RoseMarie Pierce, B.Sc. Pharm., “The Holistic Pharmacist”
SuperFoods – Create a Rainbow of Health
Scientists are discovering that many of today’s degenerative diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and eye diseases, are not inevitable. It is now an accepted fact that degenerative diseases are the consequences of the way we live and what we eat. One of the biggest discoveries is that colorful fruits and vegetables contain many disease-fighting compounds known as phytochemicals and that we need the protective benefits of the full spectrum of their bright colors, states James A. Joseph, Ph.D., a leading scientist at Tufts University’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. Dr. Joseph is one of the main researchers involved in the groundbreaking animal study research at Tufts University using blueberry extracts to reverse motor function deterioration with aging in rats.
According to Dr. Joseph, co-author of the newly published book “The Color Code”, eating 9 to 10 servings of vibrantly colored produce each day is optimal for degenerative disease protection (1 serving equals either 1/2-cup chopped vegetables or fruits or 1 cup berries or chopped greens). A rainbow approach to eating (green, yellow-orange, red, blue-purple colored fruits and vegetables) provides a broad range of these health-promoting phytochemicals. As an added bonus, a multi-colored green drink containing a variety of superfoods (see sidebar) may help those individuals who find it a challenge to eat 9 or more servings per day yet still want to enjoy the benefits the plant kingdom has to offer.
Phytochemicals – Nutrients of the Future
The word phytochemical (phyton is the Greek word for plant) refers to a wide range of naturally occurring chemicals that give flavor, color, texture and odor to plants. In fact, the more intensely colored and the more flavorful and scent-filled the plant, the more concentrated the health-protective phytochemical content. The scientific meaning of the word phytochemical would include such things as vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates yet, in this context, I am referring to the hundreds or maybe thousands of other health-providing plant substances that currently are not considered essential nutrients. Our primary sources of phytochemicals are vegetables (including seaweed and algae), fruits (especially berries), cereal grasses, and sprouts. However, many legumes (soybeans), whole grains, nuts, seeds (flaxseeds), herbs (thyme, oregano), and spices (turmeric, ginger) provide impressive amounts.
Why Do Plants Produce Phytochemicals?
Plants manufacture phytochemicals for their own healthy growth and to protect themselves from a number of dangerous invading microbes such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Some microbe-destroying phytochemicals furnish the plant with the equivalent of an immune system. The best known one is a substance found in the skins of grapes called resveratrol, which is produced by the grape to fight off bacteria and fungal infections. Certain phytochemicals, such as pungent organosulfur compounds in onions and garlic, provide pest control or serve as an insect repellent while other more fragrant phytochemicals help attract “pollinating insects”. Free-radical damage from the sun or even photosynthesis, the plant’s own energy-producing process, can also threaten the plant’s survival. For example, the green pigment chlorophyll would be rapidly destroyed and thus the plant would die if it weren’t for the powerful yellow-orange antioxidant pigments found beneath the plant’s green appearance that continually provides protection.
How Do Phytochemicals Help the Human Body?
Hundreds of phytochemicals are currently being studied for their human health benefits. To better understand the scope of these studies, it might be helpful to know that carrots contain 217, orange juice contains 170 and apples contain 150 phytochemicals in their disease-fighting makeup. Scientific research is helping us to understand how and why the phytochemicals found in color-laden produce, herbs and superfoods contribute to such positive effects.
There are literally thousands of different phytochemicals found throughout the plant kingdom. These phytochemicals (see chart) are proving to exhibit a wide range of biological activities, arising mainly from their antioxidant properties, their anti-inflammatory strengths, and their ability to boost the body’s natural detoxification systems. They have been recognized to exert anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-cardiovascular disease (anti-CVD), and anti-cancer activity as well as analgesic, anti-allergic, liver protective, estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects. Phytochemicals often work synergistically with one another, producing their health-giving properties only when two or more are present.
Dr. James Duke, author of “The Green Pharmacy” and compiler of the USDA phytochemical database (see references) states, “Cancer in many cases is a deficiency of antioxidants. So is heart disease. Scientists are starting to think of these diseases as a shortage of phytochemicals.”
This encouraging research is at the forefront of modern science’s efforts to prevent as well as cure disease. Adding high-nutrient, colorful superfoods to our diet allows the term “eat your fruits and veggies” to take on a new and enhanced meaning. We can create a true rainbow of health for our families and ourselves by following this age-old wisdom.
1. Joseph, James A., Nadeau, Daniel A. et al. The Color Code, NY:Hyperion Books, 2002.
2. Dr. James Duke – Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database;http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/duke/farmacy2.pl
3. Gerber M, Boutron-Ruault MC, et al. “Food and cancer: state of the art about the protective effect of fruits and vegetables” Bull Cancer 2002 Mar;89(3):292-312
4. Davis, Brenda, Melina, Vesanto, Becoming Vegan, TN:BPC, 2000 pg.143-153.
5. Heber D, Bowerman S. “Applying science to changing dietary patterns” J Nutr 2001 Nov;131(11 Suppl):3078S-81S
RoseMarie Pierce, B.Sc.Pharm, earned her degree in Pharmacy from Dalhousie University in 1972. After extensive studies in herbal and nutritional medicine, RoseMarie integrated these disciplinary practices with her pharmacy education to become Canada’s first Holistic Pharmacist.