Most of us have heard that diets high in fruits and vegetables can help us lose weight, reduce our risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, cataracts, macular degeneration, osteoporosis, arthritis and even wrinkles. As a matter of fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, 8 to 10 servings a day can cut our risk of some cancers in half!
Food science has just recently come to realize that there is much more to micronutrient nutrition than just vitamins and minerals. Indeed, there may be well over 1,000 different plant chemicals, known as Phytochemicals, that may have metabolic activity in humans! These include classes such as the alkaloids, carotenoids, coumarins, flavonoids, isothiocyanates, polyphenols, and polysaccharides, just to name a few! Some serve as antioxidants fighting free radicals, some assist the liver in detoxification, others modulate the immune system and hormone metabolism.
Factoid: In 1991, the University of Naples, Italy studied 70 to 100 year-olds and found that those who lived the longest and the healthiest ate a lot more fruit and vegetables.
Super Foods and the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.)
As we have become more aware of the amazing and broad spectrum of health, anti-aging, and disease preventing benefits of foods especially high in this “new” array of such micronutrients, a new name for them has arisen, the “Super Foods”.
The “S.A.D.” fact remains, in spite of all the support from mainstream medicine organizations like the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association, and governmental health organizations like the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging, the USDA, and even the U.S. Surgeon General, few of us eat the recommended minimum of two fruits and three vegetables daily. Even counting the “pale” plant foods like French fries, green-gassed bananas and iceberg lettuce, few achieve the daily minimum. Only a small percentage of the population enjoy the optimal nine servings that emphasize fresh and organic phytochemical-dense deep green and brightly colored fruits and vegetables!
The reasons for this lack are many and varied, and deeply ingrained in our American culture and lifestyle, though it can no longer be accounted to ignorance. What are obviously needed are an educational initiative, as well as new ways for people to enjoy the benefits of fruits and vegetables. This paper is an introduction, and for some, a review of the power and importance of many of the super foods available to us today. Our S.A.D. choices in food must change. Education and the new advances in food technologies are the keys.
ORAC Intake, Health Outcomes and the Common Diseases of Aging
“If these findings are borne out in further research, young and middle-aged people may be able to reduce risk of diseases of aging—including senility—simply by adding high-ORAC foods to their diets,” Floyd P. Horn, administrator, Agricultural Research Service’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
ORAC, short for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, is a test tube analysis that measures the total antioxidant power of foods and other chemical substances. Antioxidant power is the ability to neutralize oxygen free radicals. Therefore ORAC testing is a way to measure how many oxygen radicals a specific food can absorb. The more oxygen radicals a food can absorb, the higher its ORAC score.
Foods that score high in ORAC testing may protect cells and their components from oxidative damage. So suggests the latest studies of animals and human blood at the Agricultural Research Service’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. (ARS is the chief scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.) In other words the higher a food’s ORAC score, the better it is at helping our bodies fight diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Free radicals destroy our health in many ways. A good illustration of the harmful effects of oxidation is rusting. When metal rusts it becomes weak and flaky, it starts to degenerate or decay until it no longer performs its functions well. Eventually the metal “fatigues” and “fails”. THIS EXACT SAME PROCESS HAPPENS IN OUR BODY! Just like in rusting, the cells, organs, and other parts of our body can be made weak by oxidation. This can lead to diseases like cancer, heart disease, cataracts and macular degeneration, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), senile dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, and perhaps even skin aging and wrinkling!
Factoid: ”Men and women whose diets are high in fruits and vegetables were shown to have lower rates of angina, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, cirrhosis, gallstones, heart attack, kidney stones and peptic ulcers.” Epidemiology, March 1998, Vol 9, p 208.
By the year 2050, nearly one-third of the U.S. population is expected to be over age 65. If further research supports these early findings, millions of aging people may be able to guard against many of the worst and most common diseases simply by adding high-ORAC foods to their diets! This could save much suffering, as well as reduce the staggering cost of treating and caring for the elderly.
