Food as Medicine: Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus, Cucurbitaceae)

History and Traditional Use


Range and Habitat

The watermelon is the largest edible fruit grown in the United States: an annual trailing plant with fruits that can grow from 5-50 pounds and vines that can reach up to 20’ in length. Each fruit forms from a yellow flower, and the spherical or ovoid fruit is typically smooth and green or green with lighter banded stripes. The watermelon is native to the Kalahari Desert in Africa, and it thrives in well-draining, sandy soil. Currently, watermelons are cultivated all over the world, with Asia producing 60% of watermelons globally. The United States ranks fifth in global watermelon production. Forty-four states grow watermelons, including Texas, Florida, Georgia, and California, which collectively produce 2/3 of all the watermelons domestically.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Watermelon contains an array of important vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, potassium, and beta-carotene. Watermelon also contains the important bioactive compounds citrulline and lycopene. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and anti-cancer agent. Watermelon’s vitamin C content may be linked to reducing blood pressure, as does its smaller amounts of vitamins B6 and E. The human body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which promotes healthy eyes, a strong immune system, and healthy skin. Vine fruits like watermelon are a good source of potassium, a crucial electrolyte for nerve and muscle function. Potassium is an essential nutrient as the body ages, as it decreases high blood pressure and reduces the risk of kidney stones, stroke, and bone density loss.

Citrulline is a precursor to the amino acid arginine and is involved in the process of removing nitrogen from the blood and eliminating it through urine. Arginine is a precursor for the synthesis of nitric oxide in the body, which is a vasodilator (blood vessel-widening agent). Conditions that benefit from vasodilation, such as cardiovascular diseases, erectile dysfunction, and headaches may benefit from increased arginine intake. Arginine also helps the body make protein, which boosts muscle growth, enhances wound healing, combats fat accumulation, and stimulates the immune system.

Though the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is more well-known as a source for lycopene (and in fact, its name is derived from lycopersicum), lycopene is a carotenoid found in many red foods, including watermelon, papaya (Carica papaya), pink grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi), and red carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus). A powerful antioxidant, lycopene may help prevent heart disease and has shown a potent ability to protect the body from “free radicals,” which may play a role in the development of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and many cancers. Lycopene may also boost sperm counts and lower the risk of prostate cancer.

Historical and Commercial Uses

Though native to the African Kalahari desert, where the watermelon gourd was often used as a canteen, the cultivation of watermelon spread quickly, and other cultures adopted it as a beneficial, healing food. Ancient Egyptians used watermelon to treat reproductive problems such as erectile dysfunction and prostate inflammation. The peoples of Russia and Central Asia used watermelon as a diuretic and to cleanse the blood. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, watermelon is considered cooling and moistening, producing a diuretic effect, and commonly is used to treat thirst, edema, and inflammation of the kidney and urinary tracts.18 Because watermelon is 92% water, many traditional uses of watermelon overlap with current uses, including hydration, cleansing, and eliminating impurities. Since watermelon is digested relatively quickly, the folk traditions of the Papua New Guinea aborigines known as Onabasulu advised against eating watermelon and other juicy fruits after a heavy meal or if suffering from a stomachache.

African cuisine treats the watermelon as a vegetable and uses the entire fruit: seeds, rinds, and flesh. The seeds are eaten as snacks added to dishes or ground into flour for use in baked goods. The rind can be stir-fried, stewed, candied, pickled, or grilled. The flesh is eaten or juiced, but it can also be fermented into alcohol; in the southern part of Russia, the juice is combined with hops to make beer.

Modern Research

The traditional uses for watermelon as a medicine are beginning to gain scientific confirmation, particularly in regards to its applications against erectile dysfunction, dehydration, kidney disease, and anti-aging concerns. Watermelon’s antioxidant and nutrient content defend against many different conditions.

Current research shows that citrulline in watermelons has beneficial effects on the heart, dilating the blood vessels and improving blood flow. In one clinical study, obese participants with pre-high blood pressure or stage-one high blood pressure significantly reduced their ankle and brachial systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, mean arterial pressure, and carotid wave reflection with ingestion of citrulline from watermelons. A review of consumption of citrulline from watermelon demonstrated improvements in glycemic control and circulatory problems in diabetics, a reduction in cardiovascular risk factors, and increased levels of arginine, an essential amino acid. Because arginine is involved in maintaining the health of the reproductive, pulmonary, renal, gastrointestinal, hepatic, and immune systems, citrulline is of increasing interest in the realm of scientific study. Studies show that citrulline is more bioavailable in the body than arginine, making it a better candidate for arginine deficiency diseases such as renal carcinoma, chronic inflammatory diseases, or blood cell diseases like sickle cell anemia and malaria. Citrulline research also has shown promising results of becoming a biomarker for bowel problems of the small intestine as well as kidney failure.13

Lycopene’s powerful antioxidant properties have been shown to reduce the risks of prostate, lung, gastric, and colorectal cancers. However, due to its antioxidant effect, it seems to interfere with chemo and radiation therapy. In addition to being an antioxidant, lycopene has been shown to be heart-protective and lowers LDL cholesterol. In one study, lycopene ingestion showed a reduction in the risk of stroke, especially ischemic strokes in men. Finally, lycopene has been linked to a reduction in cardiovascular risks.

Nutrient Profile


Macronutrient Profile
(Per 1 cup diced watermelon [approx. 152 g]):

46 calories
1 g protein
11.5 g carbohydrate
0.2 g fat

Secondary Metabolites (Per 1 cup diced watermelon [approx. 152 g]):

Excellent source of:

Vitamin C: 12.3 mg (20.5% DV)
Vitamin A: 865 IU (17.3% DV)

Very good source of:

Potassium: 170 mg (4.9% DV)

Also provides:

Magnesium: 15 mg (3.8% DV)
Vitamin B-6: 0.07 mg (3.5% DV)
Thiamin: 0.05 mg (3.3% DV)
Vitamin E: 0.08 mg (3% DV)
Manganese: 0.06 mg (3% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g (2.4% DV)
Iron: 0.4 mg (2.2% DV)
Phosphorus: 17 mg (1.7% DV)
Folate: 5 mcg (1.3% DV)
Calcium: 11 mg (1.1% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.


Recipe: Pickled Watermelon Rinds

Adapted from Bon Appétit


For an equally delicious condiment without the wait, use these ingredients to make watermelon rind chutney: increase sugar to 1 ½ cups, water to 1 cup, and finely mince the ginger. Bring all ingredients to a boil in a large pan, then simmer for 45-60 minutes until the rind is translucent and tender and the liquid reduces and thickens. Remove whole spices before serving.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs of watermelon
  • 1 serrano chili, thinly sliced, seeds removed if desired
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2-star anise pods
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

Directions:

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the tough green outer rind from watermelon; discard.
  2. Slice watermelon into 1”-thick slices. Cut away all but 1/4” of flesh from each slice; reserve flesh for another use. Cut rind into 1” pieces for roughly 4 cups of the rind.
  3. Bring chili, ginger, star anise, salt, peppercorns, sugar, vinegar, and 1/2 cup of water to a boil in a large, non-reactive saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.
  4. Add watermelon rind. Reduce heat and simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, setting a small lid or plate directly on top of rind to keep submerged in brine, if needed.
  5. Transfer rind and liquid to an airtight container; cover and chill at least 12 hours.

“Low-Content” Nutritional Claims on Packaged Goods Misleading for Consumers

No fat, no sugar, no salt? What does it mean? Today, supermarket shelves are filled with products that make a variety of claims related to their perceived health benefits. As many Americans try to make better food choices, companies have been quick to adopt packaging that makes “low-content” nutrient claims such as “low-fat” or “low-sodium.” Because there is no uniformity to what these statements mean, consumers are often left confused and ill-informed. A new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that simply making a low-content claim on the label was not a reliable indicator of a product’s actual nutritional quality and that these claims may give consumers a false sense of confidence about the healthfulness of their food.

Investigators wanted to examine what effects these low-content claims had on purchasing habits, as well as what relationship they had to the actual nutritional content of foods. After looking at data that included over 80 million food and beverage purchases from over 40,000 households, they found that 13% of food and 35% of beverage purchases had a low-content claim, and that “low-fat” was the most common claim, followed by “low-calorie,” “low-sugar,” and “low-sodium.” While the data revealed that products with some sort of claim had lower mean energy, total sugar, total fat, and sodium densities, they did not always represent the best nutritional value. The study suggests that because labels only need to make claims relative to other similar foods and not a standard definition of what “low” means, these claims do not offer consumers any real information or give a good indication of the general healthiness of the food.

“Our results demonstrate that for overall packaged foods and beverages, purchases featuring a low-/no-nutrients claim do not necessarily offer better overall nutritional profiles or even better profiles for the particular nutrients that are the subject of the claim, relative to other choices with no claim,” explained lead investigator Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD, researcher assistant professor, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “This is likely due in part to “low” or “reduced” claims being relative within brands or specific food categories.”

Because there is, for example, no agreement about what constitutes a low-sugar cookie, researchers say consumers need to be cautious. A cookie that is marked “low-sugar” may contain less sugar than the “regular” version, but that low-sugar claim doesn’t guarantee it contains less sugar than other cookies. “In other words,” remarked Dr. Taillie, “a low-/no-nutrient claim means different things for different foods. This could potentially lead to confusion if consumers focus on seeking out products with specific nutrient claims or use a claim to justify the purchase of less-healthy foods. In fact, these results suggest (but are not conclusive) that in some cases, products that tend to be high in calories, sodium, sugar, or fat actually may be more likely to have low-/no-content claims.”

While the study focused on whether these claims had any connection to the actual nutritional value of the food and beverage items, investigators also looked at the groups who were more likely to purchase foods that made these statements. They found that while differences in purchasing patterns by race/ethnicity were not significant, non-Hispanic white households were the most likely to buy products with a “low-calorie” claim and that Asian households preferred foods with “low-fat” or “low-sodium” claims. Non-Hispanic black households were the least likely to purchase food groups with any low-content claim.

There was also a connection between socioeconomic status (SES) and food purchases. Researchers found that high- and middle-SES households were more likely to purchase food and beverages with low-content claims.

As consumers try to navigate an ever-increasing number of food and beverage choices, being able to parse what these claims mean will become even more critical. These findings show how the lack of consistency about what these statements mean can lead content claims to be used to sell generally unhealthy foods as a healthier alternative. “A key question for future research will be to examine how these claims affect consumer choice, as well as how claims interact with other common strategies, like sales or price promotions, to influence purchasing behavior and ultimately, dietary quality,” concluded Dr. Taillie.

This work was conducted at the Duke-UNC USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research (BECR) and funded by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Article: No Fat, No Sugar, No Salt . . . No Problem? Prevalence of “Low-Content” Nutrient Claims and Their Associations with the Nutritional Profile of Food and Beverage Purchases in the United States, Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD, Shu Wen Ng, PhD, Ya Xue, PhD, Emily Busey, MPH, RD, Matthew Harding, PhD, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2017.01.011, published online 15 March 2017.

Food as Medicine: Grapes (Vitis vinifera, Vitaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Vitis vinifera means “the vine that bears wine” and belongs to the Vitaceae family. Grapes are perennial climbers that have coiled tendrils and large leaves. They contain clusters of flowers that mature to produce small, round, and juicy berries that can be either green (“white”) or red.1 There are seed and seedless varieties, although the seeds are edible and packed with nutrition. The juice, pulp, skin, and seed of the grape can be used for various preparations.2

Grapes are a vine and must be trained to grow along a fence, wall, or arbor.3 The fruit does not ripen after harvesting; therefore, it is important to harvest well-colored and plump berries that are wrinkle-free and still firmly attached to the vine. They are best stored in the refrigerator since freezing will decrease their flavor.1,4 Pesticide use is common in vineyards, and careful washing is recommended when purchasing conventionally grown grapes.

As one of the leading commercial fruit crops in the world in terms of tons produced, grapes are cultivated all over the world in temperate regions. The top producers are Italy, France, Spain, the United States, Mexico, and Chile.1,5 Annually, worldwide grape production reaches an average of 60 million metric tons, 5.2 million of which are grown in the United States.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Antioxidants are enzymes and nutrients that prevent oxidation, meaning they neutralize highly reactive ions or molecules known as free radicals in the human body by donating electrons or modulating enzymes that metabolize free radicals. Free radicals are produced naturally through metabolism as part of normal physiological functions (e.g., a defense mechanism against pathogens), but may be produced in excess, creating a situation where they adversely alter lipids, proteins, and DNA, and trigger a number of human diseases. Grape and grape products are good sources of beneficial antioxidant compounds.

Grapes contain phytochemicals called polyphenols. Polyphenols are the most abundant source of dietary antioxidants and are associated with numerous health benefits.2,6 The phenolic compounds are more concentrated in the skin of the berry, rather than in the flesh or seeds, and the content tends to increase as the fruit ripens. Grapes contain polyphenols from the classes of flavonoids, stilbenes, and phenolic acids. Red wine and grapes are rich in flavonoids such as anthocyanins and catechins, stilbenes such as resveratrol, and phenolic acids such as caffeic acid and coumaric acid. Red grapes have higher concentrations of these phenolic compounds than red wine grapes. Different grape varietals contain varying amounts of phenolic compounds.

Anthocyanins are flavonoids that naturally occur in the plant kingdom and give many plants their red, purple, or blue pigmentation. Vitis vinifera may contain up to 17 anthocyanin pigments, which are contained in the skins.2,7 Grapes also contain other flavonoids, including catechins, epicatechin, and proanthocyanidins. Attempts to study the benefits of individual phytochemicals in humans has been difficult since these phytochemicals are complex and often interact with one another to increase their overall benefits.

