"About twenty years ago, researchers found the missing link.
They discovered that colorful plant foods in their natural state were also rich in thousands of compounds with important health properties for humans—phytochemicals.
Only by eating an assortment of natural foods that are micronutrient-rich can you get enough of these compounds to protect yourself from the common diseases that afflict Americans."
-Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of "Eat to Live-
If you've received this via email, click here to get to the web version with all the links!
On the long drive to New York City 2 weeks ago I brought along some light reading and listening material to fill my time:
- The March issue of The Oprah Magazine. I zoned right into: Nina Planck's brilliant article: "Are Organics Worth Their Price"
- Keri Glassman's The O2 Diet: The Cutting Edge Antioxidant-Based Program That Will Make You Healthy, Thin, and Beautiful OK-- I agree, this is a terrible title, and I could care less about the thin & beautiful part (not going to happen)--but her user-friendly ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) rankings of common foods--and her easy-to-understand plan to kick up our daily intake of health-giving antioxidants makes this book definitely worth your while.
- NPR's Your Health Podcast from 7/27/09 The Nutrient Detectives--How Do They Know? I had listened to this 7 months ago--and what a serendipitous surprise that I chose to give it a "re-listen"!
A magazine, a popular book, and a podcast. End result: I increased my understanding of the benefits of antioxidants and organic produce, I learned the best way to eat my fruits and veggies (who knew?), and I now have Glassman's terrific cheat sheet for plotting a way to get her recommended 30,000 ORAC points a day--it's an easy method to make sure I get the most bang for my nutritional buck.
Because of my car ride "entertainment"--O, NPR, & the O2 Diet--I've added, subtracted, and rejiggered some of my daily diet routines. I've added 3 cups of green tea, for one--and I'm following up tough work-outs with an antioxidant-rich smoothie & extra sleep. Plus, I'm making an effort to include lots of cinnamon, curcumin, and oregano into my cooking.
Lots of info to share--so I'll just cover the "what's new to me" highlights.
NIna Planck is both a food writer, and an advocate of "real food", farmer's markets, and organic produce. She wrote her article in O in response to a report released last year by the British Food Standards Agency that pronounced organic food to be no more nutritious than the conventional variety. Organic advocates claimed the report was flawed, incomplete, and biased.
Here's Planck's case for organic produce:
- The French Agency for Food Safety: organics have more antioxidants, heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, iron and magnesium than conventionals
- The British Food Standard's Agency: organics have more magnesium, zinc, antioxidant phytochemicals, like polyphenols & flavonoids than conventionals
- A 5-year 33 university study sponsored by the European Commission--believed to be the largest study of its kind--found organic cabbage & potatoes have more vitamin C--and organic tomatoes have more nutrients overall.
My eye-opening finding from Planck's article: How Using No Pesticides Increases the Antioxidant Content of Fruits & Vegetables
"A lack of pesticide exposure is an important reason organic produce has higher levels of beneficial antioxidants like vitamin C--which fight the free radicals implicated in aging, cancer, and heart disease.
Antioxidants are actually part of a plant's own defenses. In fruits and vegetables, these bitter elements help fend off attacks by bugs and fungi.
Organic crops contain more of these compounds because they have to work harder to protect themselves--with no man-made pesticides to the rescue.
In addition, organic produce is free of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, which can also weaken plants' health. Nitrogen produces a watery, sugary cell sap that compromises the plant's ability to build its immune system.Plants that come to rely on the chemical can no longer fend off pests naturally. Crops that are treated with the synthetic fertilizer also have overly leafy growth and poor flavor, as farmers have long known. That's because the plants' natural immune system of antioxidants is what makes produce aromatic and savory.
In other words, a healthy plant makes a healthy meal--and a tastier one."
Bottom Line: Plants do a better job of building up their own immune systems with antioxidants to fight of disease, fungus, and pests when they're grow organically--without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
I don't usually buy organic--but Planck's article is making me rethink that habit.
What I Learned From NPR's "Your Health" Podcast, "The Nutrient Detectives--How Do They Know?"
