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Posts Tagged ‘antioxidants’

It’s strawberry time—one of my favorite seasons of the year. I look forward to May and celebrating “National Strawberry Month” when those luscious red fruits abound.

I grew up on a farm where my Dad grew acres of berries. In my younger years, “picking time” filled my days with unending excitement. Help came from nearby towns along with friends and neighbors to glean the fields. Not unlike the biblical story of Ruth, at the end of the season, Dad welcomed anyone into the fields to gather the last remnants of the season and whatever pickers may have missed.

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Today, I maintain a “wild” strawberry patch in my garden. Unlike the tended rows in my Dad’s fields, my berries are on their own and surprise me with a plentiful supply of fresh berries for about three weeks with enough yield for several jars of jam. Our expanding family of grandchildren and greats love the home prepared product. It’s become a generational delight. However, we don’t miss enjoying those berries throughout the year. We freeze many for future months. Freezing has no effect on the nutrients in these tasty fruits.

Strawberries provide abundant amounts of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and are a good source of manganese, potassium, folic acid, and fiber. Along with these nutrients, they are excellent sources of antioxidants which help in lowering risks of several disease conditions.

According to recent studies, strawberries may help slow the aging process of the brain. They are considered one of the most healthful fruits in preventing memory loss. Research confirms that healthy adults who eat strawberries can improve some aspects of cognition. Their high flavonoid content may also contribute to reduction in Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

Strawberries also have positive effects on heart health. Their high levels of antioxidants, known as polyphenols, combined with their many nutrients may improve HDL and lower LDL cholesterol levels. Nutrients also function to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation to improve vascular function. Potassium helps control blood pressure.

The fiber in these berries can improve digestive health. The prebiotics in strawberries may increase gut bacteria and help maintain lean body weight and longevity.

Frequent consumption of strawberries may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Strawberries tend to slow glucose digestion which helps to prevent spikes in both glucose and insulin. The American Diabetes Association considers strawberries as one of the major ten superfoods for those with diabetes. They have a low glycemic index with about half the calories found in apples or bananas.

These delicious berries are sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, and low-calorie. A serving of berries contains less than 50 calories. First cultivated in Rome, they are considered the world’s favorite berry. Regardless of where you reside, don’t miss out on strawberry season and the opportunity to splurge on one of the tastiest and healthiest foods. Why not consider making them a part of your healthy meal plan?

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I am a longtime hot tea fan. For decades, anytime has been tea time for me. While others order a different favorite brew, as I do occasionally, I prefer black tea. Now comes evidence of my reward for my beverage choice. As little as one cup per day may improve health.

Tea contains flavonoids which have antioxidant properties. Flavonoids come from a broad category of non-nutritive phytochemicals found only in plants. These substances help to maintain health in varied ways. Other familiar phytochemicals include carotenoids, isoflavones, phenolic acids, and many more. It is estimated that hundreds of phytochemicals are yet to be identified. Tea has one of the highest concentrations of flavonoids of any plant. The type and amount in tea varies depending on several factors.

While antioxidants are in a different category, some phytochemicals have antioxidant properties, meaning they can help prevent or delay damage to cells and tissues. Antioxidants are found in both plant and animal sources.

Green tea has more of the flavonoid called catechins. Black tea, which has been fermented or oxidized, contains more of the flavonoids theaflavins and thearubigins. Both are water-soluble and readily absorbed into the body. For maximum concentration of flavonoids, steep tea for at least one minute. The longer the brew time, the higher the concentration of flavonoids and increased health benefits.

How is tea effective in health promotion? Research shows several conditions affected by flavonoids and perhaps other unidentified phytochemicals.

  • Heart disease: Tea drinkers may be more than one-third less likely to have a heart attack. Calcium deposits are linked to heart disease and other cardiovascular events. Buildup of these deposits, associated with plaque development in coronary arteries, is less in those who drink tea.
  • Dementia: Older adults with high levels of calcium plaques in their arteries are more likely to develop dementia earlier than those without calcium buildup. As in heart disease, tea seems to decrease the accumulation.
  • Neurological conditions: Antioxidants in tea have possible neuroprotective agents and may prove to reduce risks for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Other diseases: Researchers have found favorable, but not conclusive, evidence of lower risks of skin disease, cancer, excessive weight, and other maladies in tea drinkers.

But is it the tea or something else? Although researchers have not found a direct relationship, tea drinkers tend to live healthier lifestyles. Whatever current and future findings, tea is a wholesome, inexpensive drink that contributes to a healthy diet.

Drink up!

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February is Cancer Prevention Month. If given a choice, who Healthy Foodswouldn’t choose to stay cancer free? Many speak of the dreaded “C” word. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), nearly half of the most common cancers can be prevented. About one-third of those cancers in the United States could be avoided if Americans chose to move more, maintained appropriate weight, and ate healthful foods.

Some of the cancers linked directly to lifestyle include colorectal, breast, endometrial, esophageal, gallbladder, kidney, liver, lung, pancreatic, prostate, stomach, ovarian, and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx. Other cancers have also been strongly linked to lifestyle. Here are several steps for cancer prevention summarized from AICR recommendations.

  • Remain lean but not underweight
  • Participate in physical activity for 30 minutes each day
  • Avoid sugary drinks and high calorie foods
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes
  • Limit red meat
  • Limit alcoholic beverages
  • Limit excessive salt and processed foods
  • Avoid supplements that claim to cut cancer risk

On their website, AICR identifies specific foods that fight cancer and why these foods are beneficial in our efforts to combat this feared disease. A major part of many of these foods is their antioxidant content. A few examples include:

Apples – The antioxidant comes from several phytochemicals, namely quercetin, epicatechin, and anthocyanins. The peels have additional antioxidants.

Blueberries – These fruits are one of the highest in antioxidants. They also contribute high levels of vitamins C and K, manganese, and dietary fiber.

Coffee – America’s favorite beverage has concentrated sources of the antioxidant phytochemicals. Chlorogenic acid is a major source of phenols in coffee, and quinic acid is partly responsible for coffee’s acidic taste.

Legumes – In addition to antioxidants, legumes contain lignans (plant-based substances that may act like human estrogen) and saponins (health-promoting complex compounds) and other substances that may protect against cancer.

Dark green vegetables – Vegetables such as spinach, kale, romaine, mustard greens, collard greens and others provide excellent sources of carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin plus saponins and flavonoids. These chemicals may possibly protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx. They may also inhibit the growth of certain types of cells associated with breast, skin, lung, and stomach cancers.

For an extensive review, AICR gives current research on many other foods that can help combat cancer such as cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, others), cherries, tea, cranberries, garlic, soy, winter squash, tomatoes, whole grains, and nuts (especially walnuts). Prevention isn’t just a one month activity. Include the suggested foods in your diet all year to get the most benefits and help prevent cancer.

 

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Are you a candidate for cancer? People may take precautions yet still succumb to this awful disease. While the last blog looked at ways to avoid becoming a statistic, many questions remain. One study rarely paints a clear picture of what helps and what hurts in the prevention process. Below are recent research findings about nutrients to help discern what is best for you.

Antioxidants: Antioxidants are known to block the activity of harmful substances called free radicals. Because of this action, many tout that antioxidants ward off malignancy. Numerous foods, especially fruits, offer an abundance of antioxidants in the diet.

Grapes and grape juice: Grapes and grape juice contain high quantities of the potent antioxidants polyphenols and resveratrol. In animal studies, resveratrol prevented cell and tissue damage known to trigger the cancer process. Additionally, resveratrol slowed cancer cell growth and inhibited the formation of tumors in lymph, liver, stomach, and breast cells. It also triggered death of leukemic and colon cancer tumors and blocked development of skin, breast, and leukemia cancers at all stages of the disease.

Supplements: According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidant supplements haven’t proven effective in reducing the risk of developing or in dying from cancer. In fact, evidence suggested that excessive antioxidant supplements may increase the risk of certain cancers. According to recent studies, vitamin E supplements increased possibilities for prostate cancer. Mortality rates increased for those who took supplemental beta carotene and vitamins A and E.

Fruits: Many fruits have benefits in addition to antioxidants that may effectively protect against cancer. Apples, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries are high in fiber and vitamin C. These fruits may help prevent colon cancer and probably lower risks of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lungs, and stomach cancer. See additional information at this site of the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Cruciferous vegetables: This vegetable group (bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radishes, turnips, and others) once strongly linked to preventing lung, colorectal, stomach, breast, prostate and other cancers, may be less effective than previously thought. Newer research failed to substantiate earlier relationships. However, these vegetables are high in nutrients and antioxidants and may in the future provide a link to combating cancer. In animal studies, broccoli and tomatoes—which are high in the antioxidant lycopene—reduced tumor growth in prostate cancer.

Teas: This beverage has the antioxidant catechin which may cut cancer risk. Green tea contains more catechin than does black tea. Green tea extracts may lower the risk of prostate cancer. While some studies found that oral cancer benefitted from tea, other studies failed to find the same association. Therefore, studies related to tea and cancer are inconclusive and need additional study.

Vitamin D and Calcium: Vitamin D lowers risks for colorectal cancer. Adequate blood serum levels of vitamin D cut total cancer incidents and mortality. However over a seven-year period, the Woman’s Health Initiative found that healthy women who took vitamin D and calcium supplements did not improve their chance of avoiding colorectal cancer. High intakes of calcium—greater than 1,500 milligrams/day—increased the risk for prostate cancer but results may have occurred because of lower vitamin D2 levels.

Modifying the diet may affect your risk of cancer. As researchers point out, diet alone is unreliable. However, it is one factor you can control to help you remain cancer free.

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Want to Live Longer?—Eat Your Veggies

Few of us, if any, look forward to dying young. A Swedish study, conducted over a thirteen year period, found that the number of servings of fruits and vegetables affected longevity. Those who ate no fruits or veggies were more likely to die three years earlier than their counterparts who ate five or more fruits and vegetables daily. Eating more than that amount did not seem to influence length of life. Three servings increased the life span by thirty-two months. On average, those who ate at least one serving per day lived nineteen months longer than those who never ate any.

Nutritionists tout fruits and vegetables for their high content of antioxidants—substances that block chemicals that can damage cells. While antioxidant supplements don’t seem to directly influence prevention of heart disease or cancer—both often associated with a lower life span—eating fruits and vegetables may. The nutrients folate, magnesium, potassium, and dietary fiber plus vitamins A,C, and K in fruits and vegetables also play a significant role in cellular health and longer life.

High intakes of white fruits and vegetables may protect against stroke. White fruits include bananas, pears, and apples (regardless of outside skin color). Vegetables include cauliflower and cucumbers but not potatoes, which are a starch. Green, orange/yellow, and red/purple fruits and vegetables do not seem to have the same protective advantage.

However, other fruits and vegetables have their place. The amount of fruits and vegetables eaten correlates with certain disease entities—obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases—and mortality. In an eighteen year study of 71,346 female nurses, three servings per day of whole fruit lowered the risk for type 2 diabetes. Women who ate more green leafy vegetables and fruit (but not fruit juice) were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, while refined grains and white potatoes increased the risk.

The American Heart Association and other health organizations and professionals recommend at least four to five and preferably five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The nutrients they contain make a big difference when it comes to optimum health. Mom was right. Eat your veggies.

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