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    Archive for the ‘phytonutrients’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Colorful Fruits and Vegetables

    WintersquashApart from bananas, what other fruits and vegetables contain the cool-sounding phytonutrient delphinidin?  I don’t want to assume white just because it is bananas.

    — Brandon (last name unknown)
    (Location Unknown

    In light of your post about specific vegetable servings, what are examples of orange vegetables, besides carrots? Do sweet potatoes or winter squash count?

    — Purnima Anand
    New York, NY

    Brandon: Delphinidin, which has been studied extensively and shown to be a powerful chemopreventive phytonutrient (meaning it is quite powerful at squashing tumor cells), is also prevalent in blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, elderberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

    Start your day off with a blueberry-banana-strawberry shake and you’ll get your delphinidin on!

    Purnima: The following vegetables are categorized as “orange vegetables”.  The classification is, of course, based on color, but also on the specific phytonutrients, antioxidants, and carotenoids these foods offer:

    • Acorn squash
    • Butternut squash
    • Carrots
    • Hubbard squash
    • Pumpkin
    • Rutabaga
    • Sweet potatoes
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    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.

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    You Ask, I Answer: A Vegetable-Free Day

    bowlofvegetablesWould it impact your health if you occasionally (i.e. once in 4 or 6 weeks) went for a day without eating any veggies at all, assuming you get your 4-5 servings of vegetables everyday otherwise?

    — Purnima Anand
    New  York, NY

    No.

    When it comes to nutrition’s effects on health, you need to keep in mind the concept of “general dietary patterns”.

    If you consume four to five servings of vegetables 330 days of the year (and, say, none on the other 30 days, which is quite a stretch), you still come out with an average of 3.6 to 4.5 servings per day for that year.

    By the way: the lower number assumes four servings per day for 330 days, while the higher figure was calculated using five daily servings for 330 days.

    Besides, I’m sure that on the days you don’t eat any vegetables you are eating other healthful foods (ie: seeds, nuts, fruits, whole grains, spices, etc.) that offer fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Sea Vegetables

    DulseIn the past, you have written that seaweed is a good source of omega-3 for vegans, but what are the benefits for those of us who already eat fish?

    Is there any reason to eat sea vegetables if you already get omega-3s from animal sources?

    — Tom Emilio
    (Location withheld)

    Absolutely!  Their EPA content (one of the two omega 3 fatty acids found exclusively in fish and seaweed) is only one of their many benefits.

    All sea vegetables are great low-calorie sources of iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin K.

    Another bonus?  Sea vegetables have their own share of unique phytonutrients and antioxidants that help lower risk for heart disease and many different cancers.  This is why I often say that oceans have a very worthy produce section!

    Many people erroneously assume all seaweed is slimy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    You can purchase sheets of thin, crunchy nori (wonderful mixed into salads or used to wrap vegetables and avocado), dried chewy dulse (pictured, right), or hijiki (which, when cooked, has a consistency similar to that of rice).

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    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.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Freeze-Drying

    freeze-dried-fruitAre freeze-dried foods nutritious, or does that process destroy a lot of nutrients?

    — Samantha Seidell
    (Location withheld)

    Freeze-drying is quite a nifty process.  It simply consists of of freezing food and then removing moisture by manipulating temperatures and pressure.

    It allows an entire meal (like, say, three-bean chili) to be shelf-stable for extended periods of time, without sacrificing flavor or the need to tack on boatloads of sodium and artificial preservatives.

    When you’re ready to consume the freeze-dried meal, it’s simply a matter of adding water and heating!  In the case of fruit, you can eat it as is for a crunchy treat.

    Studies have shown that while freeze-drying affects vitamin C content to a certain degree, phytonutrients and antioxidants mostly remain intact.  In fact, freeze-dried fruits and vegetables offer more nutrition than their canned counterparts.

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    You Ask, I Answer: What Makes Brown Rice Healthier?

    b6-brown-rice-lgWhy is brown rice considered so much better than white rice?

    The food labels for each one aren’t all that different.  Brown rice just has a little more fiber.

    So, what’s the big deal?

    — Jessica Bracanti
    (City withheld), CT

    As helpful as food labels can be in guiding our food choices, they barely tell the true tale of a food’s whole nutritional profile.

    You are right — strictly from a food label standpoint, brown rice doesn’t seem to have many advantages over white rice.  It’s what you don’t see on the food label that makes all the difference!

    Brown rice contains significantly higher levels of phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, selenium, and vitamin E.

    If there were no enrichment laws (those which require that nutrients lost in processing be added back to refined grains like white rice), brown rice would also contain higher levels of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, and vitamin B6 than its white counterpart.

    Remember, though, that vitamins and minerals are only part of  a food’s nutritional profile.

    Since brown rice is a whole grain, it offers you its bran and germ components — and all their health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants..

    Some preliminary research indicates that specific components in rice bran oil lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.  Add to that to brown rice’s soluble fibers (which are also implicated in decreasing LDL cholesterol) and you have a heart-healthy one-two punch.

