, the damage can affect both your heart and mind.

So what foods are heart healthy are also brain healthy? Two diets that have gained positive attention are elements of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet have been shown by a plethora of research to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It is thought that these two dietary patterns help the brain by keeping blood flowing efficiently and reducing damaging inflammation. Both are low in saturated fat and recommend a diet heavy on plant foods and healthy fats with a low consumption of red meat, sugar, and processed foods.

There are certain components of healthy diets that can be top choices on what makes these diets stand out with healthy benefits:  

Omega-3 fatty Fish Oils and Brain Health

Protecting Brain Structure: Myelin

The BASICS:  Most all cells contain omega3s (EPA, DHA) and omega-6s in their cell membranes. Most nerve signals cannot be conducted without a special sheath called myelin and fatty  acids like EPA and DHA are necessary for cell membrane structure.  Myelin insulates the nerve fibers of nerve cells.

Brain cells are susceptible to damaging neurotoxins. Long-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA are important for brain development, production of hormones and checking inflammation. Research has also shown that they lower blood triglyceride levels resulting in decreasing cardiovascular risks.  A  meta-analysis found that people with the highest consumption of omega-3, EPA and DHA have an association with a 14% risk reduction of death from any cause when compared to people who consume less.  A new area of research has suggested that fish oils as EPA and DHA are involved in brain health. This is important since there is evidence that omega-3s can protect against neurotoxins that damage the nervous system including the brain.

For example:

1300 elderly women underwent MRIs of the brain to assess how much exposure they had to a type of air pollution called PM for three years prior to the MRI.  PM  pollution is known to have neurotoxic effects known to be linked to strokes, cognitive decline, and dementia. The new study was published in the journal, Neurology,

Results showed that “women with higher levels blood levels of fish oils (omega-3s) had significantly greater volumes in the brain areas (hippocampus) associated with cognition, and memory, and white matter which contains nerve fibers that connect brain cells. The results indicated that women with higher levels of omega-3s were protected against the brain-damaging effects of PM exposure”.

Improved Depression Symptoms

A meta-analysis published in Translational Psychiatry, researchers reported that relatively high dose supplements with a high concentration of EPA to DHA significantly improved the symptoms of mild to moderate depression (mood, sleep disturbances, and fatigue) in pregnant and postpartum women. Higher doses need to be given by primary care physicians.

The U.S. diet is sadly abundant in omega-6 fatty acids; however, on the other hand, sadly deficient in omega-3 fats —-but that’s another story.

Omega-3 fats contain antioxidants that help protect our cells from damage including the heart and brain. A study published in the June 2020 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean Diet had a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment in the following 10 years, compared with those who did not follow that eating pattern. But people who ate the most fish had both a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and also slower cognitive decline when compared to those who ate less fish.

Plant Oils

Substituting healthy plant oils like olive oil, sesame oil or canola oil for saturated fat such as butter, helps keep your mind healthy. These simple changes help to keep your blood vessels clear of damaging plaques. Extra-virgin olive oil is particularly rich in antioxidants.

Nuts

Nuts are great as snacks since they are rich in fiber and protein.  The least processed are the best choice.

Some nuts like walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts, contain high amounts of antioxidants. Also, walnuts are rich in a type of plant-based omega-3 fats called alpha linolenic acid which helps fight inflammation and cellular damage.

Coffee

While not a part of the Mediterranean or DASH diets, plain coffee can provide a good source of antioxidants. However don’t over do it and hold the sugar and cream – two cups a day of black coffee is probably enough, research says.

Courtesy of Best Foods for Women’s Health, Women’s Health Guide, Harvard Medical School

Crime and Nourishment???

We have all heard about the rising crime rates occurring in the U.S. Our first inclination is to wonder what could be going on in our country to cause this – or at least what is contributing to this disturbing shift of behavior?

“The issues of diet and criminal behavior are limited but intriguing. If you’ve ever found yourself in front of the TV after a bad day, mindlessly digging ice cream out of the container with a spoon, you know that mood and food are sometimes linked. But while stress eating is a verified phenomenon, the relationship between food and actual mood disorders, depression and even behavior needs some attention. Can dietary changes potentially improve our mental health.? What do the studies say?

Scientists looking for answers – Hints of a Link

Before, we jump into the science (research), some basics:

As we all know, our behavior is mostly controlled by our brain. Every organ in the human body requires nutrition to function properly and when it doesn’t get what it needs it functions abnormally. So, is there any reason that the brain should be an exception? The brain is a complex organ so that alone should be enough to assume that if it does not get the proper nutrition, it might just not work as well as it should.

Recent research offers a viewpoint that the brain and the gut “talk to each other” through the presence of the microbiome – the community of microorganisms that lives inside our digestive tract.  When this communication channel is “out of whack” or missing essential nutrition, major health problems can crop up in both the mind and body, enabling food sensitivities, allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

“A study indicated that when levels of the brain chemical serotonin decrease from stress or not eating, it affects the brain regions regulating anger, potentially resulting in “a whirlwind of uncontrollable emotions”. 