Dr. Guohua Cao, a physician and chemist, developed the ORAC test while he was a visiting scientist at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Maryland. According to Dr. Cao, “The ORAC value covers all the antioxidants in foods… You cannot easily measure each antioxidant separately, but you can use the ORAC assay to identify which phytonutrients are the important antioxidants. It may be that combinations of nutrients found in foods have greater protective effects than each nutrient taken alone.”
New, natural plant chemicals are being discovered every day. We don’t know as yet which ones, in what amounts, best fight cancer and other diseases. But we do know that, as our knowledge is so limited, it is best to get these plant chemicals from plant foods, not just supplements, to fully enjoy the disease-fighting benefits.
One of the things science has proven is that dark greens and brightly colored plant foods are the ones with the highest ORAC scores such as spinach, kale, broccoli, blueberries, wild tart cherries, raspberries, elderberries, prunes, tomatoes, carrots and the like.
It is important to understand that the ORAC values of fruits and vegetables cover a broad range. Dr. Cao instructs us that, “you can pick seven with low values and get only about 1,300 ORAC units. Or, you can eat seven with high values and reach 6,000 ORAC units or more. One cup of blueberries alone supplies 3,200 ORAC units.” Generally the minimum recommended “5-a-day” vegetables and fruits program is considered to be supplying about 1750 ORAC units daily.
In the studies, eating plenty of high-ORAC foods raised the antioxidant power of human blood 10 to 25 percent. Based on the evidence so far, some experts suggest that daily intake be increased to approximately 5,000 ORAC units to have a significant impact on plasma and tissue antioxidant capacity.
The Super Greens: Spirulina, Chlorella, and Young Barley Greens
In the oceans and great lakes these super foods are one-celled organisms called spirulina and chlorella. They are some of the oldest, most successful and most resistant organisms and provide most of the oxygen dissolved in water.
On land, these foods are the young spring time sprouts or shoots of the seed producing green grasses and the green herbs, a most excellent example of which is young barley green shoots.
Factiod: Studies published in the UC Davis Health Journal states that, “Spirulina increased antibody responses and the activity of natural killer cells, which destroy infected and cancerous cells in the body.”
Spirulina contains over 100 vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and phytonutrients! Spirulina contains high levels of easily absorbed natural cell protectors (antioxidants) including chlorophyll, alpha and beta carotene and phycocyanin, the latter found exclusively in Spirulina!
Spirulina is approximately 65 – 70% amino acid proteins, which is greater then beef steak by far! Spirulina is a natural treasure trove of organic vitamin B12, iron, chromium, selenium and essential fatty acids (GLA). Indeed, Spirulina contains 50 times more blood building iron than spinach and 10 times more bone building calcium than milk. Spirulina is the highest natural plant source of stamina building Vitamin B12, has more good fats (GLA /EFA) than evening primrose oil, and more Vitamin E than raw wheat germ!
Spirulina also contains growth factors that support and promote the growth of friendly intestinal flora. Such a food is properly called a pre-biotic. “People have used foods like yogurt (containing pro-biotics) and Spirulina throughout history…these foods improve immune system function and…are a beneficial addition to our diet.” (Judy van de Water, associate professor of rheumatology, allergy and clinical immunology, UC Davis).
Spirulina, like all edible dark green plants, is also highly alkalizing, meaning that it helps restore the acid–base balance. In other words, Spirulina helps neutralize the acidity caused by eating excess meats, starches, sugars, soft drinks and preserved foods, as well as by excess stress, excess exercise, environmental pollutants, drugs, alcohol, coffee and tobacco.
Spirulina is also rich in photosynthetic pigments, which makes it a great heavy metal detoxifier. Doctors Sklar and Schwartz of Harvard School of Dental Medicine showed an extract of Spirulina’s antioxidants prevented cancer in animals.
“Spirulina increased antibody responses and the activity of natural killer cells, which destroy infected and cancerous cells in the body.” – UC Davis Health System, Weekly Update, Dec, 2000, pp. 1-2
Chlorella actually contains twice as much chlorophyll as Spirulina. Chlorophyll, the phytonutrient that makes plants green, deodorizes, detoxifies and promotes the body’s natural healing.
