This article is meant to get you familiar with the various beneficial compounds that are present in food. Many of these compounds have yet to be considered actual nutrients and are commonly unknown by most people. They are just a few of the thousands of natural substances within food that do wonders for health and have beneficial properties far beyond what we understand today. Everyday, more natural compounds are discovered that further our understanding of the importance of whole foods and their roles in optimum health.
Some of these compounds have become or are starting to become well known for their proven benefits. Below you will find five definitions of words that are probably new to most people. Knowing these words will help one understand the various concepts that have been created as a result of the furthering research into natural food compounds. Following the definitions is a list of what can be considered the "common" compounds. They are the ones that have had the most research and are generally the best known.
|Chemoprevention||Using one or several chemical compounds to prevent, stop, or reverse the development of cancer.|
|Designer Food||Processed foods that are supplemented with food ingredients naturally rich in disease-preventing substances.|
|Functional Food||Any modified food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains.|
|Pharmafood||Food or nutrient that claims medical or health benefits including the prevention and treatment of disease.|
|Phytochemical||Non-nutrient plant chemicals that contain protective disease-preventing compounds.|
Acidophilus: - Get Some
Also known as Lactobacillus Acidophilus, this is one of the many bacteria that are used to turn milk into yogurt through the process of fermentation. This friendly bacterium will aid digesting by increasing the amount of intestinal bacteria that are necessary for digestion. It helps create balance between good and bad bacteria therefore preventing infections caused by the fungus Candida albicans. It is often advised that you eat yogurt when on antibiotics since antibiotics indiscriminately kill off bacteria.
Alpha-Linolenic Acid: - Get Some
This omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid is found abundantly in flaxseed. It has been shown to inhibit the metabolism of linoleic, a fatty acid which is believed to speed up the rate at which certain cancer cells multiply.
Antioxidants: - Get Some
When such things as apples turn brown it is do to oxidation. Cover the exposed apple with some citrus juice and the vitamin C within the juice will prevent oxidation on the apple. The same is true within human cells. When oxygen molecules become unstable they form what are referred to as free radicals. These free radicals do damage do cells and are considered to be one of the culprits behind many different forms of cancer as well as premature aging. Antioxidants will either prevent the formation of free radicals or stop them from binding with other molecules. Some powerful antioxidants include vitamins C and E; carotenoids; selenium; zinc; manganese; and coenzyme glutathione (note: to elevate glutathione levels, supplement with NAC instead of straight glutathione as it has low assimilability).
Beta-Carotene: - Get Some
Beta-carotene is unique from other carotenoids in that it is a vitamin A precursor. It is a powerful antioxidant and can be found in dark leafy vegetables and fruits or veggies that have yellow or orange colors. Studies show that people who eat lots of beta-carotene suffer fewer incidences of many types of cancer and disease.
These substances also go by the name vitamin P and had researchers listened to the FDA, who deemed bioflavonoids worthless, we wouldn't know the power that they hold. Luckily, thanks to some renegade researchers, we are beginning to scrape the surface of what are proving to be very healthful nutrients. They have been shown to prevent the development of certain cancers, have strong anti-viral activity, and reduce inflammation caused by allergies.
This is the stuff that makes chili peppers nice and hot. It is a proven anti-inflammatory and treatment for cluster headaches. It provides beneficial effects on blood fats, lowering triglycerides and LDL. I have found capsaicin to be an excellent blood warmer (i.e. it promotes good circulation) and metabolic enhancer. Contrary to popular belief, spicy hot peppers do not cause ulcers or stomach problems but actually aid in digestion. If you do have a preexisting ulcer however, you should be wary of hot foods. According to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), peppers are a very yang food and may cause an energy imbalance if over consumed.
Carotenoids: - Get Some
A group of about 600 compounds found in fruits and vegetables. Many of these compounds are antioxidants, anti-carcinogens, and anti-cancers. Very few of the carotenoids have been investigated for health benefits but every new discovery proves their importance.
The bioflavonoids found in green tea and berries. A type of antioxidant as well as having been shown to reduce gastrointestinal cancer and viral infection, catechins are considered to be 300 percent more potent than regular antioxidants.
Coumarins are found in many fruits and vegetables (parsley, licorice, citrus fruit) and are natural blood thinner and anti-carcinogen. They also prevent blood clotting thereby protecting against heart disease and stroke.
Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli contain this compound which helps prevent breast cancer. The cruciferous indoles induce protective enzymes which deactivate estrogen thus stopping the growth of estrogen sensitive tumors.
Ellagic Acid: - Get Some
This compound is found in cherries, grapes, and strawberries and works by counteracting synthetic and naturally occurring carcinogens; hence preventing cancer.
Fiber: - Get Some
Although fiber does not provide nutrients, it plays an important role in the health of our bodies. First, there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber slows down the speed that food moves through the intestines and has been shown to lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber speeds up the rate that food moves through the intestines and has been shown to prevent many forms of cancer. Fiber seems to be able to bind to toxins in the body and remove them.
This compound is abundant in soy foods and is known to destroy some types of tumors by blocking the growth of new capillaries which supply blood.
Glutathione: - Get Some
This is a combination of the amino acids glutamate, glycine, and cysteine. A very potent antioxidant, glutathione is considered by some to be the most powerful anti-carcinogen in the body. It has been used to aid in the treatment of such ailments as allergies, cataracts, diabetes, hypoglycemia, arthritis, as well as aiding in the prevention of radiation therapy and chemotherapy side effects.
Part of the flavor in licorice, this compound has been shown to reduce tumors in mice.
Isoflavones: - Get Some
Compounds found in legumes which block estrogen receptors thereby preventing estrogen dependent tumor cell growth (like breast cancer). Isoflavones also deactivate estrogen before it can cause the growth of cancer cells.
Lignans: - Get Some
Ever heard of flax seed oil? Well, flax is one of the highest sources of lignans anywhere. Lignans reduce the growth of precancerous and cancerous cells and, like isoflavones, they deactivate estrogens that may stimulate cancer growth. Lignans also prevent the damage to cells caused by free radicals. I say get a good, cold-pressed, high particulate flax seed oil and drink it by the tablespoon.
A part of citrus oils, it has been shown to reduce the growth of mammary tumors in rats as well as inhibiting the formation of new tumors.
Lycopene: - Get Some
A carotenoid that gives foods like tomatoes, ruby red grapefruits, and red peppers their, you guessed it, red color. Most people know that lycopene is good for ensuring prostate health in men but it also helps prevent cervical cancer in women. Like other carotenoids, Lycopene protects against various cancers and has antioxidant properties.
Found in many fruits and vegetables, monoterpenes are quite potent antioxidants that will protect you from heart disease and cancers.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: - Get Some
Omega-3's come from two types of polyunsaturated fat known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids will be found primarily in phytoplankton, a type of aquatic plant, thus in fish like salmon, halibut, albacore tuna, bass, and sardines which feed on the phytoplankton. On land, we can get a very large amount of Omega-3's from flax seed oil. Here are some of the things Omega-3's do: protect against heart disease; reduce LDL cholesterol and blood triglycerides; blood thinner thus reducing blood cots that lead to heart attack and stroke; anti-inflammatory; protect against various cancers; decrease number and size of tumors.
This is one form of soluble fiber that is found in foods with pulp such as oranges and apples. Pectin is good at lowering cholesterol and preventing heart disease. Research suggests that pectin from citrus fruits may be able to prevent cancer possibly by keeping malignant cancer cells from binding together thus entering metastases.
Also known as phenols, they are available in many types of food including garlic, soybean, flaxseed, citrus, and green tea to name a few. Also, they work as antioxidants and neutralize carcinogens such as nitrosamines which are formed when nitrates from foods (such as cured meats like bacon and ham, and processed meats like hotdogs, sausage, and lunch meats.) combine with specific naturally occurring enzymes within the stomach. Phenolic acids also encourage production of the potent antioxidant and detoxifier, glutathione.
Working to deactivate steroidal hormones that promote tumors, phytates can be found in soybeans and cereal grains. But before you go and consume large amounts of soybeans for those useful phytates keep in mind that too many can hinder the absorption of certain minerals like calcium. Remember, moderation is the key.
To get these compounds you are going to want to eat those umbelliferous vegetables (carrots, celery, parsnips, etc). What they do is mediate prostaglandins which can aid in the growth of tumors. Polyacetylenes also destroy a quite lethal carcinogen known as benzopyrene.
Being a bodybuilder it is hard to consider the fact that too much protein may promote certain types of cancer. Protease inhibitors work by not allowing protein to be digested through blocking the action of enzymes chymotrypsin and trypsin. In the earliest stages of cancer, protease inhibitors thwart the conversion of normal cells to malignant cells.
Psoralens increase the skins sensitivity to light and may be useful in the treatment of lymphoma. Psoralens can be found fruits and vegetables like celery, lettuce, lemons, and limes.
When combined with vitamin C, the bioflavonoid Quercetin may exhibit antiviral properties as well as deactivating numerous powerful carcinogens and tumor promoters. Quercetin may be found in abundance in red and yellow onions and shallots.
Helping to prevent cancer by inhibiting cancer, quinones are found chiefly in rosemary.
Of heard of the "French Paradox"? It is suggested that it is this compound that allows the French to have a relatively high intake of fat and yet a low incidence of atherosclerosis. For those of you who get lots of concord grapes-possibly from red wine or grape juice-you are getting a powerful compound known as resveratrol which, among other things, has been shown to prevent coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis) in animals thus possibly humans. On top of that it may be a good an antioxidant of variable potency.
Have been shown to have protective effects against certain cancers, retinoids are a grouping of similar compounds (including vitamin A) found in foods of animal origin.
Sulfides do a number of good things. First, these compounds are found in garlic and cruciferous vegetables. They deactivate steroidal hormones which promote tumor growth, hamper carcinogens and enzymes that may cause cancer, and are also believed to reduce blood pressure and instances of heart attack and stroke.
Believed to be a significant weapon against cancer, sulforaphane is found in broccoli, hale, and green onions among other vegetables. The compound protects healthy cells by enhancing the action of enzymes that keep carcinogens from doing damage.
Remember that although some of these compounds can now be found in the form of various supplements, there full action in conjunction with the compounds that surround them in whole food is not fully known. With this in mind, it might be wise to not rely on supplements as your sole source of these powerful compounds. However, supplements provide a reliable source or insurance of a particular compound when access to real food is limited.