“Prison studies suggest that many inmates have poor blood sugar control, compounded by a high-sugar diet. We all know how it feels when blood sugar drops – we feel moody, foggy. Apply that to someone from a disturbed backgound.”

In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial,  Oxford criminologist Bernard Gesch found that giving prison inmates a multivitamin and fatty acid supplement led to violent offenses dropping 37% compared to 10% for those who were given a placebo – findings that were confirmed by a later Dutch study.

“In a large study of prison diets, Stephen Schoenthaler, Professor of Criminology and Sociology at California State University found that prisoner’s eating habits could be used to predict future violent behavior. Normally, past violent behavior is considered the best prediction of future violence. But professor Schoenthaler found that a poor diet is an even better predictor of violent behavior.”

He also found that that in a study of young offenders in California, young adult men receiving vitamin supplements showed a 38% drop in serious behavior problems.

The types of problems associated with poor diet, such as aggression, attention deficits and hyperactivity can make impulsive behavior more likely. Low levels of iron, magnesium and zinc can lead to increased anxiety, low mood, and poor concentration, leading to attention deficits and sleep disturbances. Omega-3 fatty acids, are often deficient in the U.S. diet and needed to improve cognitive functioning.

“No one blames a poor diet as a cause of crime, nor is it the only solution. But if better nutrition in general can bring about a substantial reduction in violent crime in and out of prisons, that would be something to cheer about. For isn’t a good diet, made up of good food, a better and less expensive solution than just hiring more police and building more prisons?”

Needless to say, The Standard American Diet (SAD) needs more attention for all of us, not just in our prison population. Simply, with the input of nutrition scientists, education of the consumer, and cooperation of the food industry, we desperately need more healthy food choices for our personal health and that of our food culture.

Schoenthaler, S.J., Ames, S. Dorax, W., et al (1997)

The effect of randomized vitamin mineral supplementation on violent and non-violent antisocial behavior among incarcerated juveniles. Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, 7:343-352.

The Conversation: Crime and Punishment – the link between food and offending behavior. Hazel Flight, John Marsden, Sean Creaney. 2018

The Guardian. Can Food Make You Angry? Rebecca Hardy. Wed.24 Apr 2013.

C. Bernard Gesch, Sean M. Hammond, Sarah E. Hampson, Anita Eves, and Martin J. Crowder

Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behavior of young adult prisoners. British Journal of Psychiatry 2002, 181, 22-28

How to Live the Mediterranean Way

How to Live the Mediterranean Way and How to Feed Your Microbiome.

Each country around the Mediterranean Sea offers a rich bounty of delicious ingredients. Many authors have written about the Mediterranean Diet in terms of the health benefits that have been shown by an exhaustive array of scientific studies on its merits. The diet is now recognized as an “intangible cultural heritage” in Italy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is a way of life and a way of eating, which the Italians call “Cucina genuina” or “cuisine of the poor”.  This is the diet of those who work the land and feed themselves using seasonal ingredients grown in their small plots outside the kitchen”.

The following characteristics attempt to describe the “Americanized” version of how to live and eat the Mediterranean way – it is not just a diet but a gift to a healthier lifestyle.”

DIET: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. (Micheal Pollan). Whole grains, unprocessed foods, fruits, and vegetables

Eat meat in moderation. Limit your saturated fat, sugar and salt intake. Snack on nuts. Reduces inflammatory foods

Practice mindfulness, smaller servings, early light dinners.

Try yogurt, beans, chickpeas (hummus (fermentable foods) like sauerkraut – diversifies microbiome

Maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) 19.0 – 25.0

Drink plenty of water

EXERCISE:

Take a walk. Enjoy the sunshine.

Stay active. Get gardening.

Exercise improves cognition and stress reduction

BEHAVIORAL, SOCIAL

1-2 Glasses of red wine (daily): Optional (if you don’t drink wine, don’t start) 

Have a purpose in life (a reason to get up in the morning).

Laugh with friends.

Keep your brain active (read, puzzles, learn a language) card games

Focus on family, God, camaraderie, nature

Reduce stress and avoid eating when angry or sad.

Enjoy the secret pleasures and social aspect of foods.  Become more expert at listening to your gut feelings.(mind/body).  

Citations: 

Diane Phillps, The Mediterranean Slow Cooker Cookbook, Chronicle Books, 2012.

Emeran Mayer, MD. The Mind-Gut Connection, Harper Collins, 2016.

Dan Buettner The Blue Zones Challenge, National Geographic, 2021.

Diet and Inflammation

“Certain foods encourage inflammation and an anti-inflammatory diet avoids these foods. The body makes compounds called prostaglandins (eicosanoids) that can either be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Both saturated fat and omega-6 unsaturated fat are building blocks for pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Omega-6 fat is abundant in ulltraprocessed foods (not a good thing); it can contribute to an excessive inflammatory response.” How to Eat, Mark Bittman and David Katz, MD., page 61.