There are numerous studies using animal models in phytochemical research.8 Animal models have shown that anthocyanins protect against oxidative stress, which can be the beginning stages of many chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Grape seeds are a particularly rich source of proanthocyanidins, a class of nutrients belonging to the flavonoid family. Proanthocyanidins, also known as condensed tannins, are polymers (naturally occurring large molecules) with flavan-3-ol monomers as building blocks. The term oligomeric proanthocyanidin(OPC), which also is commonly used to describe these compounds, is not well-defined and is debated among various members of the scientific community.

Grape seed extract is available as a nutritional supplement. Partially purified proanthocyanidins have been used in phytomedicinal preparations in Europe for their purported activity in decreasing the fragility and permeability of the blood vessels outside the heart and brain.9

Grapes have a high stilbene, specifically resveratrol, content. Resveratrol, which is found in the skin and seeds of red grapes as well as in red wine, is produced as the plant’s defense mechanism against environmental stressors.1,2,10,11 Resveratrol first gained attention as a possible explanation for the “French Paradox” — the observation that French people tend to have a low incidence of heart disease despite having a typically high-fat diet.1 The antioxidant activity of grapes is strongly correlated with the amount of resveratrol found in the grape.10 Studies have found resveratrol to be anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and cardioprotective in animal models.11 However, in a human study in which healthy adults consumed resveratrol, it was determined that the compound was readily absorbed, but it metabolized quickly, leaving only trace amounts.12

In addition to their high resveratrol content, grapes are also an excellent source of vitamin K and provide moderate amounts of potassium, vitamin C, and B vitamins.

Historical and Commercial Uses

Grapes have been consumed since prehistoric times and were one of the earliest domesticated fruit crops.1,13According to ancient Mediterranean culture, the “vine sprang from the blood of humans who had fought against the gods.”14 But according to archaeological evidence, domestication took place about 5,000 years ago somewhere between the Caspian and Black Seas and spread south to modern-day Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt before moving towards Europe.5,13 After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, when Christianity became dominant, wine was associated with the Church and the monasteries soon perfected the process of making wine.1

About 300 years ago, Spanish explorers introduced the grape to what is now the United States, and California’s temperate climate proved to be an ideal place for grape cultivation.1

The grape is, famously, the most common ingredient in wine-making. A naturally-occurring symbiotic yeast grows on the grapes, making them easier to ferment and well-suited to the wine-making process.4 Popular wine cultivars of V. vinifera include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, and Viognier.10

Wine often has been used as a medium for herbal remedies, due to the solvent nature of the alcohol. Both the Chinese and Western traditions made use of medicated wines (though ancient recipes in China, which date to the Shang Dynasty [ca 1600-1046 BCE], would have been made with rice [Oryza sativa, Poaceae] wine rather than grape wine).15 Many aperitifs and liqueurs originally were digestive aids made with wine and fortified with herbs such as wormwood (Artemisia absinthium, Asteraceae) and anise seed (Pimpinella anisum, Apiaceae).16 Medicated wines are less potent and usually require a higher dosage than tinctures made with higher-proof alcohol.

Grapes are generally sweet and are used as table grapes, juice, jam, jelly, or for wine-making.13,17 About 99% of the world’s wine comes from V. vinifera.14 Grapes can also be dried in the vineyard and turned into raisins. To accomplish this, ripe grapes are plucked from the vine and placed on paper trays for two to four weeks. Afterward, they are sent to the processing plant to be cleaned, packaged, and shipped.5

Modern Research

Grapes have been the subject of numerous studies focused on many of their bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, stilbenes, and phenolic acids. Researchers have observed antioxidant, anti-tumor, immune modulatory, anti-diabetic, anti-atherogenic, anti-infectious, and neuroprotective properties of the fruit.11 Research suggests that grape product consumption could possibly benefit those with cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which are among the leading causes of death worldwide.18 However, more human studies are needed to support any of these purported benefits.

An in vitro study showed that antioxidants from a variety of grape product extracts performed as well as or better than BHT, tocopherol, and Trolox in radical scavenging activity, metal chelating activity, and inhibition of lipid peroxidation.7 Water and ethanol seed extracts had the highest amount of phenolic compounds of any of the extracts used in the study.

Grape seed extract (GSE), which has a growing body of study behind it, has gained attention for its possible use in lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease, especially in pre-hypertensive populations.19 Unlike grape skins, where only red grapes contain anthocyanins, seeds from both white and red grape contain beneficial compounds. A standardized GSE made from white wine grapes recently was studied for its effects on gastrointestinal inflammation.20 While most studies focus on GSE and cardiovascular health, the preliminary results were promising enough to warrant a future human trial.

Cardiovascular Disease

Polyphenols have been found to protect the body from inflammation, which is common in people with heart disease.11 In a recent meta-analysis, the acute effects of polyphenols on the endothelium (inner lining of the blood vessels) were investigated. The analysis found that blood vessel function significantly improved in healthy adults in the initial two hours after consuming grape polyphenols.21 Another analysis found that the polyphenol content in every part of the grape — fruit, skin, and seed — had cardioprotective effects.22In animal, in vitro, and limited human trials, grapes showed beneficial actions against oxidative stress, atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in arteries), high blood pressure, and ventricular arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

Cancer Chemopreventive Effects

Although the causes of and treatments for cancer are complex and multifaceted, studies have been done on the antioxidant activity of polyphenols and their cancer chemopreventive effects. These antioxidants demonstrate the ability to protect the body from cancer-causing substances and to prevent tumor cell growth by protecting DNA and regulating natural cell death.8,11,23

Diabetes

In a randomized, double-blind controlled clinical study, healthy overweight/obese first-degree relatives to type 2 diabetic patients were given grape polyphenols to counteract a high-fructose diet. After nine weeks of supplementation, grape polyphenols protected against fructose-induced insulin resistance.24 In another study, diabetic patients who consumed a dealcoholized Muscadine grape wine had reduced fasting insulin levels and increased insulin resistance.25

 

Nutrient Profile26

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 150 g [approx. 1 cup] grapes)

 

104 calories

1.1 g protein

27.3 g carbohydrate

0.2 g fat

 

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 150 g [approx. 1 cup] grapes)

 

Excellent source of:

Vitamin K: 22 mcg (27.5% DV)

 

Good source of:

Potassium: 288 mg (8.2% DV)

Vitamin C: 4.8 mg (8% DV)

Thiamin: 0.1 mg (6.7% DV)

Riboflavin: 0.1 mg (5.9% DV)

Dietary Fiber: 1.4 g (5.6% DV)

Manganese: 0.1 mg (5.5% DV)

Vitamin B6: 0.1 mg (5% DV)

 

Also provides:

Phosphorus: 30 mg (3% DV)

Magnesium: 11 mg (2.8% DV)

Iron: 0.5 mg (2.8% DV)

Vitamin A: 100 IU (2% DV)

Niacin: 0.3 mg (1.5% DV)

Vitamin E: 0.3 mg (1.5% DV)

 

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

 

Recipe: Rosemary-Roasted Grapes and Cashew Cheese Crostini

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
  • 1 pound seedless red grapes, washed and removed from stem
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small baguette or other loaf, sliced diagonally in 1/4 inch thick slices

Directions:

  1. Soak cashews in enough water to cover by an inch for at least 4 hours. Drain.

  2. Make cashew “cheese” by placing soaked cashews, garlic, water, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and salt into a food processor and blend until smooth.

  3. Heat oven to 400°F. In a baking dish, mix grapes, olive oil, remaining lemon juice, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Place on center rack and roast 10-12 minutes or until skins are soft. Remove and set aside.

  4. Move the oven rack to the top setting and increase the heat to broil. Arrange bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in oven to toast for 1-3 minutes, monitoring carefully to prevent burning.

  5. Assemble crostini by spreading each toast with a layer of cashew cheese and topping with the grape mixture. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Serve warm.

References

  1. Murray MT, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  2. Yang J, Xiao YY. Grape phytochemicals and associated health benefits. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2013;53:1202-1225.
  3. Damrosch B. Grapes. In: The Garden Primer: Second Edition. New York, NY: Workman Publishing; 2008:353-359.
  4. Wood R. The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Resource for Healthy Eating. New York, NY: Penguin Books; 1999.
  5. Ensminger AH, Ensminger ME, Konlande JE. The Concise Encyclopedia of Foods & Nutrition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1995.
  1. Tiwari B, Brunton NP, Brennan CS. Handbook of Plant Food Phytochemicals. London, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2013.
  1. Keser S, Celik S, and Turkoglu S. Total phenolic contents and free-radical scavenging activities of grape (Vitis vinifera L.) and grape products. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2013;64(2):210-216.
  1. Lila MA. Anthocyanins and human health: An in vitro investigative approach. J Biomed Biotechnol.2004;2004(5):306-313.
  1. Yamakoshi J, Saito M, Kataoka S, Kikuchi M. Safety evaluation of a proanthocyanidin-rich extract from grape seeds. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2002;40:599-607.
  1. Burin VM, Ferreira-Lima NE, Panceri CP, Bordignon-Luiz MT. Bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity of Vitis vinifera and Vitis labrusca grapes: Evaluation of different extraction methods. Microchemical Journal. 2014;114:155-163.
  1. Yadav M, Jain S, Bhardwaj A, et al. Biological and medicinal properties of grapes and their bioactive constituents: An update. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2009;12(3):473-484.
  1. Walle T, Hsieh F, DeLegge MH, Oatis JE, Walle K. High absorption but very low bioavailability of oral resveratrol in humans. Drug Metabolism and Disposition. 2004;32(12):1377-1382.
  1. Myles S, Boyko AR, Owens CL, et al. Genetic structure and domestication history of the grape. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America. 2011;108(9):3530-3535.
  1. McGovern PE. Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 2007.
  1. Chan K, Cheung L. Interactions Between Chinese Herbal Medicinal Products and Orthodox Drugs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2000.
  1. Hoffmann D. The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions; 1998.
  1. Onstad D. Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing; 2004.
  1. The top 10 causes of death – fact sheet no. 310. World Health Organization website. May 2014. Available here. Accessed November 23, 2015.
  1. Park E, Edirisinghe I, Choy YY, Waterhouse A, Burton-Freeman B. Effects of grape seed extract beverage on blood pressure and metabolic indices in individuals with pre-hypertension: a randomized, double-blinded, two-arm, parallel, placebo-controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2015;16:1-13.
  1. Starling S. White wine extract shows gastro benefits in vitro. Clinics planned for 2016. NutraIngredients-USA website. November 12, 2015. Available here. Accessed November 19, 2015.
  1. Li SH, Tian HB, Zhao HJ, Chen LH, Cui LQ. The acute effects of grape polyphenols supplementation on endothelial function in adults. PLOS ONE. 2013;8(7):e69818.
  1. Leifert WR, Abeywardena MY. Cardioprotective actions of grape polyphenols. Nutrition Research. 2008;28:729-737.
  1. Waffo-Téguo P, Hawthorne ME, Cuendet M, et al. Potential cancer chemopreventive activities of wine stilbenoids and flavans extracted from grape (Vitis vinifera) cell cultures. Nutrition and Cancer. 2001;40(2):173-179.
  1. Hokayem M. Grape polyphenols prevent fructose-induced oxidative stress and insulin resistance in first-degree relatives of type 2 diabetic patients. Diabetes Care. 2013;36:1455-1461.
  1. Banini AE, Boyd LG, Allen JG, Allen HG, Sauls DL. Muscadine grape products intake, diet and blood constituents of non-diabetic and type 2 diabetic subjects. Nutrition. 2006;22:1137-45.
  2. Basic Report: 09132, Grapes, red or green (European type, such as Thompson seedless), raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Available here. Accessed November 19, 2015.

What’re the Best Probiotic Sources for Vegans?

Your gut is home to good and bad bacteria, and maintaining that balance is more important than you think. Sure, maybe you already know taking probiotics (the “good” bacteria) can promote healthy digestion, but did you know recent studies suggest even more positives, like an immune system boost and mental health support?  If you’re feeling a little run down and you’re not sure why maybe probiotics could help.

Vegan Probiotic Sources

But how can you get those probiotics from a vegan diet? Because veganism cuts out all animal products, proper nutrition—especially for the new vegan—can be tricky. If you’re planning on getting your probiotics from food sources, there are some options out there that aren’t exactly vegan-friendly. For example, a dairy-based yogurt is no longer an option; however, you can always make or buy your own live-cultured non-dairy yogurt. Coconut milk yogurt is becoming more common in the grocery stores today, and are a much better option (health-wise) than soy-based yogurts.

Here are some vegan foods that you can try right now that are also high in naturally-occurring probiotics:

Pickled/Fermented Vegetables

A well-known choice is certainly the traditional pickle, but any vegetable that’s been pickled or fermented with bacterial cultures (in addition to salt and spices) can be a great probiotic source. Kimchi, for example, is an excellent probiotic choice for this reason. Always keep in mind, though, pickled and fermented vegetables can contain high levels of sodium.

Kombucha Tea

Fermented from black tea, kombucha also has sugar, yeast, and—you guessed it—probiotics. It’s a popular item in stores right now, but always be sure you’re looking for a product that’s been tested; this helps rule out the presence of “bad” bacteria.

Fermented Soy Products

Most of you have probably heard of fermented soy products like miso and tempeh. And as many sources of B-12 are in non-plant based foods, many vegans might find it difficult to get enough of the vitamin. Tempeh, an excellent substitute for tofu, is also a reliable source of B12.

One Final Thought

As one of the healthiest diet options, veganism can be extremely rewarding for your health. A poorly planned vegan diet, however, can definitely be nutritionally deficient. Finding reliable probiotic sources—like the ones listed above—can help with that, as can a good vegan supplement.

