Foods that Have Phytochemicals – Sprout Research – Disease Prevention
By Jody Shee
September 30, 2002
(Sept. 24) Who needs a nutrition supplement when you can get the same amazing benefits from a fruit cocktail that tastes better?
Fruits and vegetables are themselves a cocktail of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. The former two are well known and charted. But lesser-known phytochemicals may revolutionize the way we look at produce.
Christine Filardo, manager of nutrition communications for the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., offers these bits of information about phytochemicals:
- Phytochemicals are the properties in plants that help them respond to their environment, like insects, disease, drought or too much or too little sun. These plant defenders also protect the human body.
- Phytochemicals have been on the scientific radar screen for a long time, but only recently has the consumer press presented them to the general public. “I’ve heard it said these may have the magnitude of importance that might have been ascribed to vitamins and minerals several decades ago,” Filardo says.
- There is no recommended intake for phytochemicals. That means there’s no quantifiable basis to say that something is a good or excellent source of a particular phytochemical.
- The information you give consumers at the point of sale or on your Web site about phytochemicals falls under the regulatory arm of the Food and Drug Administration, so be careful what advertising and promotional claims you make about them. Claims made through the mass media fall under the Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdiction.
- There are no government-approved health claims you can make about phytochemicals. The FTC will ask if there’s enough research available to back up a health claim.
- Whole foods are a better source of phytochemicals than pills. The combination of chemicals and nutrients may be the important factor in the body. Using tomatoes as an example, it may not just be lycopene that creates the benefit. It may be the lycopene plus its interaction with olive oil as you cook it. Or it may be a combination of lycopene, olive oil and the pasta you serve it with. “Food synergy suggests that health-promoting effects of fruits and vegetables come as a result of the interaction with all these various things. Studies show that may be a viable supposition,” Filardo says.
- There’s not a complete database of phytochemicals to refer to. PBH is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a phytochemical study of 50 fruits and vegetables to start a database, which should be finished and available sometime in early 2003.
As you build your phytochemical awareness to incorporate into customer communications, start with recent findings on these six fruits and vegetables that are phytochemical powerhouses.
The green fruit with smooth, oily flesh confuses many people. It’s high in calories, and some people mistakenly believe the fat content raises cholesterol in the body. But the phytochemical beta-sitosterol makes the opposite true. “(Beta-sitosterol) is one of the phytosterols – the equivalent in plants of cholesterol in animals. Because it is so similar in structure to cholesterol, beta-sitosterol competes with cholesterol for absorption into the body – and wins. The result is lower cholesterol in the bloodstream,” according to the book “The Color Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health.” Avocados have four times more beta-sitosterol than all other commonly eaten fruits, according to information on the Santa Ana-based California Avocado Commission’s Web site (www.avocado.org).
Avocados also have more of the phytochemical glutathione than the other common fruits – three times more than oranges, which have the second highest level. As an antioxidant, glutathione helps neutralize free radicals that can cause cell damage in the body leading to cancer and heart disease, according to the Web site.
The blue in blueberries holds one of the keys to the fruit’s health benefits. The pigment, called anthocyanin, is a cancer-fighting antioxidant. While some fruits contain a few types of anthocyanins, blueberries have as many as 30 types, and some in large concentrations. That’s why blueberries are the leading fresh fruit in antioxidant power, according to “The Color Code.”
Besides their cancer-fighting compounds, blueberries contain a powerful anti-inflammatory agent called cyanidin, which is helpful to arthritis sufferers.
Together, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in blueberries contribute to another recently discovered benefit. – protecting the aging brain. James Joseph, the lead scientist and lab chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, has found amazing test results. Since oxidative stress and inflammation contribute to brain aging, he worked with rats to find out if the benefits of blueberries would improve brain function in aging rodents. He found that blueberry-fed rats developed new brain cells – something previously thought impossible. Balance and coordination also improved in the rats, and their brains were freer of damaged proteins, which interfere with neuronal communications. Finally, the blue fruit may hinder the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, according to “The Color Code.”
There are plenty of reasons why you need to eat your broccoli. Sulforaphane is one reason. It’s “a substance produced in the body from a compound in broccoli, which could trigger the production of phase II enzymes. The enzymes can detoxify cancer-causing chemicals and are among the most potent anti-cancer compounds known,” according to an article in The Washington Post. Studies on mice show that sulforaphane can prevent the development of colon and breast cancer and other tumors.
“The key protective compound in broccoli (glucoraphanin, which the body turns into sulforaphane) is at least 20 times more concentrated in 3-day-old broccoli sprouts than it is in broccoli,” according to the article. “A single ounce of sprouts has as much glucoraphanin as 1.25 pounds of cooked broccoli, offering a simpler means of consuming potentially healthful quantities.”
Another study shows that when indole compounds in broccoli are digested and broken down by the stomach, they turn into a compound called diindolylmethane or DIM, according to Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University’s Web site, www.hopkinsmedicine.org. “DIM suppresses human breast cancer cell growth by preventing cancerous cells from dividing and multiplying. In addition, beyond preventing the actual spread of the disease, DIM also promotes the death of existing tumor cells by altering levels of certain proteins that keep tumor cells alive,” according to the Web site.
Give your love a cherry and bestow a plethora of healthful natural compounds. The antioxidant anthocyanin found in blueberries also is present in cherries, which gives the sweet fruit anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory qualities. In fact, cherries have the highest level of anthocyanins of all fruits, making them comparable to low doses of ibuprofen and naproxen in helping to deal with inflammation, according to the Lansing, Mich.-based Cherry Marketing Institute Inc.’s Web site (www.cherrymkt.org). The anti-inflammatory qualities of cherries pique the interest of gout sufferers.
Cherries also are rich in two flavonoids, isoqueritrin and queritrin. “Queritrin is one of the most potent anti-cancer agents ever discovered,” according to the Web site. “Consuming it in foods, such as cherries, is like unleashing inside your body an entire army of James Bond-type agents who are adept at neutralizing cancer-causing agents.”
There are other substances, yet unidentified, in cherry juice that may help prevent tooth decay, according to the Web site www.wholehealthmd.com.
Grapes join blueberries in fruit that contains anthocyanins, which are strong antioxidants that help fight cancer and improve circulation.
But grapes also are the leading fruit containing the antioxidant resveratrol, according to “The Color Code.”
The natural chemical helps grapes fight fungus as they grow. “Resveratrol is converted in the body to a known anti-cancer agent that can selectively target and destroy cancer cells,” according to an article in the British Journal of Cancer.
Concord grapes contain the most antioxidants, and while they aren’t as readily available at retail, they are abundant in grape juice.
A test at Tufts University showed that concord grape juice has four times the antioxidant power of orange, tomato and grapefruit juice, according to “The Color Code.”
Only kale and collard greens have more of the carotenoid lutein than spinach. Lutein is an antioxidant in the eye. “And since the body uses lutein to manufacture yet another antioxidant, the carotenoid zeaxanthin, you get two for the price of one,” according to “The Color Code.” Lutein helps improve failing night vision and helps improve waning peripheral vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin also help protect the eye lens from cataracts.
But there’s more than meets the eye. Spinach contains two vital antioxidants, gluthathione and alpha-lipoic acid. Though the body manufactures these antioxidants on its own, the self-production slows down as the body ages. Without gluthathione, the body dies, according to “The Color Code.” The antioxidant detoxifies pollutants and carcinogens, maintains a healthy liver, boosts the immune system, aids in healthy cell replication, by repairing damaged DNA and reduces chronic inflammation.
The other antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid, “guards against stroke, heart attacks and cataracts. It strengthens memory. It turns off genes that can accelerate aging and cause cancer. And it helps the body break down sugar for energy production,” according to “The Color Code.”