Sunday, June 16, 2013

Eating on the Wild Side

 Eating on the Wild Side
Jo Robinson, a health writer and food activist, has just published Eating on the Wild Side, a book that is loaded with new and interesting ideas.  I strongly suggest that you buy it!  Here are a few ideas from early chapters.  The fruits and vegetables we grow, buy and eat today have been made more palatable than their wild ancestors by centuries of plant breeding.  This does not mean genetic modification, but rather careful selection of varieties of each plant that are large, sweeter, less bitter and easier to chew and digest.  However, we have lost many of the important plant nutrients in this process. Industrial farming has taken the process further, and has resulted in loss of flavor.   Robinson suggests many ways to find, store and cook foods to optimize their taste and nutritional value.  

Here is what she says about lettuce.  The most intensely colored leaves have the most plant nutrients – so look for lettuce that is red, purple or reddish brown rather than all green.  The arrangement of leaves on the stem is also important – there are fewer plant nutrients in tightly packed leaves as in iceberg lettuce or even romaine than in looseleaf varieties.  Leaves need sunlight, but when they are more exposed to the sun, as in looseleaf lettuces, they must make more anti-oxidants to protect themselves against  UV light.  We absorb these compounds, which make up part of our own self-defense against disease.  Buy the freshest lettuces you can – packaged salad greens have been longer in transit than a heavy head of looseleaf lettuce with crisp leaves.  If you do buy packaged greens, look for ones that contain a mixture of dark greens that include some spicy ones, such as arugula, mustard greens or radicchio, and look for the most distant “use by” date.  When you get your salad greens home, Robinson suggests that you tear off the leaves, rinse them, and soak them for 10 minutes in very cold water. This will lower their temperature and slow the aging process. Dry them with a towel or salad spinner.  Then tear the leaves into smaller pieces – she says that this will double their antioxidant value.  The plant reacts as if it was being gnawed by a predator and produces a burst of nutrients to ward off the intruding insect.  You should eat the leaves within a day or two after tearing them.  If this seems like a lot of work, here is a final suggestion that sounds easy.  To store lettuce and other greens in the refrigerator, put them in a plastic bag, squeeze out the air and seal the bag; then use a needle or pin to prick the bag with 10-20 evenly spaced holes.  Put the bag in the crisper section of your fridge.  The tiny pinpricks will provide the most ideal level of humidity in the bag and enable the leaves to consume oxygen and give off carbon dioxide.  The leaves will stay alive, and fresher, for a longer time.  Mark these bags, so you can reuse them later.  Robinson likes to use this storage technique of microperforated bags for many fruits and vegetables.

Arugula, a member of the cabbage family, is exceptionally high in plant nutrients, and should be a regular ingredient in salads.  Look for younger plants with shorter leaves if you find it too peppery.  Use arugula as a spinach substitute in stirfry dishes.  Robinson warns that the healthful, anti-cancer properties of arugula can be lost into the water if the leaves are boiled.  In subsequent columns I will write about what Robinson says about artichokes, asparagus and tomatoes.  I’ll close by telling you that she recommends the smallest tomatoes you can find for both flavor and lycopene content.  Apparently there is a new tiny tomato called the currant tomato that is close to the earliest tomatoes found in the Andes, and a real winner. 
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Olive Oil and Your Brain, and a New View on Produce

Olive oil is known to have protective effects on bone, heart disease and breast cancer risk. Its use in the Mediterranean diet has been associated with a 30% lower risk of death from heart attacks and stroke in a recent Spanish study. Here’s more!

In 2009, Researchers at Columbia University in New York found that elderly people who were physically active and ate a Mediterranean diet, had a 32-40% lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) compared with those who did not. The Mediterranean diet was defined as including a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains and fish, and a lower use of red meat. About 50 milliliters of olive oil (roughly 1/5th cup per day) is consumed.

Research into the lower amounts of dementia on this diet has found a compound in extra virgin olive oil called oleocanthal. Amal Kaddoumi and her colleagues at the University of Louisiana looked at whether oleocanthal helped to decrease the accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain, as this substance is believed to be the culprit in AD. They applied different concentrations of oleocanthal to mouse brain cell cultures, and also gave oleocanthal to live mice. In both trials, levels of the two proteins that transport beta-amyloid out of the brain as well as enzymes that degrade beta-amyloid increased significantly. The researchers then introduced beta-amyloid into live mice brains. Compared with control groups, the mice given oleocanthal showed significantly enhanced clearance and degradation of the beta-amyloid peptides.

This study has exciting implications for the prevention of AD. While pharmacologists are figuring out how to make a medicine from oleocanthal, you can use extra-virgin olive oil as your main source of fat. Investigate how to make an oliveoil/herb spread for your bread. It is important to note that being physically active and eating a lot of fresh produce is also important to keep your brain healthy.

Breeding the Nutrition out of Food: Jo Robinson, an investigative reporter, has just published a book called Eating on the Wild Side. She notes that over the last 10,000 years since we stopped foraging for wild plants and instituted farming and gardening, we have selected the least bitter plants to grow in our gardens. While this has made some foods tastier, it has decreased their phytonutrients. Robinson is not talking about genetic engineering, but conventional selective plant breeding which has gone on for millennia but has recently accelerated. She notes that purple Peruvian potatoes have vastly more nutrients than the white potato, and blue corn is greatly superior to white corn, even though white corn is sweeter and more popular. I will write more about her findings when I get her book. In the meantime, she suggests arugula, which is very similar to its wild ancestor, and scallions, which resemble wild onions. She suggests using plentiful amounts of fresh herbs in cooking. Rebecca Katz, author of The Cancer Fighting Kitchen and The Longevity Kitchen, also promotes the use of herbs as ingredients in many dishes, including salads. Don’t overlook those amazing deep purple Japanese sweet potatoes if you can find them. Go for color, and spiciness; you will be on the right track.

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH -->