Meals that Heal

Excerpted from “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Living Longer & Healthier”

Super Foods to the Rescue
We have seen miracle drugs come and go. Miracle foods, by contrast, have been around for centuries. These are foods that can help detoxify your body, prevent cancer and heart disease, and maybe even ward off headaches. These super foods may lower your cholesterol, stimulate your immune system, stop stomach aches and even halt hot flashes. And, unlike fads that appear and disappear from year to year, they’re a permanent part of the earth’s bounty. They’re also quite delicious — and a lot less expensive than miracle drugs.

Soy What?
If we all picked up and moved to Japan, soy would be a component of nearly every meal we’d eat. Food that are high in soy are particularly important in protecting women against breast cancer and osteoporosis. For men, they’re not so bad either, helping to keep the prostate gland cancer-free. Soy can also lower cholesterol levels in both men and women.

The Soy Shield
Soy can be found in soybeans, soy milk, soy cheese, soy flour, soy hot dogs, tofu, tempeh, miso, and textured soy protein. What makes soy so special? It contains estrogen-like compounds known as phytoestrgens, which provide protective benefits. Two phytoestrogens in particular — genistein and daidzein, both isoflavones  — have been associated with the ability to inhibit cancers of the breast, the ovary, and the uterus. A third phytoestrogen, saponins (also found in soybeans), can help reduce the spread of cancer cells in the colon and reduce your cholesterol level. All three can also help alleviate symptoms of menopause.

In fact, while about 75 percent of American women experience hot flashes, night sweats and other menopausal symptoms, Japanese women rarely experience such problems or sleep disturbances at all in their menopausal years, eating just two-thirds of a cup of cooked soybeans per day is sufficient to provide you with most of these benefits, forming a sort of “soy shield” against a whole host of problems ranging from merely annoying to life threatening.

It’s now believed that the phytoestrogen in soybeans can actually counteract cancer-promoting estrogen in much the same way that the drug tamoxifen does. In Asian countries, those women who eat twice as much soy protein as their compatriots seem to have about 50 percent less chance of developing breast cancer.

What About Flavonoids?
Ever wonder how a blueberry becomes blue or an apple becomes red or an orange becomes orange? As it turns out, most fruits and vegetables obtain their color and flavor from substances known as flavonoids (or bioflavonoids). Flavonoids can be found in most fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, grains and soy products. they are especially high in citrus fruit, tomatoes, berries, peppers, carrots, onions, kale and grapes. You can also drink your flavonoids, which are present in tea, coffee or red wine.

Flavonoids are members of a family of plant substances known as phytochemicals. these are strong antioxidants that protect your cells from free radicals — a kind of internal antiterrorism network. Flavonoids also appear to act as deterrents to viruses, allergies, carcinogens and inflammation. They may help lower your total cholesterol level and prevent the oxidation of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the kind that blocks arteries)   Just as isoflavones act as phytoestrogen, flavonoids do, too. They help balance estrogen metabolism and encourage the body to convert estradiol to estriol, a safer, more protective form of estrogen.

Flavonoids may also have other benefits. They may prevent swelling in the legs due to fluid retention and may help treat varicose veins, leg cramps, diabetic neuropathy and high  blood pressure. A recent study showed that men who consumed high amounts of flavonoids were 33 percent less likely to die from a heart attack. Most of the studies performed on flavonoids have demonstrated their effectiveness in the prevention and treatment of various cancers.

Fabulous Phytochemicals
Flavonoids and isoflavones are both major groups of phytochemicals, naturally occurring substances in plants that provide strong antioxidant activity. They’re found in both fruits and vegetables and are associated with reductions in cancer rates and heart disease.

Here are some of the most important phytochemical-containing foods:

Phytochemicals Foods Found In
Genistein Soybeans, peas, lentils, cabbage
Carotenoids Dark orange or green vegetables and fruits
Quercetin Tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit
Phytosterols Citrus fruits
Isoflavones Alfalfa sprouts, yams
Lycopene Soy products
Capsaicin Tomatoes, red grapefruit, watermelon
Allium Strawberries
Sulforaphane Hot peppers
Indoles Cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts
Flavonoids Garlic, leeks, onions Broccoli, cabbage, mustard Citrus, tomatoes, berries, carrots, peppers, onions, kale, grapes and red wine

How to Make Every Meal a Phyto-Feast
Increase your intake and serving sizes of vegetables.  Snack on fresh fruit or dried fruit instead of candy. Include beans in your stews, soups and pasta.  Flavor your foods with herbs and spices, such as ginger, rosemary, thyme, garlic, parsley, basil and chives. Add vegetables such as mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and onions, along with herbs when making an omelet.  Eat meatless dinners three or more times per week.  Drink 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice instead of soda.  Add sautéed onions, mushrooms and peppers to whole-grain dishes such as rice, barley, millet, couscous, or buckwheat.  Use baby carrots for snacks between meals. Try hummus as a healthy vegetable dip.  When preparing raw vegetable salads, try to include asparagus, red peppers, zucchini, broccoli, sweet potato sticks, cauliflower, carrots and celery.

Red Wine Wonders
Health experts have found increasing evidence that drinking red wine in moderation — with emphasis on the word moderation — may be one of the secrets of a healthy heart and longer life. Numerous studies have indicated that moderate consumption of red wine has a beneficial effect on people with coronary artery disease.

Antioxidant compounds in wine seem to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and make your blood vessels more flexible, thereby inhibiting atherosclerosis. For example, men who consume moderate amounts of red wine enjoy a 30 percent reduction in their risk of dying from any cause, including cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, and all types of cancer. What’s a moderate amount? Maybe one to two glasses per day.

