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    Archive for the ‘phytochemicals’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: More to Bananas than Potassium?

    BananasI don’t hear a lot about bananas, except that they are a good way to get potassium and B vitamins.

    You often write about phytonutrients and antioxidants in fruits.  Do bananas have any?

    Also, why do some diets forbid you from eating bananas the first few weeks?

    — Sandra Talenda
    (Location withheld)

    Let’s get the frustrating things out of the way first.

    I will never, ever, ever understand diet plans that treat bananas (or any other nutritious, whole foods) as if they were radioactive waste.

    A standard medium banana is not only a very good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, it also only delivers 105 calories.

    FYI: When it comes to potassium, potatoes and avocados surpass bananas.

    Anyone who recommends banana avoidance in the name of health needs to take a nutrition class.  Stat.

    As far as phytonutrients are concerned, all plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and spices) contain them.  That’s one significant reason why a diet heavy on plant-based foods is optimal for health!

    Keep in mind that we are still in the process of identifying phytonutrients; the nutrition nerd in me can’t help but feel excited when researchers uncover a new one.

    Bananas provide high amounts of the following phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants:

    • Glutathione: a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to protect against cellular oxidation and damage
    • Phenolic compounds: a Cornell University study concluded that certain fruits — including bananas — contain phenolic compounds that protect neural cells from oxidative damage, thereby helping slash the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
    • Delphinidin: a naturally-occurring pigment that helps lower cancer risk — particularly of the prostate — by causing tumor cells to undergo apoptosis (“cell suicide”)
    • Rutin: a flavonoid also found in asparagus that is associated with blood pressure reduction
    • Naringin: also found in grapefruits, this flavonoids reduces LDL cholesterol oxidation, thereby lowering atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease risk

    For what it’s worth, the riper a banana, the higher its phytonutrient, antioxidant, and flavonoid content.

    If you don’t like the texture of a very ripe banana, I suggest peeling, slicing, freezing, and incorporating it into a smoothie.


    You Ask, I Answer: Peanuts vs. Tree Nuts

    peanuts-peeledA peanut butter sandwich is as American as apple pie.

    What are your thoughts on peanut butter, though?

    I’ve been hearing that peanuts, which I know are actually legumes, aren’t as healthy as tree nuts.

    Should I be making my sandwiches with almond butter instead?

    — Fred (Last name withheld)
    Brooklyn, NY

    I don’t have any issues with peanuts or peanut butter.

    When it comes to nuts (and, yes, for the sake of this post we’ll treat peanuts as such), my recommendation is to always have one serving of some nut every day.

    One serving is made up of 13 walnuts halves.  In the case of almonds, that’s 23 individual pieces.  If you’re talking pistachios, you’re looking at 49 kernels!

    The issue with nuts is that you could label any one as “better” or “worse” than the next, depending on what criteria you use.

    Consider these lists I compiled:

    FIBER CONTENT (per ounce)

    • Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios: 3 grams
    • Brazil nuts, walnuts, peanuts: 2 grams
    • Cashews: 1 gram

    PROTEIN CONTENT (per ounce)

    • Peanuts: 7 grams
    • Almonds, pistachios: 6 grams
    • Cashews: 5 grams
    • Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts: 4 grams
    • Pecans: 3 grams

    MONOUNSATURATED (heart-healthy!) FAT (per ounce)

    • Hazelnuts: 12.9 grams
    • Pecans: 11.5 grams
    • Almonds: 8.7 grams
    • Brazil nuts, peanuts: 6.9 grams
    • Cashews: 6.7 grams
    • Pistachios: 6.6 grams

    OMEGA 3: OMEGA 6 RATIO (per ounce)

    • Walnuts: 1:4
    • Pecans: 1:20
    • Pistachios: 1:51
    • Hazelnuts: 1:89
    • Cashews: 1:125
    • Brazil nuts: 1:1,139
    • Almonds: 1:2,181
    • Peanuts: 1:5,491

    All of them, meanwhile, are good sources of vitamin E, magnesium, and manganese.  Calorie amounts range from 155 (cashews) to 195 (pecans).

    I always recommend varying your nut intake since each variety contains unique phytonutrients and antioxidants that have been linked to an array of health benefits.

    Peanuts, for example, are a wonderful source of resveratrol (the same antioxidant in red wine and grape skins), while pecans contain high amounts of beta-sisterol, a cholesterol-lowering phytonutrient.


    You Ask, I Answer: White Vegetables

    Last night there was a nutritionist on the news talking about how the more color a vegetable has, the healthier it is for you.

    For example, she recommended buying peppers that are dark red instead of light red.

    Does all this mean that white vegetables (like cauliflowers and onions) have the least amount of nutrients?

    — Damian Handster
    (location withheld)

    Not at all.

    Many people erroneously think that white is not a color — it most certainly is!