1. The Beta-Carotene Fat Connection: (Yes--I already mentioned this in the olive oil post) To best absorb antioxidant carotenoids we need a little fat in the form of some nuts, seeds, or olive oil when we eat our fruits & vegetables--according to Wendy White, a professor Human Nutrition at Iowa State University.
Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for red-, yellow- and orange-colored fruits and vegetables. And carotenoids are also found in dark green vegetables such as spinach. The compounds convert to Vitamin A in the body, and studies have found that carotenoids have antioxidant activity which may help protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Human studies have linked high consumption of fruits and vegetables to reduced risk of cancer. White's salad study at Iowa State found that volunteers who ate full-fat dressing absorbed the most beta-carotene. The reduced-fat dressing eaters had substantially less absorption of beta-carotene. And the fat-free dressing salad eaters had no absorption of the beta-carotenes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004 Aug;80(2):396-403.
"When we chew a salad, we often don't do an efficient job of crushing every cell; about 70-90% of the cells are not broken open. As a result most of the valuable nutrients contained within those cells never enter our bloodstream and are lost.
An even more efficient way to ensure you receive these needed nutrients is using a blender (think VitaMix) to puree raw, leafy greens. The blending process aids your body in the work of breaking down and assimilating nutrients. It guarantees that a higher percentage of nutrients will be absorbed into your bloodstream."
-Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat For Health-
3. Raw Isn't Always Better. Heat isn't always destructive to antioxidants. When it comes to absorbing fruits & vegetables with beta-carotene and lycopene--think carrots and tomatoes--cooking actually aids absorption, because it softens the plant material, and releases their nutrients. It just so happens that lycopene & beta-carotene are very stable antioxidants that aren't harmed by heat.
4. What's the best cooking method to retain antioxidants? According to a recent study in the Journal of Food Science click here microwaving is the winner when it comes to preserving nutrients--because it's mild, quick, and it preserves the water soluble nutrients like vitamin C & B. Boiling is the worst method--water is definitely not the cook's "best friend".
5. Measuring the antioxidant content of fruits & vegetables at the USDA Research Center in Beltsville Maryland. James Harnly is the guy who measures the phytonutrients for the USDA ORAC Index--using a complicated freezing, drying, grinding, liquid chromatography process. It turns out--and most of us already know this--the fruits and vegetables with the highest antioxidant content are blueberries for their flavonoids; the Brassica family vegetables, like kale, cauliflower, and broccoli; the deep purple vegetables like eggplant for their anthocyanins; and apples for the flavonols in their skin.
According to Harnly, when it comes to most fruits--the flavonoids are mostly in their skins--think apple & orange peels. Whatever you do--don't throw away the peels. Although researchers know that antioxidants are beneficial, how they work to prevent and neutralize free-radical damage is still an unknown. Harnly guesses that it will likely turn out to be part of some sophisticated cascading effect going on in the body--that needs antioxidants to get started.
Using Keri Glassman's O2 Diet and Her ORAC Lists to Fine-Tune Your Diet
I just happened upon Glassman's book while browsing the New Book shelf at my local public library. She's a registered dietitian with a New York City nutrition practice, and she's also a nutrition contributor to the CBS Early Show.
What's the ORAC Index anyway? The ORAC Index was developed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture with the help of the top nutrition scientists in the country. It ranks 277 foods by antioxidant content--their ability to either destroy or neutralize disease-causing free radicals. Since oxidative stress caused by free radicals is likely to be one of the factors which plays an important role in the development of chronic and degenerative diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and neuronal degeneration--the ORAC Index is definitely a number to pay attention to when choosing your foods. Click here for the USDA ORAC Index Fact Sheet
But if you took a look at the USDA's ORAC Index of foods you would scratch your head and wonder, "OK, so now what am I supposed to do with this?" It definitely ranks the foods--but all the foods are ranked using a quantity of 100 grams--a meaningless measurement--nothing close to normal people portions. It doesn't give us a clue about how to compare blueberries to apples to spinach in terms of portion size. But Glassman spells it all out.