A daily probiotic supplement is a reliable way to get consistent probiotic support. Currently, I recommend and use two different products: Latero-Flora which is the B.O.D. Bacillus Laterosporus strain and a more advanced formula, Floratrex, which contains active cultures from 23 different probiotic strains. Either of these is a solid choice and I’ve been extremely satisfied with them both.

9 Best Fermented Foods for Your Gut

Fermented food has made a comeback in recent years, partially thanks to the popularization of Weston A. Price teachings. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi aren’t considered to be the most appealing types of food; however, research exploring these and other fermented products on gut, brain, and body health has revitalized public interest. The fermentation process encourages essential bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria to flourish. This makes fermentation a good source of probiotics for vegans since many fermented foods are plant based. Vegetables are submerged in a salty brine during preparation to kill off dangerous, pathogenic bacteria. The good bacteria break down lactose and other sugars and starches in the food, making digestion easier. And once they reach your gut, they continue to help break down food and keep out bad guys like E. coli and C. difficile.

The Best Fermented Foods

When it comes to fermented foods, your options aren’t limited to sauerkraut or fermented soy. There are other fantastic options that are considered “fermented,” including tea, yogurt, and various vegetables. Here are 9 fermented foods you should include in your gut.

1. Yogurt

Yogurt has many benefits, mostly due to its rich probiotic content. Brands of yogurt that contain billions of live active cultures may support digestion, and some research indicates it could even benefit the skin. Raw, unpasteurized yogurt is ideal if you can handle dairy. Personally, I tend to skip dairy altogether, but you can find dairy-free yogurt options at many stores these days, some of which are made from coconut and almond milk. Be sure you’re choosing yogurt that contains live active cultures, and try to choose plain, full-fat versions in order to avoid sugar. Yogurt that contains sugar can be counterproductive, as sugars feed pathogenic bacteria and contribute to sugar overload.

2. Natto

Natto is prepared with soybeans and is fermented so it forms the beneficial bacteria Bacillus. It’s an excellent source of calcium, iron, dietary fiber, and vitamin K2. You may not have heard a lot about it, but K2 is essential for heart health as it keeps calcium out of your arteries and gets it to your bones where it’s needed. Natto also contains nattokinase, a powerful anti-clotting agent that protects your heart and brain and lowers your blood pressure.

3. Kefir

Kefir is a bit like yogurt, except that it’s more of a drinkable consistency. Researchers report kefir may reduce irritation in the intestines, preventing toxins and other pathogens from getting into the blood. If you’re choosing to drink dairy kefir, make sure it’s organic and isn’t loaded with refined sugar. There are options for making your own dairy-free water kefir, and many health food companies online sell kefir grains specifically for this purpose. You can also check out our recipe for making coconut milk kefir.

4. Kombucha

Made from tea, clean water, sugar, yeast, and bacteria, kombucha has become popular recently for its probiotic qualities. Its fizzy bite is also popular among those used to drinking soda. Research finds this fermented tea fights off E. coli and Staph bacteria in the digestive tract, possibly protecting against illness and aiding digestion.

5. Sauerkraut

Traditional sauerkraut preparation uses water, salt, and cabbage, and very little heat is applied to the final product in order to prevent killing off beneficial microbes. The sour taste comes from lactic fermentation or the breakdown of lactose by the probiotic bacteria native to the cabbage. A serving gives you a powerful dose of healthy probiotics that aid digestion and research has found raw sauerkraut prevents cancer cells from forming. Be sure to purchase raw sauerkraut, or better yet, make it yourself with organic cabbage and Himalayan salt.

6. Kimchi

This spicy Asian fermented cabbage, similar to sauerkraut, provides you with loads of probiotics. Extensive research indicates it contributes to colon health, lower cholesterol, better thinking, a stronger immune system, healthy skin, and weight loss. Additional research also shows it has anti-oxidative, anti-aging, and immune-supporting properties.

7. Tempeh

This Indonesian ‘cake’ has a nutty flavor and chewy texture, and because of this, it is often used as a replacement for meat in many vegan recipes. Traditionally made from soybeans and a yeast starter, it undergoes controlled fermentation that makes it a great source of probiotic bacteria. Tempeh is also a great source of calcium, iron, and magnesium.

8. Pickles

Raw pickles, much like sauerkraut, are a great introduction to fermented foods. Pickles made by lactic fermentation are a delicious snack that aid digestion and support a strong immune system.

9. Lassi

Yogurt and fermented dairy play an important role in Indian cuisine. Lassi is made by combining yogurt and milk (or water) and sometimes fruit and spices to create a great probiotic-rich drink. It digests quickly, helps restore friendly gut bacteria, and soothes irritation in the colon. Again, I don’t recommend consuming conventional dairy, especially from cows. If you are going to drink lassi, it’s best to find a product using grass-fed, free-range goat milk. Goat milk tends to digest more easily. If you’re vegan, try finding or making lassi with organic coconut or almond milk yogurt.

Other Tips to Support Digestion

Each of these 9 probiotic foods will help restore balance to your intestinal ecosystem, but they’re not the only way to support digestion. Prebiotics, or foods containing inulin, sustain your current gut bacteria by providing them the foods they need to thrive. Probiotic supplements like Floratrex, my advanced formula with over 23 probiotic strains with prebiotics, are a great way to support your digestive system.

Food as Medicine: Mango (Mangifera indica, Anacardiaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Mangifera indica (Anacardiaceae) is a tropical tree that grows from 33 feet to 131 feet in height and produces large, oval-shaped fruits that are red and gold when ripe, though some cultivars are green or yellow.1 The smooth-edged leaves of the mango tree are reddish when young, becoming dark green and shiny as they mature. The tree produces small pinkish-white flowers that precede the fruit.2,3 The mango fruit is a drupe, or stone fruit, containing a large single seed surrounded by fleshy pulp and a thin, leathery skin.4 The mango tree begins to bear fruit four to six years after planting and continues to produce fruit for about 40 years.3,4 Trees older than 10 years tend toward alternate or biennial bearing, producing fruit every other year.5

While the most commonly used part of the plant is the fruit, the mango tree has a variety of traditional uses that make use of the roots, peel, stem bark, leaves, flowers, and seed kernels. These parts typically contain greater amounts of bioactive compounds, including mangiferin, than the fruit.4 Belonging to the same plant family as the cashew (Anacardium occidentale) and pistachio (Pistacia vera), the mango is native to India and Burma, and has been cultivated since 2000 BCE.2 The mango was introduced to Africa about 1,000 years ago and to tropical America in the 19th century.1,2 Wild fruits have a minimal resemblance to the cultivated mangos, having a much smaller size and unpleasant turpentine-like taste. Currently, mangos are grown in tropical and warm temperate climates.3 India remains the largest producer, growing 65% of the world’s mango crop.5

Phytochemicals and Constituents

The macro- and micronutrient composition and bioactive compounds present in M. indica contribute to its many health benefits. Mango fruits are a rich source of vitamins A, B and C. Mangos are also a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.3 Soluble fiber can help prevent cardiovascular disease and improve gastrointestinal health.