    These are the same fibers, by the way, that help achieve a longer feeling of fullness more quickly.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Is There A Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables?

    FruitStandI love to eat fruit.  I would guess I eat six or seven pieces each day.

    I sometimes go for weeks without eating a single vegetable, but a lot of fruit.

    Is that healthy?  My diet is otherwise varied (don’t worry, Andy, I’m not a fruitarian!)

    — James Spoli
    Queens, NY

    Fruits are certainly healthy (especially since you eat them whole, rather than in juice form), but they do not take the place of vegetables in the diet.

    Many people tend to think of fruits and vegetables as one large group of foods because they are so often paired up together in mainstream nutrition guidelines.

    However, since certain antioxidants and phytonutrients are exclusively found in vegetables, I recommend you incorporate a few into your diet.

    This is why variety is a key component of a healthy diet. The more varied your diet, the more nutrition you get.

    Variety isn’t solely a matter of eating different types of food (ie: fruits, vegetables. nuts, grains, etc.)

    You also need to aim for diversity within each food group.  For example, if almonds are the only nuts you eat and carrots and peppers are the only vegetables you eat, you are missing out on a lot of healthy components that are unique to other nuts and vegetables.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Canned Fruit

    venuscn$78172032With canned fruits and vegetables, are the values on the nutrition facts labels for the vegetables/fruits AND the syrup or juice? Or is it JUST the vegetable/fruit, sans juice/syrup.

    I imagine that the canning process causes a lot of vitamins to leach into the juice, so dumping the juice out would leave you a slightly less nutritious vegetable.

    — Christine (last name withheld)
    Berkeley, CA

    The nutrition facts label for canned fruits/vegetables displays values for solids AND liquids.

    If information is only intended for the fruit or vegetable, the label would have the word “(drained)” next to the serving size information (i.e.: “1/2 cup (drained)”).

    Since the canning process exposes fruits and vegetables to a significant amount of heat, you are getting lower amounts of some phytonutrients and heat-sensitive vitamins (especially C) compared to frozen or fresh varieties.

    The main issue is the loss of phytonutrients — those precious plant chemicals with healthful properties that we are still continuing to discover — since those compounds are exclusive to specific fruits and vegetables.  Many of the phytonutrients in pears, for example, are not found in other fruits.

    While some vitamins leach into the canning liquid, the nutrients there are found in abundance in many other foods, so there isn’t that much cause for concern.

    For instance, you may miss out on a good portion of the niacin in canned peaches if you drain out the syrup, but you can get that B vitamin in grains, beans, seeds, and vegetables.  Even the lowest-quality diet, if varied sufficiently, provides sufficient amounts.

    In the case of fruits canned in heavy syrup, I don’t think it’s worth drinking the extra sugar and calories to get a small amount of nutrients.

    If you want to drink the canning liquid, you are better off buying canned fruit packed in its own juice or extra light syrup.  Otherwise, dump it out.

    FYI — canned peaches packed in extra light syrup provide two fewer teaspoons of added sugar per serving than peaches packed in heavy syrup.

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    Essentially Nothing but Clever Advertising

    20093251549250.Fruit2O_022“Now some of the most powerful nutrients on earth can be found in your water,” Fruit2O Essential Water’s print advertisements proudly state.

    This particular bottled water’s added value is that it packs in a gram of fiber along with key nutrients — such as vitamin E, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, and potassium for the cranberry-raspberry flavor — that supposedly equal two servings of fruit.

    I will never understand the inclusion of vitamin E — a fat-soluble vitamin — in zero-calorie beverages.  Unless you’re drinking Fruit2O while munching on a food that contains some fat, the Vitamin E is not being absorbed.

    Products like these only propagate what I call “the vitamin and mineral trap.”

    Remember — foods contain much more than simply vitamins and minerals.

    In the case of fruits, there are thousands of phytonutrients — many still undiscovered — that provide health benefits, particularly as part of a food matrix (in conjunction with other nutrients, as opposed to isolated in pill form).

    Therefore, I do NOT equate a bottle of Fruit2O to two servings of whole fruit.

    I see no difference whatsoever between drinking a Fruit2O and downing a multivitamin while drinking water from your Brita filter.

    Is eating fruit that torturous and difficult for people?

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Apple skins contain approximately 65 percent of the fruit’s fiber content.

    They also contain 100 percent of an apple’s quercetin content.

    Quercetin is a phytochemical that has been linked with tumor cell inhibition, lower rates of cell proliferation in some cancers, and decreased levels of platelet aggregation (one of the factors behind heart disease.)

    This is why I shed a silent tear whenever I see someone peel an apple and only eat the flesh.

    FYI: When buying fruits with edible skins, my personal preference is to purchase organic varieties if possible.

    Although quercetin can be purchased as a supplement by itself, remember that isolated phytonutrients are nowhere near as effective as when they work in tandem with other phytonutrients and antioxidants.

    A medium-sized apple, for example, contains approximately 2,000 phytonutrients!

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