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Putnam: Raw fruits and vegetables provide health benefits

Longview News-Journal


One afternoon not long ago, I was cleaning out the storage building at my house and found a box that I had not unpacked. Amazing, because I have lived where I am now for almost three years.

As I was unpacking the box, I came across the required book for my nutrition class back when I was in college in 2005. Nutrition and pathophysiology were two of my favorite classes. Nutrition, because feeding the body is important as what we put into it, in return is what we get out of it. Pathophysiology is the study of disease and the process of disease in our body. If we do not feed and take care of our body, we are at higher risk for acquiring an illness.

The information that I want to share with you is from the fifth edition of "Personal Nutrition" by Marie A. Boyle and Sara Long Anderson: What are phytochemicals?

Phytochemicals are nonnutritive substances in plants that possess health-protective benefits. They are the compounds that give plants their brilliant colors. For example, lycopene makes tomatoes red and watermelon pink and allium compounds give us garlic breath. These natural compounds also protect plants from the ravages of overexposure to the sunlight and other environmental threats and insects.

Phytochemicals refer, in particular, to plant chemicals that might affect health and prevent disease. and they are found in fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, herbs and seeds. The naturally occurring phytochemicals are not vitamins, minerals or nutrients; they do not provide energy or building materials.

However, research shows that phytochemicals perform important functions by acting as powerful antioxidants, decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol, preventing cataracts, reducing menopause symptoms and preventing osteoporosis. There is also continual research on their role of blocking the formation of some cancers

So, always include fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, herbs and seeds in your meals. This is the perfect time to eat these with every meal.

Allyl sulfides in onions, garlic, chives, and leeks block the action of cancer-causing chemicals and offer heart protection by decreasing production of cholesterol by the liver.

Carotenoids in deeply colored fruits and vegetables act as antioxidants. Beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene are different varieties of carotenoids.

Beta-carotene is found in orange fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, winter squash, pumpkin, mango, cantaloupe and dark green vegetables like spinach, kale and turnip greens. These help reduce risk of many cancers and strengthen the immune system.

Lutein and zeaxanthin in pumpkin, summer squash, and dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach help keep your eyes healthy by protecting the retina from harmful radiation.

Lycopene in tomatoes, tomato products and watermelon, red grapefruit and red peppers help reduce the risk of prostate and other cancers.

Indoles in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip and Brussels sprouts stimulate enzymes that make the hormone estrogen less effective, possibly reducing breast cancer risk.

Isothiocyanates (most notably sulphoraphane) in broccoli, kale and other cruciferous vegetables help stimulate protective enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, bolstering the body's natural ability to ward off cancer.

Flavonoids and other phenols are found in fruits like apples, berries, cherries, citrus, grapes, pears and prunes. Whole grains, nuts, chocolate, black or green tea, eggplant, potato peel, red cabbage, celery, peppers, onions, soy and red wine act as antioxidants, decreasing inflammation, reducing plaque buildup in the arteries, increasing HDL cholesterol levels, deactivating carcinogens and inhibiting cancer development.

Monoterpenes such as limonene in citrus like fruits, juices, peels and oils act as antioxidants and increase production of enzymes that may help the body dispose of carcinogens.

As I review these phytochemicals, it reinforces the thoughts that we should be eating raw fruits and vegetables every day just to prevent cancer. Almost every one of them states some prevention of cancer.

Gregg County's AgriLife extension service provides information, classes and activities on gardening. For information, call the office at (903) 236-8429.

- Tami Putnam is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent for Gregg County.


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