This article is a continuation of my previous article about functional foods, the phytochemicals they contain, and some of the great things they do for our bodies. It’s also another reminder that no one food, micronutrient, macronutrient, or phytochemical is the end-all and be-all of a healthy diet. It’s important to have an overall healthy dietary pattern, and that pattern should include lots of plants.
Carotenoids – Orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables
There are hundreds of different types of carotenoids. We get about 40-50 of these in our diets from fruits and vegetables. Observational studies suggest that when people eat diets rich in carotenoid- containing fruits and vegetables, they have lower risks of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. It’s interesting to note that when carotenoids are extracted from foods and put into supplements and given to people, the results are not the same. In fact, in some studies cancer risks went UP when people were given these supplements. My take away from that is to just eat your fruits and vegetables to protect your health. Mother Nature hasn’t revealed all her secrets to scientists, so just because they’ve discovered what a certain nutrient or phytochemical does, doesn’t necessarily mean it can perform well in mega doses without the rest of the constituents in the food from which it came. Do what your grandma always said, and eat your fruits and vegetables! And another thing – don’t eat anything your great grandma wouldn’t recognize as food.
Here are just a few things carotenoids are known for:
- Carotenoids are antioxidants, which are molecules that fight the damage caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that can harm cellular structures. Antioxidants do this by giving electrons to the free radicals that neutralize them. Through normal metabolism, our bodies are constantly forming free radicals. These free radicals would destroy our bodies if it weren’t for the antioxidants we get from our food. The more we get, the more protection we have. It’s also important to note that things such as a high fat diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, air pollution, and infections, just to name a few, create extra oxidative stress on our bodies.
- Vitamin A is Essential for Normal Immune Function
- Autophagy-modulatory activities – Autophagy is the normal physiological process in the body that deals with destruction of the body’s cells. It’s how the body maintains normal functioning by protein degradation and turnover of the destroyed cell organelles for new cell formation. (Recycling)
- Reduced risk of lung cancer and prostate cancer
- May have therapeutic potential in either preventing or ameliorating various neurodegenerative diseases
- Help maintain optimal visual function – for more information, click here:
Ellagic Acid – Strawberries, raspberries, grapes, apples, bananas, nuts
**Some supplement companies have touted that their ellagic acid supplements are a cancer cure and have been sent warning letters from the FDA. I’ll say it again. Unless directed by your doctor(and still do your own research), forget the supplements, and opt instead to get your nutrients from your food. Spend your money on the produce aisle instead of on supplements. The whole is always better than the sum of its parts. Ellagic acid in food is known for:
- Antioxidant properties
- Some studies suggest it can slow the growth of tumor cells. It may be able to bind with cancer molecules rendering them inactive.
- Effective in treating wrinkles because it prevents inflammation and collagen breakdown – pass me the berries!
- Fights against pancreatitis by reducing inflammation
Flavonoids – Citrus Fruits, Onions, Apples, Grapes, Tomatoes
There are more than 4,000 compounds known as flavonoids, and they are powerful protectors of the body. Here are just a few of the things flavonoids are known to do:
- Reduce cancer risk
- Reduce risk of heart disease and stroke
- Reduce the risk of asthma
- Have antihistamine and antimicrobial properties
- Have memory and mood-enhancing properties
- May protect against and reverse age-related cognitive decline
A flavonoid in apples, quercetin, has been shown to prevent heart attacks, protect against cataracts, control asthma, reduce cancer risk, prevent recurrent gout attacks, and speed healing from acid reflux.
While I get excited learning what different phytochemicals do and passing that information along in an effort to get others excited about eating fruits and vegetables, I want to stress again that a good diet is not just about one food or one nutrient. In fact, today I was reading Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, and he said, “Here’s a list of just the antioxidants that have been identified in a leaf of garden-variety thyme: alanine, anethole essential oil, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, derulic acid, eriodictyol, eugenol, 4-terpinol, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene, isichlorogenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaemferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, trytophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid. This is what you ingest when you eat food flavored with thyme.” We don’t think about all those things when we eat. We just eat.
Isn’t that list incredible though? It’s mind-boggling to try to imagine all the goodness that’s in the vegetable crisper of my refrigerator. There are so many health-promoting components in all fruits and vegetables. But you know what? We don’t eat health-promoting components; we eat food, so go for the fruits and vegetables that please your palate, and let Mother Nature worry about antioxidants. Ditch the pills, potions, and processed foods making health claim after health claim, and go for the produce. Have a fantastic week!
Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food (pp. 64-65). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.