FRUIT AND VEGETABLE WHOLE FOOD ACTIVES and THEIR BENEFITS TO HUMAN HEALTH
Charles Cochran, D.C.
These past few years it’s been very difficult to digest the amount of information pouring out of the nutritional industry. Just when I was getting a handle on how all of the vitamins, enzymes, and minerals function in the body and what the best ratios of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats might be, it seemed as if each new day brought a new word that I was forced to learn. Terms like phytochemicals, phytonutrients, food actives, functional foods, nutraceuticals, antioxidants, and probiotics have been bantered about as if we all have nutritional degrees. And to put the icing on “the cake of confusion,” other terms like polyphenols, flavonoids, phytosterols, and proanthocyanidins are thrown around as if we are biochemists. So before I get too far into this short discussion on some of the benefits of the active compounds found in fruits and vegetable supplements, I’d like to shed a light on some of these concepts.
I’m sure there are very few of us who when sitting at the supper table think about sitting down to a plate of phytochemicals. Well, if there are any fruits or vegetables on your plate, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Don’t let the words phyto or chemical keep you from eating! Phyto is a Greek word and is defined as plant and so phytochemicals are compounds derived exclusively from plants. The term phytonutrient refers to a subgroup of plant chemicals that provide the beneficial nutritional qualities in our plant foods.
Functional foods are products formulated with naturally occurring chemicals (or combinations of chemicals) found in many fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, and spices, which provide a health benefit, lower the risk of certain diseases, or affect a particular body process. They go beyond correcting diseases such as pellagra, caused by niacin deficiency, and scurvy, caused by ascorbic acid deficiency. Functional foods are akin to novel macro ingredients in that their formulation is intended to provide a health benefit to consumers. However, functional foods are designed to lower the risk of specific diseases by removing certain ingredients, by adding or combining ingredients not normally found in a food product, or by concentrating substances in higher than usual quantities. (1)
Nutraceutics and functional foods are often used interchangeably. The term nutraceutical is created by combining the word nutritional with pharmaceutical creating a concept of foods or components of foods (food actives) that have drug-like actions within the body. However, most often, nutraceutic would be used to describe an isolated, concentrated molecular extract, whereas, a functional food is used when describing whole foods or whole food concentrates. In other words, garlic can be described as a functional food because of its cholesterol-lowering effects, but standardized garlic extract (containing a specified amount of allicin compounds) would more likely be designated as a nutraceutical.
Currently there is considerable interest and research concerning the health benefits of dietary phytonutrients. The protective effects of diets rich in fruits and vegetables against cardiovascular disease, oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and certain cancers, are not due only to the antioxidant effects of the inherent Vitamin C, tocopherols, and carotenoids, but also groups of chemicals known as phenolic compounds, or phenols, and flavonoids, commonly referred to as bioflavonoids.
The several thousand polyphenols (poly meaning “many”) that have been describe in plants can be grouped into distinct classes, most of which are found in fruits. Distinction between these classes is on the basis of the number of carbon atoms and the basic skeletal structure of the molecule. (2)
Flavonoids are a group of fifteen carbon aromatic plant pigments found in all land-based green plants. As of today over 4,000 individual flavonoid compounds have been identified. They are further categorized into subgroups known as catechins, proanthocyanidins, flavonols, flavones, flavanones, anthocyanidins, and isoflavones. In plants, the flavonoids occur as pigments in flowers, fruits, bark, and roots. They also function as astringent parasite deterrents; because of their ability to absorb UV radiation, they protect the plant from harmful UV exposure; and because of their attractive colors, they act as visual signals for pollinating insects. (3) (4)
Let’s be honest. Very few of us consume diets that contain all of the nutrients required to prevent nutritionally related diseases, for example, atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, coronary disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Without supplementing our diets, very few of us are going to achieve optimal nutritional health. Even if we do keep the bad fats to a minimum, eat complete proteins, rid your diet of high glycemic carbohydrates, and eat, at least, three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit everyday as recommended by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we will find that many of us may still be seriously deficient in the nutrients required for ideal nutritional conditioning.
When addressing nutrients found in our plant foods, the levels depend on many factors, including the amount of sunlight, availability and quality of water, soil conditions, and the levels of nutrients found in the soil. The following is an excerpt taken from The Big Family Guide to All of the Minerals and is a reprint from The Complete Book of Minerals for Health by J.I. Rodale.
In a large part of America, extending from Maine across the top of the country toWashington, iodine deficiencies are widespread, particularly in Montana. There are also extensive areas where the soil is low in manganese, copper, and zinc. A lack of boron in plants is found along the Atlantic coastal plain, the northwest Pacific and also in Wisconsin. Manganese deficiencies are especially acute in Florida, and are also found in the muck soils of Michigan, the Atlantic coastal plain and California. A lack of copper is prevalent in the Great Lakes region, Washington, South Carolina, Florida and California. Recent studies indicate that trace element shortages are more extensive than previously thought, and some are growing even more pronounced because modern agricultural practices withdraw soil reserves without replacing them. (5)
Of course, the above paragraph refers only to mineral levels throughout the United States, but we can be sure, because of these agricultural practices, mentioned above, that our soils are also sorely deplete of vitamins and other essential nutrients as well.
After these nutritionally-deficient foods are supplied to manufacturers, they are then irradiated, processed, cooked, canned, frozen, and preserved thus destroying a major part of the few nutrients left.
