Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Superfoods are Superstars

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Studies show that broccoli may help in the pre...

Studies show that broccoli may help in the prevention of cancer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What exactly is a superfood?  Basically in my opinion, a superfood is a nutrient-rich food low in calories.  They are high in vitamins and minerals and usually contain some other compounds that have been shown by research to give us health benefits.  Most have been reported to help lower our risk of developing certain chronic diseases, cancer and heart disease, the leading killers in the majority of Western countries.  They help us not only with antioxidant effects (contolling free radicals), but also by immune-system enhancement, estrogen-metabolism alteration, apotosis (cancer cell death), DNA damage repair, and the detoxification of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds).

Many of the phytochemicals (found only in plants) are classified as antioxidants. More than 4,000 are currently known.  The following are major classes:

  • Carotenoids that include beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, among others.
  • Polyphenols: subgroups include flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, and stilbenes; subgroups of the flavonoids include flavanols (which include catechins), flavones, flanonols, flavanones, isoflavones, and anthocyanins.
  • Classes of beneficial compounds in foods of animal origin (meats, eggs, dairy) are referred to zoochemicals that also can affect body processes in a beneficial way.

ALMONDS:  Edgar Cayce: The Sleeping Prophet diagnosed and gave medical advice when in a trance-like state in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  He stated that taking two or three almonds a day would prevent a tendency toward cancer.  Nowhere, apparently, does he mention almonds as a treatment for cancer.  He did suggest the use of them to several people after they had a cancerous growth removed and likewise in several places to prevent the tendency of its reoccurrence.  Interesting?

Almonds) contain about 6 grams of protein in one ounce and about 3 grams of fiber.  They are rich in calcium – 1 ounce contains about 80 mg.  They are also an excellent source of vitamin E, potassium, and iron as well as niacin, riboflavin, and magnesium. They also contain antioxidants and phytosterols. They are calorie-rich – 23 almonds have 130 calories.  The fat they contain is considered a heart-healthy fat – monounsaturated – actually, about 70% of its fat is monounsaturated, the kind of fat found in the Mediterranean Diet.

What’s the evidence?  Almonds significantly reduced a blood marker of insulin secretion that may help to prevent coronary heart disease risk.  This was reported in a 2008 study published in the journal Metabolism.  Another study from the Journal of Nutrition found that the antioxidants in almonds reduced markers of oxidative stress.

APPLES:  One whole apple contains about 95 calories and 4.4 grams of fiber.  They are good sources of vitamins C, K and potassium as well as antioxidants.  A Korean study from the journal Biofactors reported that apples contained the phytochemicals called flavonoids, such as quercetin, epicatechin, and procyanidin, thought to be cancer preventers.  From the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professional’s Follow-up study, women who consumed at least one serving a day of apples and pears had a reduced risk of lung cancer.  But be careful of the pesticides with apples.  The Environmental Working Group put apples on its list of twelve foods most contaminated with pesticides.  Peeling could help.

BANANAS:  Bananas are an excellent source of vitamin B6 and C, fiber, potassium.  They also offer us antioxidants in the form of phenols.  They are high in carbohydrates (27 grams) in 1 medium banana, but also give us 3.1 grams of fiber.  They come in at 105 calories.  Although high in carbohydrates, the glycemic load of bananas is only 12, which is considered a “medium” effect on blood glucose.  The less ripe it is, the better on blood glucose.

In the International Journal of Cancer in 2009, a study was published that reported bananas as one of the eight specific fruits and vegetables associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in Chinese women.  Another study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer reported that a high intake of bananas was the best predictor for preventing colorectal cancer.

BLUEBERRIES:  One cup of blueberries contains 84 calories and 3.6 grams of fiber.  They are mostly known for their antioxidant power, but are an excellent source of vitamins C and K.   The known antioxidants are anthocyanins, kaempferol, and stilbenes.  From a study on nurses in 2007 in the International Journal of Cancer, a high level of intake of these compounds was associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer.  Kaempferol has been shown to reduce lung cancer risk in smokers and inflammation. Pterostilbene has been reported to have anti-cancer effects from studies on human colon cancer cells.

BROCCOLI:  1 cup of broccoli (fresh or frozen) has only 55 calories, 3.7 grams of protein, 11 grams of carbohydrate and a generous 5.1 grams of fiber.  One serving provides vitamin C and K, and half the daily requirement for vitamin A. It is loaded with phytochemicals that include:  glucosinolates, dithiolthiones, indoles , glucoraphanin, s-methyl cysteine sulfoxide, isothiocyanates, and indole-3-carbinol.  Probably the most studied phytochemical is sulforaphane.   Most of these phytochemicals have been shown to be powerful cancer fighters, at least in animal studies.  One study of 66,940 women with the highest flavonoid phytochemical intake had a 25% lower risk of ovarian cancer when compared with those consuming the least.  A study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found it to reduce the risk of progressive prostate cancer.  Other studies have shown that the mortality rates of laboratory animals exposed to radiation could be reduced significantly by feeding of broccoli and cabbage. Several isothiocyanates have been shown to inhibit tumors, induced by chemical carcinogens.  Indoles also play a role in cancer prevention. Rats fed with the indole glucobrassicin demonstrated lower incidences of chemically induced tumors. Research has suggested that the compounds in broccoli can protect the eyes against macular degeneration. Also,many studies indicate that sulforaphane may act as an antibiotic against Helicobacter and might be used to eradicate resistant strains of Helicobacter pylori, a possible risk factor for stomach cancer. Pesticide Alert – try to buy organic here.

For the next five, read the next post – Superfoods, Continued.

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