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Many Foods Serve Up Health Benefits

Recent studies have given every chocolate lover reason to rejoice: Chemicals known as flavonoids -- found in abundance in dark chocolate -- loosen up the arteries and promote heart health.

This revelation may have many people wondering if other favorite foods might also provide similar health benefits. If America's scientific community is right, the answer might just be a resounding, "You bet your life!" Literally.

Based on a spate of recent research, pecans, grapes, mushrooms, cranberries, blueberries, broccoli, kiwi, pomegranates, almonds, cabbage, cinnamon and a host of other popular foods don't just taste great, they may also be good for much of what ails you.

According to the Georgia Pecan Commission, for example, eating a handful of pecans every day reduces cholesterol and may be an alternative to cholesterol-reducing drugs. The assertion is backed up by considerable research, including a study in the September 2001 Journal of Nutrition conducted by scientists in the Department of Nutrition at Loma Linda University's School of Public Health, in California.

The five-member team investigated the effect of pecans rich in monounsaturated fat in men and women with normal to moderately high serum cholesterol, and found the nuts successfully altered the subjects' lipid profiles, without increasing their weight. The research concluded that pecans can be prescribed as part of a cholesterol-lowering diet for patients with high cholesterol, or as part of the habitual diet of healthy individuals.

Other research shows that lower cholesterol isn't the only health benefit that comes in a small, compact food. Grapes, for instance, have been the focus of many recent studies that suggest there's much more to the tiny, round fruit than meets the eye.

Shiuan Chen, director of surgical research at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif., and his team have been studying grapes for several years. According to their research, chemicals -- called procyanidin C dimers -- found in high levels in grape-based food products, including wine, block the formation of estrogen. And estrogen is a key factor in breast cancer tumor development. The research on grapes, published in the December 2003 issue of Cancer Research, could prove useful in breast cancer treatment.

"Too much estrogen causes breast cancer tumor growth in postmenopausal women," Chen said. "This research suggests that fruits such as grapes contain natural substances that can act as aromatase inhibitors and can be beneficial as chemopreventative agents against breast cancer."

Earlier research published in the December 2001 Journal of Nutrition by Chen and his City of Hope colleagues showed that white button mushrooms also suppress estrogen formation and can help prevent breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Cranberries and blueberries are two other tiny foods that researchers and doctors alike agree can pack a powerful health punch. New York City physician Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of Natural Prescriptions for Common Ailments, is a fan of both.

"I've often prescribed pure cranberry juice for the prevention and treatment of minor urinary tract infections," Dean said. "Proanthocyanidins in cranberries can prevent E. coli bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and causing bladder infections. Cranberries also contain significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases."

Her enthusiasm for blueberries is similarly high. They contain phytochemicals called anthrocyanins and phenolics that studies show improve memory, clear arteries, enhance vision, strengthen blood vessels, stop urinary tract infections, promote weight control and reverse aging, she said.

Dean is also a broccoli enthusiast, pointing out, for starters, that the green crucifer contains high levels of vitamin C and beta carotene.

"Both are powerful antioxidants that fight age- and disease-causing free radicals," she said. "Broccoli also has a high fiber content, which is important in bowel health as well as in diabetes control. And it contains as much calcium as dairy products, as well as a substance called sulforaphane. In animal studies, sulforaphane has been found to reduce the number, size and reproduction of malignant tumors, as well as delay their onset."

Reference Source 101
October 25, 2004



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