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July is typically when tomatoes ripen in northern climates. Farmers’ markets are heavily stocked with delicious ripe tomatoes in all types of heirloom varieties. The flavors offered in local fresh tomatoes are a giant leap from what you might find on supermarket shelves because tomatoes are one of many vegetables that taste much better when they are locally sourced or locally grown. Tomatoes also have healing power – especially when you convert them into a delicious sauce, salsa or juice.

photo by Lisa Missenda

photo by Lisa Missenda

The medicinal power of tomatoes is primarily attributed to their lycopene content. A red-colored plant nutrient from the carotenoid family, lycopene is one of the most efficient antioxidants; it prevents disease by scavenging and neutralizing free radicals before they can damage cellular structures (Murray, et al., 2005). To a lesser degree, tomatoes also contain beta-carotene, vitamin C, biotin, vitamin K and the flavonols, quercetin and kaempferol (Mitchell, et al., 2004 and Murray, et al., 2005).

Although other foods contain lycopene, tomatoes are the most popular source of lycopene in the U.S. diet, so tomatoes and tomato products are widely studied especially for their cancer-fighting potential. Most notably, a 22-year Harvard study showed a 21 percent decreased risk in prostate cancer in men who consumed 6.5 mg of dietary lycopene daily as compared to those consuming less (Murray, et al., 2005).

Other sources of lycopene include:

Tomato juice

1⁄2 cup

8,250 mcg*

Tomato, raw

3⁄4 cup

3,000 mcg

Guava, raw

1 medium

5,500 mcg

Watermelon, raw

3⁄4 cup

4,000 mcg

Guava juice

1⁄2 cup

3,500 mcg

Pink Grapefruit

Half

3,500 mcg

Rose hips puree

3/4 cup

800 mcg

Apricots, dried

3⁄4 cup

900 mcg

Papaya, fresh

3⁄4 cup

1828 mcg

Red cabbage, raw

3⁄4 cup

20 mcg

* stands for micrograms, also noted as μg; most phytonutrients are needed in small quantities measured in micro and milligrams. (Wildman, 2006, p. 57 & House, n.d.)

In terms of bioavailability, for the body to fully use tomato’s star nutrient, lycopene, it must be released from the food matrix, that is, all the components of the food and their molecular and chemical relationships to one another. As a carotenoid, lycopene’s chemical structure dictates that it can be released for the body’s use in the presence of fat and when the fiber content of the food is low. Therefore, processed tomato products (tomato juice, tomato paste, etc.) ingested with fat are better sources of bio-available lycopene than fresh tomatoes served with no fat (Gartner et al., 1997 & Brown, 2004).

That’s another reason why canning tomatoes and homemade tomato sauces is a great summer activity! You take advantage of local farmers’  fresh, ripe tomatoes, and then add them to make a super nutritious meal on a wintry day.

References:

Brown, M. J., Ferruzzi, M.G., Nguyen, M.L., Cooper, D.A., Eldridge, A.L., Schwartz, S.J., and White, W.S. (2004). Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, 396–403.
Gartner, C., Stahl, W., and Sies H. (1997). Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66(1), 116-122.
House, P. (n.d.). Top 10 Foods Highest in Lycopene. http://www.Health.Alicious.Ness.com, Web. 03 Jan. 2014.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Murray, M. Pizzorno, J., and Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Atria Books: New York, NY.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.
Wildman, R.E.C. (2006). Handbook of nutraceuticals and functional foods (2nd ed.). CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL. Google eBook.
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Bitter, but better for you; and a perfect side dish for holiday meals.

Photo: Bigstock

Photo: Bigstock

Brussels sprouts come from a family of vegetables called crucifers. They are called the flowering part of the plant grows in the same of a cross. Like other cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts contain high amounts of glucosinolates, plant nutrients known to fight cancer. Brussels sprouts have a special combination of four specific glucosinolates that set Brussels spouts apart from other crucifers in their cancer fighting capacity. These glucosinolates also make Brussels sprouts bitter. Research shows that Brussels sprouts kill more human cancer cells than all other cruciferous vegetables (whfoods.com). They also contain high levels of vitamins C, A and K, as well as folic acid and dietary fiber.

Brussels Sprouts are best when freshly harvested, and should be cooked within a day or 2 of bringing them home.When shopping look for bright green sprouts with tightly wrapped leaves. If they look wilted or have a cabbage scent they have been around a long while after harvest and have lost most of their sugars and nutrients  (Robinson, 2013).

Steaming Brussels sprouts releases their nutrient power. It is only when they are old and overcooked that they off a strong sulfur smell. This smell and their bitterness may be why many Americans often leave them out of their daily vegetable choices.

I like to steam sauté Brussels sprouts in 1/3 cup of water and a tablespoon of butter. I add a little caraway seed and then serve them with a Dijon and maple syrup sauce. Delicious!

References:

  • Robbins, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side. Little Brown  & Co: New York.
  • The World’s healthiest Foods http:// http://www.whfoods.com/

 

Kale belongs to a family of plants known as crucifers named for their four-petal flowers that are arranged in the shape of a cross.

Like all crucifers, Kale contains cancer fighting compounds called glucosinolates.Though they make kale bitter, glucosinolates are the reason that kale is such a superstar in vegetable nutrition. The crucifers with the most glucosinolates are kale and Brussels sprouts.

Photo Credit: Lisa Missenda

Photo Credit: Lisa Missenda

Kale has a combination of phytonutrients that make it uniquely equipped to fight inflammation. Kale has an extremely high ORAC rating (oxygen radical absorbance).

Kale is rich in vitamins A, C and K as well as iron and calcium. In fact, one serving of Kale has more calcium than 6 oz. of milk and more fiber than three slices of whole wheat bread (Robinson, 2013).

Kale is best when eaten fresh. Raw kale has more nutrient value than cooked; and when cooking it is best to steam or sauté it just long enough for the leaves to wilt. Overcooking will give it a strong sulfurous odor (Robinson, 2013).

Best when freshly harvested, the longer it is stored in the refrigerator, the more bitter it becomes, and it loses close to 80 percent of its health benefits. Look for kale with firm, deeply colored leaves and moist, hardy stems. Leaves should be fresh and green, never wilted.

 

References:

  • Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side. Little Brown & Co: New York.
  • The World’s healthiest Foods http:// http://www.whfoods.com/

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