Keri Glassman made the ORAC Index usable because she took the USDA numbers and converted them into ounces and then converted them into normal people portions. Thank you, Keri Glassman!
I love her game plan of using the ORAC Index points to shoot for 30,000 points a day to make sure you're eating a variety of "high-achieving" fruits, vegetables, legumes, carbohydrates, beverages, and spices everyday.
Why 30,000 Points a Day, You Ask? Here's What Glassman Has to Say:
"Researchers have just begun to scratch the surface of antioxidant research; there are now literally hundreds of studies linking antioxidant-rich foods to better health, including everything from reduced heart disease to a decreased likelihood of cancer.
And while taking too many antioxidant supplements in pill form may be harmful, there's absolutely no downside to consuming more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. Although the current recommendations are that we eat between 3,000 and 5,000 ORAC points a day for optimum health, why not get all you can?
Eating 30,000 ORAC points will boost the antioxidant power of your blood at least 10 to 25% percent according to some of the original ORAC research. Click here
Don't forget that you still need to eat a balanced diet. Sure you could get to 30,000 easily on nothing but artichokes, blueberries, and hot cocoa. But that's not a balanced diet, and you'd be cheating yourself out of the wide variety of nutrients out there."
Easiest way to reach 30,000 points a day?
- Drink a Green Smoothie! I calculated that my daily smoothie made with 1/2 an apple, 1/2 a grapefruit, 3 cups of kale, 1/2 cup of blueberries, 1/2 of a kiwi, 1/4 cup of pomegranate juice, and 2 carrots, comes to about 17,710 points! Who knew?
- Add 3 cups of green tea a day for 9,000 more points. I've never been a tea drinker until now & the scientific research on the benefits of green tea is extensive.
- Add a cup a black beans for 15,600 additional points. Kidney beans, pinto beans, & lentils--they're all outrageously high in ORAC points.
Great tips from the O2 Diet
- Intense exercise actually weakens your immune system, putting you at risk for getting sick for a full 72 hours after each workout--so, to counteract the effect of an intense workout-- Glassman recommends increasing your antioxidant intake to 50,000 points and getting an extra half hour of sleep. Sounds like a plan.
- Oatmeal is brain food. This complex carbohydrate helps to produce the feel-good chemical serotonin which has antioxidant properties, and helps ease that "stress-out" feeling. Studies show that kids who eat oatmeal (with 600 ORAC points) for breakfast stay sharper throughout the morning. No wonder I love my morning crockpot steel cut oats--made with dried fruit that kick up the ORAC points another notch! Click here for the recipe
- Turmeric/Curcumin, the spice that gives curry its yellow color is a well-known antioxidant--which not only helps in the prevention of Alzheimers, it's recently been shown to reverse impaired cognition and neuronal plasticity caused by stress. Click here Turmeric clocks in at 3,500 ORAC points per teaspoon. I've been taking a 500 mg capsule of curcumin daily, ever since a Columbia University neurologist specializing in Alzheimers told me he takes a teaspoon of turmeric a day.
A Sampling of the O2 Diet's ORAC Index Points
Glassman's book has a full list of the ORAC points of common foods by serving size, and she generously makes these lists available on her website. Click here for the ORAC point guide. Click here for the ORAC calculator
Top Foods in the ORAC Index
Fruit/ Serving/ ORAC Value
Blueberries 1 c= 9,700
Cranberries (raw) 1 c= 9,600
Red Delicious apple 1= 7,800
Blackberries 1 c= 7,700
Granny Smith apple 1= 7,100
Raspberries 1 c= 6,000
Strawberries 1 c= 5,400
Gala apple 1= 5,200
Pear 1= 5,200
Fuji apple 1= 4,700
Dried Fruit/ Serving/ ORAC Value
Cranberries, dried 2 Tbsp= 2,100
Prunes 3= 1,900
Currants 2 Tbsp= 1,100
Raisins 2 Tbsp= 600
Starch/ Cereal Serving/ ORAC Value
Oat bran flakes 3⁄4 c= 800
Popcorn, air-popped 5 c= 700
Instant oatmeal 1 packet= 600
Wheat germ 3 Tbsp= —
Pumpernickel bread 1 slice= 500
Oat nut bread 1 slice= 400
Whole grain/seven-grain bread 1 slice= 400
Sweet potato with skin 1 medium= 2,400
Red potato with skin 1 small= 1,800
White potato with skin 1⁄2 medium= 1,600
Russet potato with skin 1⁄2 medium= 1,500
Corn 3⁄4 c= 700
Butternut squash 1 c= 600
Pumpkin 1 c= 600
Peas 3⁄4 c= 400
Black beans 1⁄2 c= 7,800
Kidney beans 1⁄2 c= 7,800
Lentils 1⁄2 c= 7,500
Pinto beans 1⁄2 c= 7,000
Black-eyed peas 1⁄2 c= 3,600
Chickpeas 1⁄2 c= 800
Split peas 1⁄2 c= 500
Vegetable/ Serving/ORAC Value
Artichoke hearts 1⁄2 c= 7,900
Broccoli rabe 1 bunch= 6,800
Red cabbage (cooked) 1⁄2 c= 2,400
Radish (raw) 1 c= 2,000
Broccoli (cooked) 1⁄2 c= 1,900
Kale (raw) 1 c= 1,770
Onion (raw) 1 c= 1,600
Red cabbage (raw) 1 c= 1,600
Asparagus (cooked) 1⁄2 c= 1,500
Green bell peppers (raw) 1 c= 1,400
Salsa 1⁄2 c= 1,300
Spinach (cooked) 1⁄2 c= 1,300
Broccoli (raw) 1 c= 1,200
Red bell peppers (raw) 1 c= 1,200
Brussels sprouts (cooked) 1⁄2 c= 980
Carrots (raw) 1 c= 900
Tomato sauce 1/2 c= 900
Black beans (or black bean soup) 1 c= 15,600
Kidney beans 1 c= 15,600
Pinto beans 1 c= 15,000
Lentils 1 c= 14,000
Black-eyed peas 1 c= 7,300
Edamame (soybeans) 3⁄4 c= 5,400
Chickpeas 1 c= 1,700
Split peas 1 c= 1,000
Hummus 4 Tbsp= 400
Pecans 8 halves= 2,500
Walnuts 7 halves= 1,900
Hazelnuts 8= 1,000
Pistachios 18= 1,000
Avocado 1⁄4= 700
Guacamole 2 Tbsp= 700
Almonds 10= 500
Almond butter 2 tsp= 500
Peanuts 15= 500
Peanut butter 2 tsp= 500
Cashews 8= 200
Wine (Incorporate alcohol as a conscious indulgence.)
Sangria (See recipe on page 98 of the O2 Diet) 4 oz= 11,900
Cabernet 5 oz= 7,400
Red 5 oz= 5,700
Rosé 5 oz= 1,500
White 5 oz= 600
Tea (Drink up—no calories here!)
Green tea 1 c= 3,000
Black tea 1 c= 2,700
Other herbal teas 1 c= —
Juice (to be consumed in lieu of whole fruit)
Blueberry juice 1⁄2 c= 3,600
Pomegranate juice 1⁄2 c= 2,900
Concord grape juice 1⁄2 c= 2,900
Prune juice 1⁄2 c= 2,600
Red grape juice 1⁄2 c= 2,300
Cranberry–Concord grape juice 1⁄2 c= 1,800
White grapefruit juice 1⁄2 c= 1,500
Cranberry juice 1⁄2 c= 1,100
White grape juice 1⁄2 c= 1,000
Orange juice 1⁄2 c= 900
Cinnamon, ground 1 tsp= 7,000
Cloves, ground 1 tsp= 6,600
Oregano, dried 1 tsp= 3,600
Turmeric, ground 1 tsp= 3,500
Cumin seed 1 tsp= 1,600
Curry powder 1 tsp= 1,000
Mustard seed, yellow 1 tsp= 1,000
Chili powder 1 tsp= 600
Pepper, black 1 tsp= 600
Basil, dried 1 tsp= 500
Ginger, ground 1 tsp= 500