Phytochemicals (plant components in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains) are physiologically active compounds. They are not considered essential nutrients in the diet. Still, many of these substances provide significant health benefits. For instance, numerous studies show reduced cancer risk among people who regularly consume fruits and vegetables. Researchers surmise that some phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables block the development of cancer. Some phytochemicals also have been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. (Wardlaw, Perspectives in Nutrition, Eight Edition)
We often find ourselves in a love-hate relationship with the established, mainstream medical thought because of their reluctance to admit to their own excellent research that illustrates the power of food for health. The above quote is from the current textbook used at the University of Washington for an undergraduate 300 level nutrition/science course. The book has beautiful and helpful illustrations and charts but doesn’t fully grasp the power of food as good medicine.
Because we are a company of activists for wholesome, healthy foods, with the purpose of advancing the tradition of food for health, let me in this communication expand on the fact that phytonutrients are in fact not only essential, but a must in today’s toxic environment.
Some times the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. For as mainstream university and medical school nutritional classes are doddering along when it comes to phytonutrients relevance to health, governments worldwide are now urging their citizens to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. For that matter, our own government, via the USDA and the CDC, has initiated the 5 to 9-a-Day Program—meaning we need to eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily to protect ourselves from the onslaught of chronic degenerative diseases.
How many of us eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day?
It is obvious to us that nothing is more fundamental to achieving good health than consuming healthy foods on a regular basis. It is a biological, non-negotiable imperative. The best way to turn on the body’s pathways for defense, repair and good health is simply to consume whole organic foods, properly grown and prepared, and yes, 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Wow, you’ve got to admit that is a lot!
But the Therapeutic Foods Line was developed for precisely this reason, as we were overwhelmed with the idea that to protect ourselves we must eat up to nine servings of veggies and fruits. It takes a lot of planning and time to eat that many servings of produce a day! Each of the products has in mind our 9-5 mandate so as to create a platform that nurtures our bodies with the phytochemicals we need for daily protection. As a matter of fact, it is easy to get the 5 to 9 nutrients with the Therapeutic Foods. I will show you how in the Clinical Notes below.
Now let’s review phytochemicals for a minute. Do read, as you will get excited about eating more veggies and fruits, grains and wholesome food. Somehow when we know that something is good for us, we do seem to heal faster!
Recent research has enabled scientists to group phytonutrients into classes on the basis of similar protective functions as well as individual physical chemical characteristics of the molecules. They are the following:
The Terpenes are constituents of essential oils. They are found in green foods, soy products and grains. Terpenes comprise one of the largest classes of phytochemicals. The most intensely studied terpenes are carotenoids.
The terpenes function as antioxidants, protecting lipids, blood and other body fluids from assault by free radical oxygen species including singlet oxygen, hydroxyl, peroxide, and superoxide radicals. Terpenoids are dispersed widely throughout the plant kingdom, protecting plants from the same reactive oxygen species that attack human cells.
This terpene subclass consists of bright yellow, orange and red plant pigments found in vegetables such as tomatoes, parsley, oranges, pink grapefruit, spinach, and red palm oil. There are more than 600 naturally occurring carotenoides. Fewer that 10% have Vitamin A activity. Amongst the carotenes, only alpha, beta, and epsilon carotenes posses vitamin A activity. Beta-carotene is the most active.
The above mentioned carotenes, along with gamma carotene and the cartenes lycopene and lutein, which do not convert to Vitamin A, seem to offer protection against lung, colorectal , breast, uterine and prostate cancers. Carotenes are tissue specific in their protection.
Overall protective effects are therefore greater when all cartenes are taken together. Carotenes enhance immune response and protect skin cells against UV radiation. They spare the glutathionine Phase II detoxification enzymes in the liver that we rely on to safely eliminate pollutants and toxins from the body.
This terpene subclass is found in citrus fruit peels, appears to be specifically directed to protection of lung tissue. It helps in clearing congestive mucus from the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In animal studies, results suggest that the chemotherapeutic activity of limonoids can be attributed to induction of both Phase I and Phase II detoxification enzymes in the liver.
Although green and yellow vegetables contain significant amounts, their seeds concentrate the sterols. Phytosterols compete with dietary cholesterol for uptake in the intestines. They have demonstrated the ability to block the uptake of cholesterol and facilitate its excretion from the body.
These phytochemicals comprise a large class that has been the subject of extensive research as a disease preventative. Phenols protect plants from oxidative damage and perform the same function for humans. Blue, blue-red and violet colorations seen in berries, grapes and purple eggplant are due to their phenolic content. Wild blueberries for example are exceptionally high in a diversity and quantity phenolic anthocyanidins and are a dark blue-red in color. One outstanding phytonutrient feature of phenols is their ability to block specific enzymes that cause inflammation. They modify inflammatory prostaglandin pathways and thereby protect platelets from clumping.
