The Health Power of Plants


The benefits of a plant-based diet have recently gained wider approval by mainstream medicine.

The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association have both recommended diets high in fruits and vegetables.

The latest American Cancer Society Guidelines, published in 2012, include "Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods," and "Eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day."1

The USDA also recommends increasing fruit and vegetable intake, as does the World Health Organization (WHO), which lists low fruit and vegetable intake among the top ten risk factors for premature death worldwide.

Why Are Plants Good For Us?

For years, the benefits of plants were attributed to their abundant vitamins and minerals and/or their high fiber content. Although these factors cannot be overlooked, their polyphenol content may play a role as well.

Approximately 5,000 polyphenols have been identified, and like many vitamins, they act as antioxidants.2 The recommended dietary intake has been estimated at one gram per day.3

Their full range of benefits has yet to be defined, but they appear to be involved in cell signaling, regulating inflammation, gene regulation, and hormone balancing.

Plant Polyphenols: A Large, Healthy Family

Polyphenols are classified as phenolic acids, flavonoids, stilbenes, and lignans. Flavonoids, which are the most familiar to us, are subdivided into flavonols, flavones, isoflavones, flavanones, anthocyanidins, and flavanols.

Flavonols consist of kaempferol, myricetin, and quercetin, compounds that occurs in apples and onions that have been the subject of recent research.

Flavones are comprised of luteolin and apigenin, and isoflavones, which occur in soy, consist of daidzein and genistein.

Flavonones include naringenin, eriodictyol and hesperetin. And flavanols, which consist of proanthocyanidins and catechins, have recently been in the spotlight due to their presence in red grapes and tea.4, 5, 6

Plant Polyphenols Prevent Chronic Disease

Polyphenols protect against a wide variety of diseases including heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disease.3

Flavonoids may help protect against heart disease via their anti-inflammatory effect, as demonstrated by a reduction in C-reactive protein levels.7

They also support the production of nitric oxide, a gas that maintains blood vessel flexibility.

Plant Polyphenols Prevent Cancer

Flavonoid polyphenols reduce the risk of cancer through several mechanisms. They increase levels of detoxification enzymes, maintain normal cell cycle regulation, inhibit cellular proliferation, induce apoptosis, inhibit tumor invasion, and decrease inflammation.

Isoflavones, such as those found in soy, could help prevent cancers in another way: by blocking the effects of estrogen in sensitive tissues. Many breast cancers, for example, require estrogen to grow.

Isoflavones may also have pro-estrogenic effects in other areas, such as bone, where the hormone's effects are desirable.8, 9

Why Not Grow Your Own Plants?

Polyphenols are just the latest positive aspect of a plant-based diet to come to light. It goes without saying that plant foods are colorful, delicious, and fun to prepare and grow.

Start with a few potted herbs in your kitchen window. If you are lucky enough to have a patio or balcony, an earth box is a great way to grow tomatoes, peppers, and other small vegetables.

If you have a yard, consider planting rows of vegetables or even fruit trees. Besides being good exercise, home gardening is a great way to ensure fresh produce is readily available.

References:

  1. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012 Jan-Feb;62(1):30-67. 
  2. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2008 Apr-Jun;9(2):187-95. 
  3. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;81(1 Suppl):215S-217S. 
  4. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 May;79(5):727-47. 
  5. Pharmacol Res. 2005 Sep;52(3):264-70. 
  6. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Jun;15(6):1473-83. 
  7. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Mar;99(3):479-89. 
  8. J Med Food. 2005 Winter;8(4):439-45. 
  9. Int J Clin Exp Pathol. 2014; 7(4): 1687–1694.F

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Why You Need More Vitamin C


Of all of the vitamins, vitamin C is among the most well-known.

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is made in the bodies of most animals with two exceptions: human beings and the guinea pig.

Consequently, we’re obliged to get ours from food, which includes most fruits and vegetables. 

However, because most people simply don't eat enough produce, the amount of vitamin C ingested by even those with a healthy diet is almost always less than optimal.


How Much Vitamin C Do You Need?

While the United States Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is only 90 milligrams (mg) for men and 75 mg for women, this amount is much lower than the amount manufactured by animals in their own bodies.

The RDA may be sufficient to prevent scurvy, a disease of severe vitamin C deficiency, but it is inadequate to prevent other conditions.

Can Vitamin C Prevent Heart Disease?

Vitamin C is needed for the formation of collagen, a substance used to form connective tissue, bone, and blood vessels. Linus Pauling, Ph.D., made known the protective effect of vitamin C against cardiovascular disease.

In 1989 he proclaimed that cardiovascular disease was due to chronic, subclinical vitamin C deficiency. His revolutionary therapy, called “Pauling Therapy” included a combination of lysine, an amino acid, and vitamin C to reduce the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.

Vitamin C Prevents Cancer and Other Diseases

Vitamin C has been shown to protect against cancer when given intravenously. Other studies have associated vitamin C with protection against hypertension, improved blood vessel function, a lower risk of diabetes, and a reduced risk of stroke.1-4

Can Vitamin C Extend Your Life?

If there is any doubt that vitamin C is essential to life, consider the following findings.

A study published in 2001 revealed higher blood levels of vitamin C reduced the risk of death over a four-year period.5

Each 20 micromole per liter increase in serum vitamin C was associated with a 20% lower risk of dying, independent of age, systolic blood pressure, and other factors. The researchers also found a relationship between higher vitamin C levels and a lower risk of mortality from cancer in men.

In 2009, the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that those whose intake of vitamin C supplements averaged 322.1 milligrams per day or more had an 11% lower risk of dying over five years in comparison with nonusers.6

And in 2011, the British Journal of Nutrition reported a lower risk of death among men and women with higher blood levels of vitamin C over a 13-year period.7

How to Get More Vitamin C

While citrus fruit is the best known source of vitamin C, strawberries, guava, green or red bell peppers, kiwi, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe are excellent sources as well.

Orange, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits should be freshly juiced in order to consume vitamin C in its non-oxidized state. Because the vitamin is water-soluble, it needs to be consumed several times per day.

Too much vitamin C in one dose (usually over 2,000 milligrams) can result in loose stools, which is easily resolved by cutting back your dose.

If you find the ascorbic acid form of the vitamin too acidic, vitamin C can be purchased as calcium, magnesium and/or potassium ascorbate, which have a neutral pH.

References:

  1. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(5):1079-1088. 
  2. Circulation. 1999;99(25):3234-3240. 
  3. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(14):1493-1499. 
  4. Stroke. 2000;31(10):2287-2294. 
  5. Lancet. 2001 Mar 3;357(9257):657-63. 
  6. Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Aug 15;170(4):472-83. 
  7. Br J Nutr. 2011 Jan;105(1):123-32.

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Saffron: The Spice That Heals

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Saffron comes from the Far East. In ancient times, it was used to treat pain, poor digestion, and even high blood pressure.

Today, it’s one of the most expensive spices to date, worth its “weight in gold”.

Saffron is derived from the Crocus sativus plant and contains over 150 known volatile compounds.

Two of the most well-known, crocin and safranal, are used therapeutically.

Below, we’ll explain some of the impressive health benefits that saffron offers.

Saffron Has Anti-Cancer Properties

Saffron is rich in carotenoids. The two main ones, crocin and crocetin, impart a rich, yellow color to foods.

Research shows they have anti-cancer properties. In studies, saffron has anti-proliferative effects against prostate and breast cancer.1-2

It also suppresses the growth of leukemia cells and has a pro-apoptotic effect against lung cancer.3-4

Saffron Regulates Appetite

Trying to lose weight? Try saffron extract. It blocks food cravings at the molecular level.

In a placebo-controlled double-blind study, women who took saffron extract reduced the number of their snacking episodes by 55%.

In addition, they lost an average of two pounds during an eight-week period.5 Saffron inhibits the desire to snack compulsively by targeting the serotonergic system of the brain.

This area influences appetite, mood, and even sugar cravings.

Saffron Has Anti-Depressant Effects

In traditional Persian medicine, saffron was used as an anti-depressant. Current studies confirm its mood-lifting benefits.

During a six-week study, patients took a 30 mg extract of saffron daily. Symptoms of depression significantly improved, leading the researchers to recommend it as a treatment for mild-to-moderate cases of depression.6

Saffron has also been shown to be as equally effective as Prozac in treating mild to moderate depression.7

It also alleviates certain sexual side effects associated with conventional anti-depressants.8

Saffron Boosts Memory

Animal studies indicate saffron may also be a potent agent against dementia and memory loss.

Aged mice given saffron extract demonstrated improvements in learning and memory. In addition, in adult mice, there was evidence that saffron blocked acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine.9

Cognitive benefits have also been seen in Alzheimer’s patients. In one clinical trial saffron was shown to be as helpful as Aricept, a conventional Alzheimer’s drug, in treating mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. 10

References:

  1. Nutr Cancer. 2013;65(6):930-42. 
  2. Anticancer Res. 2007 Jan-Feb;27(1A):357-62. 
  3. Food Chem Toxicol. 2014 Sep 17;74C:45-50. 
  4. Pharmacogn Mag. 2010 Oct;6(24):309-14 
  5. Nutr Res. 2010 May;30(5):305-13. 
  6. BCM Comp Altern Med. 2004;4:12. 
  7. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005;97:281-4. 
  8. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012;223(4):381-8. 
  9. Behav Brain Res. 2011 Jun 1;219(2):197-204. 
  10. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Jan;207(4):637-43.

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Weight Loss Foods

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Are all calories created equal?

That’s the question scientists have been debating for years.

The idea of calories in, minus calories out, has been the basic premise of most weight loss programs. While this basic equation is true, some foods may actually defy that logic.

Below, we’ll go over some foods that may help you lose weight and trim some fat off your waistline.

Green Tea for Weight Loss

Green tea’s ability to induce weight loss has been attributed to caffeine. Research shows, an antioxidant in green tea called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) plays an important role as well.

EGCG increases thermogenesis1, the process by which fat gets burned in the body. It also blocks lipase2, the enzyme that helps you absorb fat from the foods you eat.