Irradiation, for example, often up to 300,000 rads (equivalent to 30 million chest x-rays) destroys all of the B Vitamins, and decreases Vitamins A, C, and E. Twenty-two nutrients are decreased and 70% of all minerals are destroyed during the milling and bleaching processes of white flour. Three vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin) and one mineral (iron) are put back into the flour and called “enriched.” Cooking of over 140 degrees Fahrenheit destroys all of the naturally occurring enzymes, which would normally aid in the digestion of these foods, while some enzymes are destroyed with temperatures as low as 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Even freezing foods, because they are first blanched, destroys up to 44% of the Vitamin C in vegetables, as well as depleting levels of beta-carotene, folic acid, pantothenic acid, and, again, all of the naturally occurring enzymes.
Adding more burden to the body, along with these poor quality foods, manufacturers then add coloring agents, flavorings, and flavor enhancers, like MSG that has been implicated in “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), sodium nitrate, and sodium nitrite, which have been associated with various cancers in laboratory animals, are then added as preservatives. Various sulfites are also added as preservatives and function, as well, as bleaching and dough-conditioning agents. Sulfites are known to cause tightness in the chest, lowered blood pressure, abdominal cramping, hives, increased pulse rate, lightheadedness, weakness, and asthmatic attacks. Another issue that’s been thrown in our faces recently is the use of genetically altered plants that are able to thrive with increased levels of herbicides and insecticides. These poisons may soon be found in extremely high levels in our food supply.
The body requires very specific nutrients to break down and eliminate these potentially dangerous chemicals. Eating nutrient-deficient foods, and not supplementing with the proper nutrients, can cause dysfunction in the detoxification processes and allow these chemicals, and their more-potentially-dangerous metabolites, to re-circulate and often be stored throughout the body. They then, most often, function as free radicals that damage organs and tissues throughout the body leading to chronic disease and untimely death.
As you can see, nutrient supplementation is truly not the issue. The point of departure seems to be what type of supplementation is actually required, how much is necessary, and what is the best way to supply these nutrients. This leads us to the concept of whole food fruit and vegetable concentrates and extracts.
Growing plant research now tells us that the benefits from fruits and vegetables come, not only from the inherent vitamins and minerals, but also more importantly from a group of phytonutrients known as polyphenols, flavonoids, and plant enzymes. Almost daily announcements from the nutritional industry tell us that these compounds are able to function as powerful antioxidants and help to reduce the incidence of various forms of cancer, prevent cardiovascular disease, address free radical damage to the brain, help fight infections, stimulate immune function, and prevent chronic disease.
These phytonutrients are found only in the roots, stems, leaves, fruits, and seeds of plants. Many of these compounds have been researched as to their health benefits, but still most of them remain unidentified and unstudied. In researching some of these plant nutrients, I counted over 85 of them, thus far, that have been identified in Brussels sprouts, 223 identified in cabbage, 202 in parsley, and 210 in garlic. One plant researcher said that there could be as many as 10,000 chemicals in the tomato. Of course, only a fraction of these plant nutrients have been researched as to the human physiological responses. And please keep in mind that many of the beneficial qualities of plants are actually due to several different molecules working together in a harmonius fashion. And, as usual, a helpful medicine can become a harmful poison with the wrong dose. I’ve listed just a few of the phytonutrients with their sources and benefits below.
Isothiocyanate, Indoles, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Cancer-preventive (6)
& Sulforaphanes & cabbage Anti-tumor (7)
Allyl sulfides garlic & onion Anti-bacterial (8)
Lycopene tomato Anti-cancer (13)
water melon Anti-oxidant (14)
Carotenes carrot, kale, apricot, Anti-cancer (16)
& kiwi Anti-coronary (17)
P-Coumaric Acid tomato, parsley, Anti-hepatoxic (20)
strawberry, & kiwi Anti-oxidant (21)
Ellagic Acid strawberry, blueberry Anti-HIV (24)
Ferulic Acid plum, blueberry, Analgesic (30)
& pineapple Anti-cancer (31)
It’s been difficult to determine, however, which of these chemicals actually provides the health qualities since most of them work cooperatively with each other. Most often various fruit and vegetable nutrients work together to enhance the results of each of these chemicals far beyond their isolated or even added effects. In other words, the beneficial actions are multiplied or synergistic. The danger arises, however, when we isolate one phytochemical over another and possibly lose these synergistic effects, on one hand, and on the other, we create drug-like effects with potential adverse reactions, like sensitivity reactions, or dangerous side effects, such as fatal allergic reactions. By creating whole fruit and vegetable concentrates or extracting beneficial groups of synergistic plant nutrients, as compared to isolating one active ingredient, we are less likely to have adverse side effects. And by combining multiple vegetable or multiple fruit extracts together in one formula, we find a true synergism occurring between the wide variety of plant flavonoids and polyphenols.
I’m sure that most of us are familiar with the U.S. Department’s Food Guide Pyramid in which 3-5 servings of the vegetable group and 2-4 servings of the fruit group are recommended daily. Are you aware, however, that less than 10% of Americans eat 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables each day. Over 70% eat no fruits or vegetables rich in Vitamin C per day, 80% eat no fruits or vegetables rich in carotenoids per day, and 50% of Americans eat no vegetables at all!
By supplementing our diets with concentrated fruit and vegetable formulas, we can provide an entire complex of nutrients that are now missing in the typical American diet. And for those who do eat their fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, I would still challenge the fact that they’re getting all of the nutrients required in their diet because of the quality of today’s nutritionally-poor, over-processed foods. Whole food fruit and vegetable concentrates and extracts provide most, if not all, of the naturally occurring enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in a concentrated complex, and as such, would be the ideal supplement to anyone’s diet.