This phenol subclass comprises over 1500 members—flavones (flavonoid found in chamomile), flavonals (quercetin, rutin, ginkgoflavon glycosides), and flavanones (hesperidin, silybin).
The biologic activities of flavonoids include action against allergies, inflammation, free radicals, hepato-toxins, platelet aggregation, microbes, ulcers, viruses and tumors.
Anthocyanidins, a subclass of flavonoids, provide cross-links or bridges that connect and strengthen the intertwined strands of collagen protein. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, making up soft tissues, tendons, ligaments and bone matrix. Its great tensile strength depends on preservation of its cross links.
Anthocyanidins are water-soluble and therefore scavenge free radicals they encounter in tissue fluids. This powerful ability is especially beneficial for athletes and others who exercise, because heavy exercise generates large amounts of free radicals.
The Isoflavones The phenolic subclass comes from beans and other legumes. They block enzymes that promote tumor growth. Best-known isoflavones are genistein and daidzein found in soy products. Cultures who consume traditional diets rich in soy foods rarely experience breast, uterine and prostate cancers.
This phytonutrient class is of sulfur containing molecules are present in garlic and cruciferous vegetables. Garlic is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial, facilitates detoxification of heavy metals, and is important in cardiovascular health. The cruciferous vegetables are foundational in protecting the cells against oxidation and carcinogens, increases the production of phase II enzymes (aids in liver detox) and protect stem cells, nerve cells, and endothelial cells.
A class of thiols that block enzymes that promotes tumor growth, particularly of the breast, liver, colon, lung, stomach and esophagus.
Indole complexes bind chemical carcinogens and activate detoxification, mostly in the gastrointestinal tract.
Isoprenoids neutralize free radicals in a unique way. They have a long carbon side chain, which they use to anchor themselves into fatty membranes. Any free radicals attempting to attach to membrane are quickly gab and passed off to other antioxidants.
Tocotrienols and Tocopherols
Appear to inhibit breast cancer.
Lipoic Acid and Ubiquinone
Lipoic acid and ubiquinoned are important antioxidants that work to extend the effects of other antioxidants. Lipoic acid is an efficient hydroxyl radical quencher, its sulfur bond being the reactive part of the molecule. In addition to hydroxyl radicals, it scavenges peroxyl, ascorbyl and chromanoxyl radicals. It protects both Vitamin E and Vitamin C. It also protects SOD, catalase, and glutathione.
A common theme when we overview the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables is their collective abilities to neutralize free radicals and to reduce inflammation—critically important features for health to be attained in the world we live in today.
A quiz for next week: Are you clear on the different kind of free radicals there are and how they specifically must be neutralized in order that they don’t contribute to disease? Can you define the following five major types of free radicals?
- Singlet oxygen
- Superoxide anion
Most all of you are aware of ORAC (Oxygen Radical Adsorbent Capacity) testing. But most likely you are unaware that the traditional ORAC test only analyzes for peroxyl free radicals and none of the others. However, there is a new Total ORAC free radical test that analyzes for all five categories. This is very exciting news.
In next weeks Forward Thinking we will define each free radical types, look at the Total ORAC Test and look more specifically at the antioxidant foods that can quench each of these reactive species.
The Therapeutic Foods Platform
Of the 15 different Therapeutic Foods there are many combinations one can come up with to perform as a platform for health. One that I have been suggesting of late is to regularly consume the following:
- Wild Blueberry Daily- 1 capsule a day
- Cruciferous Sprouts Complex- 1 teaspoon or 4 capsules a day
- Organic Chlorella- 4 to 6 tablets a day
- No. 7 Systemic Booster- 1 teaspoon a day
With this combination you are adding to you diet the antioxidant/anti-inflammatory power of red pigment (pomegranate, cranberries, tart cherry, red radish), blue-purple pigment (blueberry), yellow pigment (pineapple), green pigment (chlorella, kale, watercress, daikon radish, broccoli, mustard), probiotics, fiber, and much more.
This platform can make the 5 to 9 mandate become a reality within ones lifestyle and bring about the corresponding health benefits, while protecting us from environmental harm.
The Last Quiz Answer: Squirrels are familiar to almost everyone. More than 200 squirrel species live all over the world, with the notable exception of Australia.
The tiniest squirrel is the aptly named African pygmy squirrel—only five inches (thirteen centimeters) long from nose to tail. Others reach sizes shocking to those who are only familiar with common tree squirrels. The Indian giant squirrel is three feet (almost a meter) long!
This squirrel is obviously a tree squirrel, an eastern gray squirrel.
||We know intellectually that honoring all life around us is the right thing to do. As John O’Donahue expressed in last weeks Forward Thinking’s Green Fact: “tuning into nature can heal the soul.” In the following video clip you will see evidence of the healing power of Mother Nature with individuals in prisons.
Connecting Prisons with Nature
The Sustainable Prisons Project is a partnership of The Washington State Department of Corrections and the Evergreen State College. Their mission is to reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices. Equally important, we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners.