“Let thy food be thy medicine”

Nat­u­ral can­cer-fight­ing chem­i­cal com­pounds called polyphe­nols are ris­ing to the top of the list for a healthy diet.

Element - - Nutrition - By Lani Lopez

Aware­ness of the heal­ing power of food is as old as medicine it­self. Writ­ing some­time around 400 BC the fa­ther of medicine him­self, Hip­pocrates, put it this way: “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”

But some foods are more medic­i­nal than oth­ers. Modern re­searchers world­wide are in­creas­ingly ex­cited by the heal­ing and dis­ease pre­vent­ing power of a group of chem­i­cal com­pounds com­monly found in our food, called polyphe­nols. Polyphe­nols are health-pro­mot­ing chem­i­cal com­pounds nat­u­rally pro­duced (syn­the­sised) in many plants.

Over the last 20 years re­search has con­sis­tently as­so­ci­ated polyphe­nols with ma­jor pos­i­tive ef­fects on the some of the most fright­en­ing and com­mon western dis­eases, es­pe­cially can­cer, car­dio­vas­cu­lar or heart dis­ease and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders in­clud­ing de­men­tia and Alzheimers.

Ex­cite­ment abut polyphe­nols is driven by their two health-giv­ing ac­tions. Polyphe­nols have been found to both de­crease the risk of dis­ease oc­cur­ring and when dis­ease is present, to slow its pro­gres­sion.

Re­searchers are es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in the health-giv­ing and heal­ing prop­er­ties of a sub-set of polyphe­nols called flavonoids. These are so com­mon in plants that we can find and eat them in sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties in our diet of widely avail­able, ev­ery­day legumes, fruits and veg­eta­bles.

Flavonoids are as­so­ci­ated with dis­ease pre­ven­tion and pro­tec­tive ef­fects, but as yet we still have a lot to learn, even down to quite how they ben­e­fit our health so much. What is known is that they act at a cel­lu­lar level but ex­actly how is a topic of on­go­ing study.

Sim­i­larly we are some way yet from hav­ing pre­cise di­etary rec­om­men­da­tions on how much to eat to max­imise our ab­sorp­tion, or up­take of the ben­e­fi­cial flavonoids. We do know how­ever that some flavonoid (and anti-ox­i­dant) rich foods are best eaten raw while oth­ers ac­tu­ally im­prove their ab­sorp­tion from cook­ing (see side­bar for raw and cook­ing ad­vice on flavonoid-rich foods).

So while the sci­ence is, as yet, un­clear, the ev­i­dence so far weighs heav­ily in favour of con­sum­ing polyphe­nols for a long and healthy life.

In my view, the best cur­rent natur­o­pathic ad­vice would be to bet on the side of flavonoids and polyphe­no­lic power. I think it is wise to get the heal­ing power of polyphe­nols into your daily diet and do­ing so is easy, here’s how. • En­joy berries with your break­fast. • Make main meals with beans. Na­chos, bur­ri­tos and len­til dhal are cheap, tasty and easy to pre­pare. • Treat your­self to a small piece of dark choco­late reg­u­larly, you de­serve it and your body will thank you. • Make time in the evenings to savour a glass of red wine, per­haps while read­ing up on the lat­est re­search rec­om­men­da­tions into polyphe­nols and good health. • Make green tea your drink of choice, although reg­u­lar cof­fee and tea both have poly­henols in them.

Flavonoid-rich foods

Red grapes Red ap­ples Plums Apri­cots Toma­toes Black­ber­ries Blue­ber­ries Rasp­ber­ries Ab­sorp­tion is ac­tu­ally im­proved dur­ing cook­ing for some flavonoid-rich foods in­clud­ing: Steamed asparagus Steamed broc­coli Cooked red cab­bage Cooked white onions Cooked toma­toes Baked sweet pota­toes Egg­plant Green beans Red kid­ney beans Pinto beans Black beans Soy beans Lentils Raw ar­ti­choke hearts Raw spinach

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