In one study, overweight individuals involved in regular moderate intensity exercise were given a caffeinated drink or a beverage standardized to contain EGCG. Both drinks contained a total of 39 mg of caffeine.3

At the end of the study, the EGCG group lost more weight and had less fat around their waists.

Fiber for Weight Loss

There are several studies showing a relationship between a higher fiber diet and a slimmer waist.

For example, in a study called the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, researchers found an association between a higher fiber diet with lower body weight and waist-to-hip ratios.4

In another study, scientists followed approximately 89,000 people for several years and collected information on their dietary habits. It turned out the people with the highest fiber intake weighed less and had smaller waists.5

Blueberries for Weight Loss

Blueberries may help to thwart the accumulation of body fat.

In 2010, scientists conducted a study examining the effect of blueberry extracts on obesity. Mice were fed either a low or high-fat diet, with the addition of blueberry in their drinking water.

Compared to the low-fat group, the high-fat diet group showed increases in body fat. However, the high-fat diet groups that received blueberry showed no differences in body fat compared to the low-fat group.6

Chocolate for Weight Loss?

If you’re trying to slim down, you don’t have to stop eating chocolate. In fact, it may actually help your efforts.

In a study, women with excessive body fat ate 100 grams of dark chocolate (70% cocoa) per day for seven days. Blood work was taken and body fat was measured by a method called dual energy-X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).

The women lost fat around their waist plus they experienced a few other benefits. Levels of HDL “good cholesterol” increased, while total cholesterol/HDL and LDL/HDL cholesterol ratios decreased.7

References:

  1. J Med Food. 2006 Winter;9(4):451-8. 
  2. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 Nov;20(11):2311-3. 
  3. J Nutr. 2009 Feb;139(2):264-70. 
  4. JAMA. 1999 Oct 27;282(16):1539-46. 
  5. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Feb;91(2):329-36. Epub 2009 Dec 16. 
  6. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14;58(7):3970-6. 
  7. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Aug;17(16):2257-66.

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Lower Blood Pressure with Food

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

High blood pressure is one of the most common health conditions affecting Americans.

If you’re middle-aged, your chance of developing the disease is a whopping 90%.1

The question doesn't become if for most people; it’s really about how to treat the condition.

And in a medical system where prescriptions take precedence over lifestyle changes, nutritional advice is often lacking.

Below, we’ll cover several foods worth including in your diet that may help. And take notes, as some of these may come as a bit of a surprise!

Flaxseed for Lower Blood Pressure

Not eating flaxseed? Time to rethink that fast. Eating 30 grams of milled flaxseed every day was found to lower systolic blood pressure by an average of 15 mm Hg in participants who had a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher.2

Luckily, ground flaxseed can be incorporated into almost any dish without significantly changing its flavor.

Beets for Lower Blood Pressure

Beets are one of the richest dietary sources of nitrates. These compounds convert to nitric oxide in your body which allows your blood vessels to dilate.

In an experiment, participants drinking 1 cup of beet root juice saw their systolic blood pressure levels drop an average of 11 mm Hg.3

Pomegranates for Lower Blood Pressure

Pomegranates are chock-full of heart-healthy antioxidants. Of special interest is blood-pressure-lowering punicalagins. You’ll find them in pomegranate juice and supplements.

When scientists tested the effect of pomegranate juice on blood pressure over a 1-year period, they found that it lowered systolic blood pressure by 21 points.4

Pretty impressive, if you ask us.

Sesame Oil for Lower Blood Pressure

Sesame seeds are small, but their health benefits are larger than life. In fact, just cooking with sesame oil was associated with a 20-point drop in systolic blood pressure.5

The culprit: sesame lignans. They reduce levels of a potent vasoconstrictor called 20-HETE.6

The DASH diet Lowers Blood Pressure

One of the most popular diets known to lower blood pressure levels is called the DASH diet. Research shows it can lower blood pressure between 7 to 12 points.7

The plan focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and restricting sodium and animal products.

Can Cutting Back on Salt Really Help Lower Blood Pressure?

Not all cases of hypertension are salt-sensitive, but on average cutting back on salt may reduce systolic readings between 2 to 8 points.

Our verdict: We think it’s worth a shot. Cut back on salt and see if it makes a difference. There’s nothing more convincing than solid, direct proof.

Don’t Ditch Your Blood Pressure Meds!

To clarify, we’re not suggesting that you stop taking your medications. we're simply advocating a lifestyle that may very well help to improve your condition.

Who knows? Instead of taking three medications, you may end up taking just one. Lifestyle changes can make a big difference.

What About You?

Were you able to manage your blood pressure by making better dietary choices? Please share your experience in the comments!

References:

  1. JAMA. 2002 Feb 27;287(8):1003-10. 
  2. Hypertension. 2013 Dec;62(6):1081-9. 
  3. Hypertension. 2013 May;61(5):1091-102. 
  4. Clin Nutr. 2004 Jun;23(3):423–433. 
  5. J Med Food. 2006;9(3):408–412. 
  6. Hypertension. 2009 Nov;54(5):1151–1158. 
  7. N Engl J Med. 2001 Jan 4;344(1):3-10.

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