Chlorophyll has also been studied for its potential in stimulating tissue growth, and in stimulating red blood cell production. Perhaps most remarkable is the similarity between chlorophyll and the red pigment in blood. Indeed, chlorophyll is just a hemoglobin molecule with magnesium in the middle instead of iron!
Factiod: ”Chlorella is by far the best and most powerful of the super foods that provide your body with the proper nutrition to heal itself.”
According to an article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1995, Vol 87, No 11, p. 7, chlorophyll fed to laboratory animals reduces absorption of three dietary carcinogens: heterocyclic amines (found in cooked muscle meats), polycyclic hydrocarbons (found in smoked and barbecued foods), and aflatoxin (a toxin produced commonly by mold that infects grains and peanuts). The chlorophyll forms complex compounds with the chemical carcinogens while they are still in the digestive tract, limiting their absorption and distribution.
Chlorophyll has also been found useful to treat some disorders of the pancreas and reduce fecal, urinary, and body odor in geriatric patients. Chlorella is the most researched “green product” resulting in proof of numerous health benefits including improved immune system function, heavy metal and pesticide detoxification, “anti-tumor activity”, and, because of chlorella growth factor (CGF), enhanced white blood cell activity and quicker wound and ulcer healing! Drug Chemical Toxicology, Vol 7, No 1, pp. 51-71 and Immunotoxicology, 1999, Vol 21, No 3, pp.609-619.
Please note that as Chlorella, unlike Spirulina, has a cellulose wall that humans cannot digest, it is important that “cracked cell wall” Chlorella be used.
Michael Rosenbaum, MD, MSC, Director of Orthomolecular Health Medical Society, writing in the M.D.’s Nutritional Bulletin, Special Addition, Spring 2001, p.1, states that chlorella is, “by far the best and most powerful of the nutraceuticals, foods that provide your body with the proper nutrition to heal itself…There is nothing better for finally helping you feel the way you want to feel!”
But before green grasses undergo the reproductive cycle that creates the grains, they are in the grass stage, and the grasses contain about the same vitamins and minerals as dark green vegetables!
Factiod: ”It is clear that the leaves of the cereal grasses provide the nearest thing this planet offers to the perfect food. For reasons of palatability, higher nutrient content, and favorable harvesting features, green barley stands out as the best among these,” according to Dr. Hagiwara, professor of Toxicology at UC Davis.
When these grasses are harvested at a young age, they have a different chemical makeup from their adult counterparts. For example, wheat grass has 32 g of protein per 100 g, while wheat flour has only 13 g per 100 g. Wheat grass has about 23,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin A per 100 g, while wheat flour has none. We can see then that the young grasses offer us much greater nutrition.
Barley grass juice powder, low temperature spray dried from pure organic juice, not milled grass, is a green powerhouse that brings you a wide spectrum of natural nutrients in natural proportion, as well as chlorophyll, live enzymes, and a unique and powerful antioxidant: 2″-0-glycosylisovitexin, reported to have antioxidant activity equal to or superior to vitamin E.
Green barley leaves contain a multitude of the body’s spark plugs, enzymes. Enzymes are the catalysts for the body’s essential chemical reactions and are responsible for our digestive processes, for providing cellular energy, and for antioxidant effects.
Despite their importance, most people do not get the enzymes they need. This is because heat destroys enzymes, and most of our foods, whether cooked at home or processed, are heated and the enzymes destroyed. The world’s greatest expert on green barely is Yoshihide Hagiwara, M.D., an associate professor at the department of environmental toxicology at UC Davis. Dr. Hagiwara believes that there may be thousands of active enzymes in green barley, especially super oxide dismutase (SOD), a major detoxifying enzyme sometimes recommended in combating arthritis.
The young barley juice powder contains 13 times as much carotene as that of carrots, 55 times as much Vitamin C as that of apples and 5 times as much iron as that of spinach. Its potassium content works to balance the sodium in salt and so many other processed foods. Many people note a diuretic effect like the “water pills”, frequently followed by lowering of an elevated blood pressure!Recently, research has unveiled many other possible benefits of green barley leaves. Extracted compounds may have cholesterol lowering effects, anti-inflammatory benefits, and anti-ulcer properties.