” Diets high in inflammatory foods were linked with global markers of brain aging and cerebral small vessel disease, on MRI. Bottom line: Smaller brain volume seen with diet-driven inflammation” See study below. “Systemic inflammatory processes in the body, including the brain, can be influenced by diet leading to its important contributory role in brain aging, the researchers observed.”

CLICK HERE.

Olive Oil and Health?

Adding more olive oil to your diet may help prevent an early death.?

A recent study from the researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health was published online Jan. 10, 2022 by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Data from 90,000 men and women, free of cardiovascular disease and cancer were asked to complete a dietary questionnaire every four years. At the end of the data collecting, 36,856 of the participants had died.

From the diet questionnaires, it was found that those who routinely consumed the most olive oil – averaging more than one half a tablespoon a day – had the lowest risk of dying during the 28 – year old follow-up period compared with people who rarely or never consumed olive oil.

The Olive Oil comsumers had:

A 19% lower overall risk of death

A 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease

A 17% lower risk of cancer-related disease

A 29% lower risk of death related to a neurodegenerative condition

A  18% lower risk of death related to a respiratory disease

This may explain why olive oil as a major component of the Mediterranean diet has consistently shown health benefits in numerous studies. The results also suggest that when used as a substitute for products containing animal fat such as butter, we see the same benefits.

Bon appetit!

Heart and Brain Friendly Foods

Phytochemicals are biologically or “bioactive” substances in plants that have positive effects on health. They are also called phytonutrients. More than 2,000 types of phytochemicals that can act as hormones, participate in gene function, while others provide pigments that provide flavor and color.

You can’t go wrong with increasing your intake of plants from the Brassica family – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussel’s sprouts. There are many studies that have found them to provide valuable nutrients and even help to prevent cancer and heart disease. What makes them so powerful?  They are high in dietary fiber, polyphenols (phytochemicals) and provide over 40 phenolic compounds labeled “cruciferous” meaning their leaves grow in a cross-pattern. Cruciferous means “cross”.

The red color of many cruciferous vegetables is significant. Anthocyanins are pigments that cause the red and purple coloring of many kales, cabbage, and other colorful vegetables. How do they lower blood cholesterol? One study found that healthy volunteers a fed a beverage of primarily broccoli and cabbage two times a day for three weeks showed a significant decrease in the so-called ‘bad” cholesterol, LDL. Follow up studies produced the same results.

What Foods Lower Blood Pressure? One important group is those who contain polyphenols – such as berries. They are a large family of phytochemicals particularly in cardiovascular health. Their benefits come from their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and blood vessel dilating properties, and immune system functions. All fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols, but certain ones like berries, cocoa, tea, pomegranate, olives, and grapes contain especially high amounts.

The Best Cholesterol-Lowering Food: Cruciferous Vegetables.

Harvard researchers found that anthocyanins were the primary flavonoid associated with polyphenols’ benefits to blood pressure control. Just one serving of blueberries per week significantly reduced the risk of high blood pressure by 10% in those over age 60 compared with people in the same age group consuming no blueberries. Anthocyanins are present in other common fruits and berries such cranberries, blackberries, and strawberries.

Cruciferous vegetables

Source; Harvard Medical School, Best Foods for Women’s Health.

The Best Foods for Health and Why–Phytonutrients

The Best Cholesterol-Lowering Food: Cruciferous Vegetables.

You can’t go wrong with increasing your intake of plants from the Brassica family – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussel’s sprouts. There are many studies that have found them to provide valuable nutrients and even help to prevent cancer and heart disease. What makes them so powerful?  They are high in dietary fiber, polyphenols (phytochemicals) and provide over 40 phenolic compounds labeled “cruciferous” meaning their leaves grow in a cross-pattern. Cruciferous means “cross”.

The red color of many cruciferous vegetables is significant. Anthocyanins are pigments that cause the red and purple coloring of many kales, cabbage, and other colorful vegetables. How do they lower blood cholesterol? One study found that healthy volunteers a fed a beverage of primarily broccoli and cabbage two times a day for three weeks that showed a significant decrease in the so-called ‘bad” cholesterol, LDL. Follow up studies produced the same results.

What Foods Lower Blood Pressure? One important group is those who contain polyphenols – such as berries. They are a large family of phytochemicals particularly in cardiovascular health. Their benefits come from their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and blood vessel dilating properties, and immune system functions. All fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols, but certain ones like berries, cocoa, tea, pomegranate, olives, and grapes contain especially high amounts.

Harvard researchers found that anthocyanins were the primary flavonoid associated with polyphenols’ benefits to blood pressure. Just one serving of blueberries per week significantly reduced the risk of high blood pressure by 10% in those over age 60 compared with people in the same age group consuming no blueberries. Anthocyanins are present in other common fruits and berries such cranberries, blackberries, and strawberries.

Source; Harvard Medical School, Best Foods for Women’s Health.

Healthy Eating Plate – Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source.