It’s been found that the beneficial effects of red wine are due primarily to its high concentration of phenolic compounds. These compounds are actually flavonoids and have powerful antioxidant properties. The antioxidant protection of phenolic compounds may even be stronger than those found in both vitamins E and C combined because they help protect the LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidation. These phytonutrients are commonly found in the skins and seeds of red grapes.

But that’s not all. Recently, red wine got credit for providing another line of defense known as resveratrol — yet another flavonoid that covers the skins of grapes and resists disease. It’s actually a natural fungicide that helps protect grapes from bacteria. Resveratrol, which is found in both red grapes and red wine, helps to prevent clot formation in the coronary arteries. It’s also been shown to help increase the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, and resveratrol has recently been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the laboratory. More research is still needed to determine how it may affect the growth of cancer cells in humans.

Red wine can apparently also help us to preserve our vision — provided that we don’t drink too much and start seeing double. Compared to those who drink beer, liquor, or no alcohol at all, people who consume moderate amounts of red wine are at lower risk for developing age-related macular degeneration — the leading cause of blindness in the elderly population.

The Roots of Relief
Ginger has been used in China, India and other Asian countries for more than 25 centuries to help with digestion, nausea, and motion sickness. Most people use it very gingerly at best, or perhaps not at all. But obstetricians are increasingly turning to ginger to help fight morning sickness — you know, that terrible nausea and vomiting that occurs early during pregnancy. In a recent study, 70 percent of the pregnant women who took ginger found it to be effective. They used 250 mg of ginger root extract four times per day to help relieve their attacks of vomiting.

And for motion sickness? Take 1,000 mg of ginger in capsule form about a half hour before boarding your plane, train, auto or boat. You might need to repeat the dosage if symptoms recur. Ginger may also function as an antinflammatory and help reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis because it seems to block the formation of inflammatory substances known as leukotrienes. In addition, it’s a strong antioxidant.

One of the beauties of this spice is that you can incorporate either fresh or powdered ginger into your cooking. You may find that using ginger works better than some of the nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs that your rheumatologist may have recommended for you. Better yet, unlike such drugs, ginger doesn’t seem to produce negative side effects.

Suffering from migraines? Again, try ginger, which may be effective at both preventing and relieving migraine headaches without the side effects of stronger prescription medications.

Cloves, ginger, cumin and turmeric all prevent blood platelets from clumping abnormally. All these spices are thought to reduce the production of thromboxane, a strong promoter of platelet aggregation, which is what happens when platelets start sticking together.

Green Tea for Two
The British seem to have an instinctive understanding of the protective power of tea. Whenever depicted in a precarious situation  — be it on a sinking ship in shark-infested waters or hopelessly surrounded by hostile Zulu warriors — what do they invariably do? Why, take time out for a spot of tea, by Jove!

But whereas “tea” used to mean the standard black variety, it’s now widely available in its less mature “green” stage as well (not to mention a whole range of exotic herbal flavors). Just as an apple a day may keep the doctor away, a cup of green tea may keep cancer away. Of course, green tea does tend to be an “acquired taste,” meaning it takes a while to get used to its more subtle flavor and color. If you’re not feeling bold enough to try it, you’ll be happy to know that black tea may have similar effects — although to a somewhat lesser degree, Both green and black tea contain polyphenols, naturally occurring compounds with strong anticancer effects, these may protect against breast, skin, lung, stomach, prostate and colon cancer.

Polyphenols work by inhibiting cancer-causing genes and by neutralizing cancer-causing chemicals. They may also help prevent strokes; a recent study showed that men who had the highest intake of polyphenols were 73 percent less likely to suffer a stroke compared to men who had little polyphenol intake. Green or black tea may also protect you against heart disease and make you less likely to experience or die from a heart attack.

Four primary polyphenols are found in green tea: epicatechin (EC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), epigallocatechin (EGC), and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). In a recent study, green tea extract was found to have 20 times the antioxidant punch of vitamin C. The main antioxidant activity  is thought to come primarily from its high content of EGCG.

Women who drink green tea have been shown to be at decreased risk for cancers of the upper digestive tract, the colon and the rectum. It appears that drinking two or more cups of tea per day can reduce your risk of cancer by 10 percent.

If you are sensitive to caffeine and need to avoid it even in small quantities, you may have to lay off green tea as well as black tea. Although green tea contains only about a third of the caffeine found in black tea — and much less than is found in coffee –it still may be too much for some caffeine-sensitive individuals.

Tomatoes:  The Lycopene Link
Pizza lovers, rejoice. The next time you feel the urge to chow down on pizza, only to be given a disapproving look by your spouse, child or parent, tell them it may be better for you than they think. A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that men who ate at least 10 servings of tomato-based foods per week were up to 45 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer. Those eating four to seven servings per week enjoyed a 20 percent reduction.

That’s because tomatoes are rich in another antioxidant phytonutrient known as lycopene. In addition to protecting against colon and cervical cancer and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, lycopene can help to keep bad LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized and promoting atherosclerosis.

Nor is cooking tomatoes such a bad idea — in fact, it seems to make them even more protective than raw tomatoes or tomato juice. It could be that when tomatoes are heated during cooking, the cells burst and release more lycopene. Lycopene’s effects are also enhanced when tomatoes are processed in oil.

This doesn’t mean you should go hog wild in placing orders with your neighborhood pizza parlor, but rather that you should think in terms of including more fresh tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce and tomato paste in your diet. You don’t like tomatoes? In that case, you might want to opt for red grapefruit and watermelon. They’re also sources of lycopene, only in smaller quantities.

Lycopene is actually a carotenoid, just like beta carotene. It appears, however, that lycopene is much more protective against vascular disease. To help prevent oxidation by your LDL cholesterol, consider eating lycopene-containing foods in combination with vitamins C and E. Lycopene can also prevent the formation of cholesterol in the first place.