    Therefore, white vegetables offer many health benefits.

    Onions and garlic, for instance, contain organosulfur compounds that appear promising for blood pressure and reduced blood clotting.

    Cauliflower is in the same family of vegetables as broccoli, meaning it is also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and folatee.

    Like broccoli, cauliflower also contains glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that have been shown to help decrease the risk of certain cancers.

    Turnips, another white vegetable, also provide their share of nutrition.

    And don’t forget mushrooms — the white button variety offers a wider variety of phytonutrients and antioxidants than cremini or portabella.


    In The News: Coming To A Supermarket Near You…. Health Foods??

    I can’t help but roll my eyes at the news of “a start-up that helps pharmaceutical companies discover new drugs [signing] a deal with Kraft Foods Inc. to help develop foods that offer specific health benefits.”

    I’m assuming this means that certain phytochemicals naturally found in certain fruits and vegetables or lignans in flaxseed might possibly be tacked on to Oreos or ready-to-eat mac and cheese.

    What this is supposed to accomplish — other than provide higher profit margins for Kraft — beats me.

    If health foods are what people seek, how about starting out with the produce — rather than cookie — aisle of their supermarket?


    You Ask, I Answer: Microwaving

    On your Youtube videos you often mention having this or that kind of food (like a flash frozen box of spinach) ready to microwave for a nutritious and easy meal at the end of a long and busy day.

    I am just wondering where you stand on microwaving foods and how that may change the nutritional quality of the food or perhaps produce harmful effects to the food we eat.

    Microwaving foods, even things like tea, seems unsafe to me.

    Do you see this as an issue?

    — Dennise O’Grady

    Bay Head, NJ

    Not really.

    I am surprised at how many people think microwaves emit radioactive energy. They don’t!

    Microwave energy is low in frequency and non-ionizing, while X-rays, for example, are high frequency and ionizing. VERY different properties as far as effects on human health are concerned.

    This appliance has been thoroughly researched by food scientists, and not a single study has shown that microwaved food is somehow toxic or chemically altered in such a way to cause illness.

    Of course, this is not to say you should stand two inches away from a working microwave for ten minutes. Similarly, be sure to take the necessary precautions when it comes to the type of containers you microwave.

    If someone were to tell me they use a microwave to cook 90% of their food, though, my only concern would be that they are most likely eating a lot of high-calorie, sodium-laden prepared frozen meals.

    I actually think microwaving is a quite resourceful way to cook certain foods. Its quick cooking capabilities save time — and nutrients!

    Whereas boiling leaches water-soluble vitamins (B-complex and C), microwaving — much like steaming — tends to retain them.

    Also like steaming, microwaving does not require the addition of any fat.

    One downside to microwave is that the extremely high temperatures can severely deplete one antioxidant commonly found in the Brassica family of vegetables (i.e.: cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and cabbage).

    As far as heating up water — it’s perfectly safe.

    If your coffee gets cold, though, don’t stick it in the microwave. It’s fine from a health perspective, but it will impart an acidic flavor.


    You Ask, I Answer: Broccoli

    Is it true that all the nutrition in broccoli is only contained in the florets and that the stalks are nutritionally equivalent to iceberg lettuce?

    — Paul Dwilin
    Boston, MA

    Insert loud buzzer sound HERE.

    That is 100 percent incorrect.

    Although broccoli florets house most of the vegetable’s phytochemicals and antioxidants, the stalks make their fair share of contributions.

    That’s where you’ll find higher concentrations of vitamin C, fiber, and folate.

    Always aim to use as much of a fruit or vegetable as you can. This means eating apple peels, sweet potato skins, and broccoli stalks!


    You "Ask", I Answer: Fruit

    I don’t think eliminating (or limiting significantly) fruit from one’s diet is such a terrible idea, IF fruits are replaced by vegetables.

    When comparing nutritional data for 100g of broccoli to 100g of apple, for example, broccoli clearly wins out.

    Broccoli has a bit less calories(18 cals less per 100g), less sugar (8g less) and significantly more of every vitamin and mineral than an apple.

    Analyzing 100g of sweet red pepper yields similar advantages over the apple.

    Sure, there are other fruits out there, but this brief comparison shows that by replacing fruits with veggies, one would not miss out on vitamins/minerals, would cut down on calories a bit, and would most likely feel fuller per gram consumed.

    As far as phytochemicals are concerned, veggies have plenty to offer. When I make a salad, I usually make sure it’s as colorful as possible – greens (lettuce, spinach), tomatoes (red), bell peppers (red/yellow/orange/green), garlic, etc., so as to include a variety of phytonutrients.

    I wouldn’t swear off fruit for the rest of my life, but I can see how a dieter would feel she’s getting more bang for her calories out of veggies vs. fruits, especially on a 1200 calorie diet.