Factoid: “The young barley juice powder contains 13 times as much carotene as that of carrots, 55 times as much Vitamin C as that of apples and 5 times as much iron as that of spinach.”
Dr. Hagiwara says, “It was clear to me, then, that the leaves of the cereal grasses provide the nearest thing this planet offers to the perfect food. For reasons of palatability, higher nutrient content, and favorable harvesting features, green barley stands out as the best among these.”
The More Familiar Super Greens: Spinach, Kale and Parsley
According to the USDA, folic acid is the most common dietary vitamin deficiency in the U.S., being deficient in 3 out of 4 diets. Indeed, only recently have we become generally aware that folic acid deficiency is the usual cause of the unfortunately not uncommon neural tube birth defects. And many medications, including birth control pills and estrogen, increase the need for folic acid! —Nutritional Science News, 2001, Vol 6, No 9; p. 338
Factoid: The International Journal of Cancer reported that high consumption of green leafy vegetables containing lutein and zeaxanthin, cancer protective agents, accounted for the low incidence of lung cancer in Fiji where 80% of the men are smokers!
Green leafy vegetables are well known as being high in bone building calcium. But did you know that Vitamin K is needed for strong bones, too? The Framingham Health Study showed that those with the highest vitamin K intake had three times less hip fracture from osteoporosis! (Analyst, 1988:113:393-7). In Japan vitamin K is approved as a drug to treat osteoporosis! Fewer yet realize that a recent analysis of published research on vitamin K concluded, “A substantial part of the population is mildly deficient in vitamin K, and at the later stages this deficiency may contribute to (not only) increased bone fracture risk, (but) arterial calcification and cardiovascular disease, (too).” – Hematology Oncology Clinical North America 2000, Vol 14, No 2, pp. 339-53.
Popeye sang, “I’m strong to the finish ‘cause I eats me spinach”. This was mostly thought related to its rich iron content, which is also true of kale and parsley. Today, with our high sodium, high protein, high processed food diets, we are even more in need of the alkaline ash minerals, especially potassium, found so predominately in the super greens. These minerals act as a buffer to neutralize excess acid. If not present in sufficient quantities, the body “steals” these much mineral needed buffers from our bones, and thus such deficiencies are thought to be a leading cause of osteoporosis. —American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000, Vol 73, pp. 118-122.
The discovery that there is a whole class of micro-nutrients, called phytonutrients, that are not vitamins, minerals or fiber, but had dynamic health enhancing effect, is a big part of the reason the major health agencies recommend a minimum of 5 different fruits and vegetables daily.
One such class of phytochemicals are the antioxidant carotenes, of which the pro vitamin A beta carotene is the most familiar. However, though the dark green “leafies” are a rich sources of beta carotenes, there are numerous nonvitamin A carotenes found in these foods as well. Two of the most researched are lutein and zeaxanthin. According to Health Sense, August 2000, Vol. VI, issue 8, numerous studies show that maintaining sufficient levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, the only carotene antioxidants active in the retina of the eye, can prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, two leading causes of age related blindness, and preserve youthful visual sensitivity!
High consumption of green leafy vegetables containing lutein and zeaxanthin were determined to be the protective agents that explained the low incidence of lung cancer in Fiji where 80% of the men smoke! International Journal of Cancer: 1995, Vol 64 No 63, pp. 18-23. The February 2000 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked lutein to a 17% reduction in colon cancer risk.
Non-Green Super Carotenoids: Carrots and Tomatoes
There are two more carotenoid super foods we must mention, namely carrots and tomatoes.
Factoid: According to the International Journal of Cancer, food items most strongly related to decreased risk for ovarian cancer are raw carrots and tomato sauce. Consumption of fruits, vegetables, food items and supplements high in carotene and lycopene reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
The Cruciferous Vegetables
Factoid: According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts, substantially lower the risk of prostate cancer in men. Numerous studies also suggest a protective role in uterine, cervical and breast cancer in women as well.
The 2000 January 5th issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute proclaims that the cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels Sprouts, substantially lower the risk of prostate cancer in men. Numerous studies also suggest a protective role in uterine, cervical and breast cancer in women as well (Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology, 1991, No 28, pp. 255-8.