Mango is a source of many pharmacologically and medically important chemicals, including mangiferin, mangiferonic acid, hydroxy mangiferin, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and carotenes.6 Different parts of the plant have different chemical compositions. The bark, for example, contains catechins, amino acids, and phenolic and triterpenoid compounds.7,8 Due to these constituents, mango bark extract has shown antioxidant, immune system-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activities, which correspond to many of mango’s traditional medicinal uses.7 The xanthone mangiferin is found in many different plants across the Anacardiaceae family and shows promising results in the areas of antitumor, anti-diabetic, and anti-microbial actions.

The health benefits of the fruit pulp are due to its high concentration of antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals, such as carotenoids. Carotenoids play an important role in protective health mechanisms against some forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration, as well as improving immune health.9 Specifically, mangos are high in beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Mango also contains smaller amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids important for maintaining eye health and preventing macular degeneration. These phytochemicals are antioxidants, meaning that they slow or prevent the oxidative process, thereby preventing or repairing damage to cells in the body.10

The polyphenols that have been identified in the mango fruit include gallic acid, gallotannins, quercetin, isoquercetin, mangiferin, ellagic acid, and beta-glucogallin. These polyphenols have powerful antioxidant activity as well as other potentially therapeutic effects. Gallic acid, for example, is known to have anti-inflammatory and antitumor activities, while ellagic acid has been found to exhibit antimutagenic, antiviral, and antitumor effects.4

The most biologically active compound that has been studied in the mango tree is mangiferin. Mangiferin is synthesized by the plant as a chemical defense compound.6,11 Plant parts that contain the highest amounts of mangiferin include the leaves, stem bark, heartwood, and roots. Currently, researchers are investigating potential methods of processing mango bark and peel into a palatable ingredient or food additive. Magneferin (not to be confused with the previously mentioned mangiferin) is one of a number of enzymes present in mangos that improves digestion. Others include catechol oxidase and lactase.3

Historical and Commercial Uses

Mangiferaindicia has been used in Ayurveda, India’s primary system of traditional medicine, for more than 4,000 years. The mango was thought to have aphrodisiacal properties and is still viewed as sacred today.3A variety of the plant’s parts are used as a paste or powder for cleaning the teeth, and the juice of the mango is considered a restorative tonic, as well as a treatment for heat stroke.6 Numerous parts of the mango tree are used in Ayurvedic medicine as an antiseptic, an astringent to tone lax tissues, a laxative, a diuretic, and to increase sweating, promote digestion, and expel parasitic worms or other internal parasites.12 The seeds have been used as an astringent and as a treatment for asthma. Fumes from the burning leaves are used as an inhalant to relieve hiccups and sore throats.6 The bark is used as an astringent in diphtheria and rheumatism (disorders of the joints and connective tissues), and the gum was used in dressings for cracked feet and for scabies (an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite [Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis]).

Current Ayurvedic practices use various parts of the mango for different ailments. For diarrhea, mango leaves are pounded together and taken with rice water.13 For nosebleeds, the juice of the mango seed is placed into the nostrils. For an enlarged spleen, ripe mango juice is consumed with honey. To treat gonorrhea, mango bark is pounded and added to milk and sugar. In some tropical countries, mango is actually used as meat tenderizer, due to the power of the proteolytic enzymes that break down proteins.3In traditional ethnoveterinary medicine, all parts of the mango are used to treat abscesses, broken horns, rabid dog bites, tumors, snakebites, stings, heat stroke, miscarriage, bacterial illness, blisters and wounds in the mouth, inflammation of the inner ear, colic, diarrhea, liver disorders, excessive urination, tetanus, and asthma.14

Among the Tikunas, an indigenous people of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, a mango leaf decoction was used as a contraceptive and abortifacient. Reportedly, taking a cupful on two successive days during menstruation acted as a contraceptive, and taking it for three days caused abortion.11,15

Mango fruit is processed at two stages of maturity. Green fruit is used to make chutney, pickles, curries, and dehydrated products like dried mango, amchoor (raw mango powder), and panna (green mango beverage). Ripe fruit is processed into canned and frozen slices, pulp, concentrate, juices, nectar, jam, purée, cereal flakes, toffee, and various dried products.4

Modern Research

Studies indicate that M. indica possesses myriad therapeutic properties, including antidiabetic, antioxidant, antiviral, cardiotonic, hypotensive, and anti-inflammatory.6 Each of the mango’s parts — fruit, pulp, peel, seed, leaves, flowers, and bark — can be used therapeutically.

A 2000 study found that mango stem bark extract showed a powerful scavenging activity of hydroxyl radicals and acted as a chelator of iron.6 Although iron is an essential mineral, it is toxic in excessive amounts. Iron chelators could be an important approach to lessen iron-induced oxidative damage and prevent iron accumulation in diseases in which accumulation is prevalent, such as hemochromatosis, a metabolic disorder in which the body absorbs too much iron, and thalassemia, a rare, inherited blood disorder caused by a lack of hemoglobin, which results in fewer healthy red blood cells.4 This same study found a significant inhibitory effect on the degradation of brain cell membranes in an animal model, and prevented DNA damage caused by some chemotherapy treatments.6,16

Polyphenolic compounds and related bioactivity are higher in the mango peel than the fruit, and higher still in the leaves and stem bark.4 The bark is one of the main parts of the tree used for medicinal purposes. A standardized aqueous extract of M. indica stem bark called Vimang (LABIOFAM Entrepreneurial Group; La Habana, Cuba) has been developed in Cuba. This extract has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties and has been used in many countries for the treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding, diarrhea, syphilis, diabetes, scabies, cutaneous infections, and anemia.4,7

Much of the current research looks at extracts of mango bark or seed. There is a limited amount of literature that looks into the consumption of the mango fruit itself. However, a 2011 study looked at the consumption of freeze-dried mango fruit and its effects on weight loss and glucose tolerance, compared to hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic drugs, in mice fed a high-fat diet.17 In the study, consumption of freeze-dried mango prevented the increase in fat mass and the percentage of body fat. Compared with controls, mice given the freeze-dried mango had improved glucose tolerance and lowered insulin resistance.

Functional and medicinal properties of the non-fruit portions of the mango provide promising data for future uses of the plant, and may allow for less waste of the non-edible parts of the mango. The mango peel, for example, constitutes about 15-20% of the mango fruit and typically is discarded prior to consuming the fruit. In commercial processing, the discarded peels become a wasteful by-product.18 A 2015 study conducted chemical analysis and determination of the bioactive compounds in a flour made from green mango peel.19 The mango peel flour had 54 g of total dietary fiber per 100 g of dry sample, compared to 1.8 g of total dietary fiber in wheat flour. The mango peel flour also contained 21.7 mg/g of total phenolic contents and 22.4 mg/g of total flavonoid contents.