    Just my two cents.

    — Anna
    Via the blog

    The problem with the comparison like the one you make above (between apples and broccoli) is that it has very little, if any, significance.

    Okay, so roughly three ounces of apples contain 18 less calories than roughly three ounces of broccoli. What is someone supposed to do with that information? Pack broccoli in their bag instead of an apple for an afternoon snack?

    The sugar you mention is insignificant, since the apple contains fiber which helps stabilize blood glucose and insulin levels.

    Besides, other comparisons would “show” that fruits are “better” than vegetables.

    An ounce of raspberries, for instance, contains 15 calories and 1.8 grams of fiber. An ounce of sweet potato, meanwhile, provides 26 calories and 0.9 grams of fiber.

    And if you compare 100 grams of bananas with 100 grams of raw cucumber, you’ll find that the bananas offer more vitamin C, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, manganese, potassium, and magnesium and only 70 more calories.

    That doesn’t make raspberries “better” than sweet potatoes, or bananas worth eating and cucumbers “useless.”

    All fruits and vegetables (yes, that includes potatoes!) are healthy. Shunning particular ones under the guise of “more nutrition” is very silly. There is definitely room for fruit in all diets.

    By the way, Britney Spears mentions shunning fruit, but in the same statement says she eats avocados. Back to Nutrition 101 for her!


    Numbers Game: Answer

    Researchers at England’s Institute of Food Research concluded that our bodies absorb 500 times more betacarotene from cooked carrots than raw carrots.

    (NOTE: “Cooked” mainly refers to steaming, which retains more nutrients than boiling).

    Although certain cooking processes — mainly boiling and frying — can deplete some nutrients, quicker methods which do not place food directly in contact with water, like steaming, increase many nutrients’ absorbability.

    Phytonutrients like lutein and lycopene, for instance, are more absorbable in cooked, rather than raw, vegetables.

    It is believed this is due to cell walls — which contain many of these compounds — breaking down when exposed to high temperatures.

    Don’t get me wrong. Raw vegetables are still nutritious and should be part of a healthy diet.

    However, the raw food’s movement claim that cooked vegetables are “nutritionally inferior” is completely misguided.


    You Ask, I Answer: "Green" Juices

    I have been drinking beverages from Bolthouse Farms for about 6 months now. They appear to be very nutritious.

    I have only been drinking the Carrot Juice and the Green Goodness so far.

    I think the Green Goodness packs the most nutrients.

    I was wondering if you could offer your opinion on this product.

    — Angelo Iacovella
    Location Unknown

    These beverages encompass a gray area for me.

    On the one hand, a 15.2 fluid ounce bottle of Green Goodness provides 280 calories, a quarter of a day’s potassium (a mineral the average adult in the United States does not consume enough of), 240 percent of your daily vitamin A needs, two days’ worth of vitamin C, and 60 percent of the daily B12 requirement.

    Not bad for a juice!

    However, looking solely at a nutrition label to determine if a food or beverage is “nutritious” can lead to erroneous conclusions.

    You need to also peruse the ingredient list and see where all these numbers are coming from.

    In the case of these beverages, the first few ingredients are fruit purees and concentrates.

    In essence, nutrient-free sugar water.

    Fruit purees and concentrates do not provide the fiber and phytochemicals present in an actual piece of fruit.

    It is not surpring, then, that this fairly large bottle can only cough up four grams of fiber.

    Four grams in and of itself isn’t bad (a single pear provides four grams, while a cup of raspberries clocks in at five grams), but it isn’t all that magnificent when it comes in a 280 calorie package boasting the inclusion of so many fruits (and even vegetables!).

    You can get that same amount from just one actual whole fruit for about 200 less calories.

    Since this juice is made up of concentrates, it also contains 54 grams of sugar.

    Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s derived from fruits.

    Since you don’t have fiber to help stabilize your blood sugar levels, your body is absorbing it like table sugar — at the tune of four and a half tablespoons of it!

    I am not saying you might as well just pop open a can of Coke and call it a day.

    However, I will admit to a love-hate relationship with these products.

    They provide a fair amount of nutrition, but also give consumers false confidence.

    I can imagine people mistankely counting this drink as their “fruit for the day”.

    They’d be better off having an apple in the morning and an orange at night. Less calories, more fiber, and phytochemicals to boot.

    Keep in mind that liquid calories do not satiate as well as those from food, thereby making it easier to consume excess calories.

    I also don’t think it’s necessary to seek out 200 percent of the Vitamin C recommended intake in a single beverage, particularly since it is just manually added (in other words, you’re getting a free crushed vitamin C pill in your drink).

    While definitely not a soda, this beverage is also not a “power food” or special concoction.

    If you can afford the extra calories, go ahead and consider it a treat — but NOT a substitute for the fruits and vegetables you normally eat.


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