Fruit: Berry Berry Good For You!
As a recent Newsweek article said “The day when doctors say—’Take 10 cherries and call me in the morning’—may not be far off.”
Most known phytonutrients are strongly related to pigment. Just as phytonutrient antioxidant carotenoids tend to dominate in the dark green greens and bright red and orange vegetables, the richly red/blue pigmented flavonoids, with names like isoflavones, anthocyanins, flavinols, catechins and phenols, tend to be dominant in the fruits and herbs.
Factoid: Super rich in the anthocyanin bioflavinoid group of phytonutrients, these elements are found abundantly in berries, and some of the richest sources are grape seed and pine bark extracts. These are powerful antioxidants that are significantly more active than Vitamins C and E. Grape skin extracts inhibit the initiation and promotion of tumors, and cause pre-cancerous cells to return to normal, according to the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Antioxidants have been shown to increase immune function and decrease the risk of infection and cancer. Antioxidants help by preventing or repairing damage done to the body’s cells by free radicals. Simply put, a free radical is a molecule with a free electron. Electrons like to be in pairs. An antioxidant, such as vitamin C, vitamin E or beta-carotene, may donate one of its electrons to the free radical. If no antioxidants are present, a free radical takes an electron from vital cell structures, damaging the cell and eventually leading to disease.
Just like Pac-Men, the flavonoid antioxidants in berries, cherries and plums “eat up” free radicals in the bloodstream helping prevent the development of cancer. These flavonoids have even been called, “Mother Nature’s all-natural chemotherapy agents”.
Fruit phytonutrient flavonoids also play a role in preventing the development of heart disease by discouraging fatty deposits in the arteries. Flavonoids even slow wrinkling, protect the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration, and protect the aging brain. Indeed, they are a main reason why fruits and vegetables have been called “Natures Anti-Aging Wonders!”
Factoid: Studies conducted at the Hollings Cancer Institute found that cranberries, raspberries and tart cherries are the richest fruit source of ellagic acid, a naturally occurring plant phenolic flavonoid phytonutrient. This chemical is a potent anti-carcinogenic and may be the most potent way to prevent cancer!
Is it any wonder then that most scientists believe it is far better to get a daily healthy dose of dozens of different phytonutrients from micro-nutrient dense “super foods” than it is to take a mega dose of a few synthetic antioxidant vitamins and minerals?
For example, the 17 identified compounds in tart cherries that have antioxidant properties are considered, in total, to be superior to the activity of vitamins E and C. In addition, they contain compounds that help relieve the pain of arthritis, gout and even headaches with daily consumption!
Blueberries are by far the greatest common whole food source of eye/vision and brain/ mind protecting antioxidant flavonoids, being full of blue anthocyanins.
Cranberries, raspberries and tart cherries are the richest fruit source of ellagic acid, a naturally occurring plant phenolic flavonoid phytonutrient that is known as a potent anti-carcinogenic compound. Clinical tests conducted at the Hollings Cancer Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) show that ellagic acid may be the most potent way to prevent cancer! In addition, you should know that all the berries, not just cranberries, help prevent recurrent urinary tract-bladder infections (UTI’s).
Factoid: The benefits of green tea flavonoid catechins for the heart are greater than that of red wine, without the alcohol! There is a 10% increase in breast cancer for every alcoholic beverage consumed on a daily basis, according to an article in JAMA.
Fruit and Vegetable Extracts
In order to approximate the health benefits of eating 5 to 9 serving of dark green, red, orange, blue and purple fruit and vegetables daily, food scientists have created fruit and vegetable extracts from the most nutrient dense organic varieties. These extracts become highly concentrated phytonutrient super food supplements. Findings reported in the 38th annual meeting of the American Society of Cell Biology show us that these supplements enhanced “multiple immune functions…especially for people whose immune functions have been diminished”. Dr O’Neill , Ph.D., of BYU’s Dept. of Microbiology was quoted as saying, “Fruit and vegetable extracts may be protective against cancer.”
Organic Food More Nutritious?