The results of this study suggest that the mango peel flour exhibited functional properties similar to wheat flour, and could serve as an acceptable substitute in baked goods and other flour-containing foods. Dietary fiber in mango peel has been shown as a favorable source of high-quality polysaccharides due to its high starch, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and pectin content combined with its low fat content.18 In vitrostarch studies suggest low glycemic responses from mango peel fiber, which suggests potential use for diabetic individuals.

Mango kernel oil has recently attracted attention due to its unsaturated fatty acid composition.18 Mango kernel oil has been widely researched for its function as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent due to its high polyphenolic content.4 The major phenolic compounds in mango seed kernels are (in order of decreasing concentration): tannins, vanillin, coumarin, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, gallic acid, and mangiferin, all providing antioxidant protection.

Health Considerations

Possibly explained by its distant relation to poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix, Anacardiaceae) and poison ivy (T. radicans), mango peel may be irritating to the skin,3 particularly to people who are highly sensitive to these plants. This is due to the presence of alk(en)ylresorcinols, a mixture of substances that can cause contact dermatitis to those who are allergic or sensitive to it.20 Alk(en)ylresorcinol is similar to urushiol, the toxic resin that causes an itchy rash in those who come into contact with poison ivy. These allergens are more prevalent in the peel than the flesh. In one study, four patients developed hives and eczematous rash after exposure to mangos or mango trees. Children and other persons with food allergies should take caution when handling and consuming mango. Although allergy to mango is infrequent, mango has been identified as an allergy-provoking food in some individuals with other food allergies.


Nutrient Profile21

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup mango fruit)

99 calories
1.35 g protein
24.7 g carbohydrate
0.63 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup mango fruit)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin C: 60.1 mg (100.2% DV)
Vitamin A: 1,785 IU (35.7% DV)

Very good source of:
Folate: 71 mcg (17.75% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g (10.4% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)

Good source of:
Vitamin K: 6.9 mcg (8.63% DV)
Potassium: 277 mg (7.9% DV)
Vitamin E: 1.48 mg (7.33% DV)
Niacin: 1.1 mg (5.5% DV)

Also provides:
Magnesium: 16 mg (4% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.06 mg (3.53% DV)
Thiamin: 0.05 mg (3.33% DV)
Phosphorus: 23 mg (2.3% DV)
Calcium: 18 mg (1.8% DV)
Iron: 0.26 mg (1.44% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Mango and Watermelon Salad

Adapted from Mango.org22

Ingredients:

  • 2 large, ripe mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1 cup watermelon, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup fresh arugula, washed and dried
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Directions:

  1. Combine mango, watermelon, onion, pepper, tomato, and arugula in a large bowl. Toss to combine.

  2. Whisk together remaining ingredients and taste, adjusting seasoning if necessary. Drizzle dressing over the salad, toss to

    combine,

    and serve.

References

  1. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  2. The National Geographic Society. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society; 2008.
  3. Murray M, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  4. Masibo M, He Q. Mango bioactive compounds and related nutraceutical properties: A review. Food Rev Int. 2009;25:346-370.
  5. Morton JF. Mango. In: Morton JF. Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami, FL: J.F. Morton; 1987:221-239.
  6. Shah KA, Patel MB, Patel RJ, Parmar PK. Mangifera indica (Mango). Pharmacogn Rev. 2010;4(7):42-48.
  7. Wauthoz N, Balde A, Balde ES, Damme MV, Duez P. Ethnopharmacology of Mangifera indica L. bark and pharmacological studies of its main c-glucosylxanthone, mangiferin. Int J Biomed Pharma Sci. 2007;1(2):112-119.
  8. Hamid K, Algahtani A, Kim MS, et al. Tetracyclic triterpenoids in herbal medicines and their activities in diabetes and its complications. Curr Top Med Chem. 2015;15(23):2406-2430.
  9. Hewavitharana AK, Tan ZW, Shimada R, Shaw PN, Flanagan BM. Between fruit variability of the bioactive compounds, B-carotene and mangiferin, in mango. Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;70:158-163.
  10. Johnson EJ. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(2):56-65.
  11. Schultes RE, Raffauf RF. The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia.Portland, OR: Dioscorides Press; 1990.
  12. Johnson EJ. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(2):56-65.
  13. Amra (Mangifera indica) National R&D Facility for Rasayana website. Available here. Accessed May 19, 2016.
  14. Williamson EM. Major Herbs of Ayurveda. London, UK: Elsevier Science Limited; 2002.
  15. Duke JA, Vasquez R. Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1994.
  16. Martinez G, Delgado R, Perez G, Garrido G, Nunez Selles AJ, Leon OS. Evaluation of the in-vitroantioxidant activity of Mangifera indica L: extract (Vimang). Phytother Res. 2000;14:424–7.
  17. Lucas EA, Li W, Peterson SK, et.al. Mango modulates body fat and plasma glucose and lipids in mice fed a high-fat diet. Brit J Nutr. 2011;106:1495-1505.
  18. Tiwari BK, Brunton NP, Brennan CS. Handbook of Plant Food Phytochemicals: Sources, Stability and Extraction. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2013.
  19. Abidin NSA, Mohamad SN, Jaafar MN. Chemical composition, antioxidant activity and functional properties of mango (Mangifera indica L. var Perlis Sunshine) peel flour. Appl Mech Mater. 2015(754-755):1065-1070.
  20. Knödler M, Reisenhauer K, Schieber A, Carle R. Quantitative determination of allergenic 5-Alk(en)ylresorcinols in mango (Mangifera indica L.) peel, pulp, and fruit products by high-performance liquid chromatography. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57:3639-3644.
  21. Basic Report, 09176, Mangos, raw. Agricultural Research Service, USDA website. Available here. Accessed May 19, 2016.
  22. National Mango Board. Mango and watermelon salad. Mango.org website. Available here. Accessed May 18, 2016.

Passing Down a Healthy Lifestyle

Eating well, exercising, and taking care of yourself are undeniably important ways to improve your overall health.  But the choices you make may not only be affecting you.  A new study has found that the way you live may have a profound influence on your descendants too.

The research, conducted at Stanford University in California, uncovered an interesting connection between good eating habits and a longer life span in not only the consumers of the diet but their progeny for several generations as well. The trial was not performed on human volunteers.  Instead, the scientists looked at roundworms, which have the same kind of proteins as humans — those responsible for holding DNA in place within the nucleus of the cells.  When three of these particular proteins were either modified or blocked, the worm’s lifespan was accordingly changed.  And the worm’s next three generations of offspring — the equivalent of our great-grandchildren — showed the same positive effects with increased life expectancy of up to 30 percent longer than normal, even though nothing directly affected these subsequent worms.  Beyond the third generation, the life expectancies returned to typical lengths.

