Scientists are digging into fruits and vegetables and turning up a treasure trove of phytochemicals—natural plant compounds that work with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to protect against cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. Some promising findings:
APPLES: In a recent Dutch study, elderly men who daily consumed about 26 mg of flavonoids—roughly the amount found in a single apple—suffered half as many heart attacks as those with a low intake of the phytochemical.
BROCCOLI: Sulforafane, a compound that stimulates the production of enzymes that flush carcinogens from the body, is abundant in broccoli. Sulforafane has been shown to reduce the incidence of breast tumors in mice by up to 60 per cent.
GARLIC: A Queen’s University scientist is conducting a largescale study on allicin, a compound in garlic that may protect against
chemical toxins and carcinogens.
ONIONS: A decade-long Dutch study showed that onions help prevent gastric cancer. Indian researchers have found an association between eating onions and a reduced incidence of lung cancer. Onions contain allylic sulfides, compounds that stimulate the body’s production of enzymes that eliminate potential carcinogens.
ORANGES: In July, researchers from the University of Western Ontario’s Centre of Human Nutrition reported results of a study showing that the flavonoids in orange juice cut the risk of breast cancer in mice by 50 per cent.
PARSLEY: Several cancer-
fighting compounds—betacarotene, vitamin C,coumarins, flavonoids, monoterpenes and polyacetylenes—are found in parsley. Chlorophyll, the phytochemical that makes it green, may block the absorption of carcinogens from the digestive tract.
PEPPERS: Sweet peppers contain more vitamin C than oranges. Hot peppers, or chilies, which also contain flavonoids, are even more nutritious. Capsaicin, the compound that gives chilies their bite, can ease nasal and sinus congestion and may help prevent blood clots.
POTATOES: The most popular vegetable in Canada is a good source of vitamin C, which helps block the formation of cancercausing nitrosamines in the body. Potatoes also contain saponins, antioxidants linked to reduced cholesterol and a lower incidence of colorectal and, possibly, breast and prostate cancers. Renowned as a comfort food, potatoes have
traces of compounds related to benzodiazepines in prescription tranquilizers.
RHUBARB: Rhubarb contains a unique mix of soluble and insoluble fibre that may help prevent heart disease, diabetes and constipation. In a study by researchers at the University of Alberta early this year, a daily dose of rhubarb fibre reduced cholesterol levels by as much as 15 per cent over a four-week period.
TOMATOES: Lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their bright red color, appears to be effective in preventing prostate and possibly other cancers. A powerful antioxidant, lycopene promotes heart health and may help prevent diabetes. University ofToronto research has shown that lycopene is more readily absorbed from tomato juice, pizza sauce and other cooked tomato products like ketchup—and when mixed with a small amount of fat.
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