To Your Health
July, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 07)
Most importantly, superfoods pack a powerful, knock-out punch to free radicals - unstable and harmful molecules generated from our environment - before they can cause damage to our body cells, tissues and organs.
Free radicals are generated from normal body metabolism, but excess amounts stem from pollution in our air, water and food (stress, medications, fried foods, cigarette smoke, etc.). Antioxidants mop up free radicals and render them harmless. Superfoods contain mega doses of antioxidants that are primarily stored in the plant pigments, which give each plant its distinctive color. These pigments possess potent antioxidants with health benefits that help our body systems work more efficiently and avoid disease.
Interestingly, some of the most promising superfoods have been discovered by studying ancient beliefs about indigenous plants from around the world. These ancient foods are now getting the full attention of modern research scientists. For example, acai berries (pronounced ah-sah-e), a purple berry from the rainforests of Brazil, are one of the world's richest sources of a group of antioxidants called anthocyanins. Scientists have demonstrated anthocyanins' broad spectrum of cancer-fighting properties. The purple power in acai berries also shows great promise in fighting inflammation, increasing sex drive and protecting the brain from free-radical damage.
Turmeric, a traditional spice of Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, contains a plant compound called curcumin, which gives this spice its intense yellow color. Research suggests that curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties equal to cortisone; lowers cholesterol while protecting the liver (in contrast to cholesterol-lowering drugs); prevents blood clotting; and is a powerful anticancer agent.
One of the newest superfoods is the mangosteen fruit, an exotic Asian fruit with a deep purple color. Dr. Douglas Kinghorn and his team of scientists at Ohio State University have found that "the antioxidants in mangosteen are incredibly potent." Dr. Kinghorn says, "If you drink a small amount of mangosteen juice, it will have a positive effect in terms of cancer protection." Mangosteen contains xanthones, powerful antioxidants that combat inflammation and free radicals.
Goji berries, another rising superfood, are grown in the nutrient-rich soil of the Himalayas and have been used for thousands of years as a food and a medicine. Dr. Perricone, author of The Perricone Prescription, says that goji berries may be the only food that stimulates the production of human growth hormone, the "anti-aging hormone."
Pomegranate, the ancient fruit mentioned in Greek mythology, the Bible and the Koran, may have its origins in the ancient world, but modern science is now extolling its miraculous virtues. Scientists at the Rambam Medical Center in Israel have demonstrated that the sugars found in pomegranate juice protect against hardening of the arteries - a major cause of diabetes and heart disease. And there's a lot of good science that touts pomegranates' protective benefit against cancer, particularly prostate cancer.
Milk thistle is a remarkably safe plant that has been used for thousands of years as a food and medicine. Modern research has proven that the potent antioxidant silymarin in milk thistle is a powerful liver protector against toxins in the environment. Research has demonstrated that milk thistle and its constituents are able to regenerate the liver by producing new liver cells. New and exciting research indicates that milk thistle may be helpful in treating neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease. Smita Kittur, MD, reporting at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, said, "Surprisingly, we found that milk thistle extract not only helped the nerve cells to grow more neurites [branches of nerve cells necessary for their normal function and that aid in the regeneration of new cells], but it also kept the nerve cells alive longer."