There were no genetic alterations in the initial subjects, which means that these modifications were inherited in what is known scientifically as an “epigenetic” change. Epigenetics refers to changes in how a gene expresses itself, not in the gene itself. The evolutionary advantage of epigenetics is that they allow for very quick adaptation, as opposed to changes in the actual genes themselves, which can take thousands and thousands of years.  That makes epigenetics the perfect tool for responding to changing environmental influences such as sun exposure or pollution levels. In addition, even though epigenetics changes are more transient than actual genetic changes, they are inheritable — at least for several generations.  For example, since the levels of the three proteins in the later generations of worms’ in question had not changed, the longer life spans were determined to be inherited due to the adaptations of the parent worm’s body.

As mentioned earlier, it is through epigenetics that our bodies can “quickly” adapt to environmental factors. In addition to the sunlight and pollution already mentioned, epigenetics help us adapt to things such as exposure to direct or secondhand smoke, medications we take, our internal chemical stress reactions, even our diets. This has been long understood. But what the recent study indicates is that these adaptations may not be just limited to ourselves, but might affect our children and their children as well — for good or ill.

And, in fact, that is very much in keeping with what Francis Pottenger proved with his now famous cats back in the 1930’s. Dr. Pottenger experimented with more than 900 cats over a 10-year period.  He fed some groups of the cats a diet of raw meat and raw milk, others received cooked meat and raw milk, and the third segment received cooked meat and cooked milk.  The cats that were consuming 100% cooked food (cooked meat and cooked milk) lost their ability to reproduce after three generations, causing that entire line to die out. Based on what we just learned from the recent study with roundworms, this now makes perfect sense. Whereas bad diet would be unlikely to effect genetic changes in just three generations, it could absolutely induce epigenetic changes that lead to the extinction of the cats.

Could a similar phenomenon be affecting the millions of people today who have trouble conceiving?  After all, it is only within the last few generations that people began to eat such poor, highly-processed types of foods so regularly.  Most of our grandmothers and certainly our great-grandmothers would never have put a bag of fast food on the table and called it dinner.  To be sure, not everything they cooked was necessarily healthy, but it was rarely processed, and almost all vegetables and dairy were consumed fresh.

Recent research has found similar links as well.  A study conducted in Great Britain in 2007 found that a mother’s diet during pregnancy, and even when breastfeeding, can affect her unborn child’s taste for foods.  Or to state it another way, mothers-to-be who gorge on junk food are more likely to give birth to a child with a sweet tooth, a love of fats, and a craving for salt.  The study indicates that if you expose a child to junk foods in the womb or through their mothers’ milk, then their brains will become hardwired so that they are more likely to eat junk food themselves.

Ultimately, this all proves that we truly are what we eat and that we can pass on much more than blue eyes and freckles.  When you take care of yourself, you are doing the right thing not only yourself but for all your descendants.  And conversely, when you make poor choices, you are giving your children, grandchildren, and generations beyond a head start…in the wrong direction.

Benefits of Leafy Greens

We all know the benefits of eating our vegetables. They are full of nutrients that can help protect us from a disease. They are also high in fiber, which fills us up in a healthy, low-calorie sort of way. And if you enjoy eating leafy green vegetables, there may be another important advantage in your future as you age. New research suggests that frequent consumption of leafy greens may lower your risk of developing dementia.

The study, which was conducted at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, found that eating one serving a day of a leafy green vegetable may help prevent the onset of dementia as we age. The subjects were 954 men and women who were taking part in a Memory and Aging Project at Rush. They had an average age of 81 at the beginning of the trial, and three-quarters of the group were female.

The participants were followed for an average of nearly five years. Once a year during this time period, they answered a survey with 144 questions on their food and beverage consumption. In addition, they completed an annual battery of 19 mental skills tests. The scientists then compiled all of the data to determine the nutrient intake of each volunteer based on the specific types and amounts of food that were eaten every day.

The findings showed that those people who regularly consumed one to two servings of leafy green vegetables on a daily basis had mental faculties more than 10 years younger than those of their counterparts who never ate leafy greens. That’s quite a significant difference since deteriorating cognitive function is a major hallmark of dementia. And these results remained consistent even after a number of potential influences were factored into the data, including age, gender, education level, history of smoking, physical activity levels, and family history of Alzheimer’s disease.

While the research was not designed to prove that leafy greens necessarily cause increases in mental capacity as we age, it did certainly demonstrate the existence of a link. It may be difficult to pinpoint whether there is some advantage to the particular combination of nutrients found in leafy greens that can serve to protect the brain. However, it is likely that the main defense comes from their high levels of vitamin K.

There are two main forms of vitamin K, which are K1 and K2. Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) is found in green leafy vegetables and makes up about 90 percent of the vitamin K in a typical western diet. Vitamin K2 (menaquinones) makes up about 10 percent of western vitamin K consumption and can be synthesized in the gut by microflora. It is typically found in animal-based foods, including dairy products.

A 2008 study at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston determined that vitamin K1 is most effective at supporting healthy insulin levels. It is also the K1 in the greens that are responsible for the dementia benefit. On the other hand, vitamin K2 plays a vital role in ensuring that calcium stays in the bones and out of the arteries. As suggested in a 2010 study at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, it may also play a role in inhibiting cancer.

So clearly vitamin K is a nutrient we want to make sure we include in our diets in adequate amounts. Eat up those leafy greens at least once a day. You will consume 531 mcg of vitamin K in ½ cup of cooked kale, 444 mcg in ½ cup of cooked spinach, and 418 mcg in ½ cup of cooked collard greens. What if you simply can’t stand kale, spinach, or collards? You can choose from some of the other sources of vitamin K1 that may require larger servings, but perhaps you will prefer the taste. Some healthy vitamin K1-rich foods include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and green leaf lettuce. Start putting these items on your daily menu and your brain may benefit greatly as you get older. And don’t forget to include K2 foods in your diet, or take a supplement if your diet is pure vegan.

Grapefruit Health Benefits

February was Grapefruit Month, and even if you missed it, it is still a great time to pay a little tribute to the virtues of this much-maligned fruit. It’s tangy, the citrusy flavor can serve as a reminder of the warm weather climates in which it grows, helping us get through the sluggish end of winter. Grapefruit health benefits offer plenty in the way of nutrition that helps with weight maintenance and will also help the body fight off the colds and assorted maladies that are so common this time of year.

Pink grapefruit provides 80 percent of your daily vitamin C needs in a typical serving of half the fruit, is proven to bolster the immune system, can detoxify the body, and even slow the growth rate of tumors. It is also chock full of lycopene, which is an antioxidant that has been found to lower the risk of both bladder and prostate cancer. And pink grapefruit provides you with 6 percent of the RDA of vitamin A, another valuable nutrient that helps maintain the health of the retina, particularly important for our vision in lower light.

Yellow grapefruit is no slouch, either, in the vitamin and nutrient department. Just under its more colorful cousin, the yellow grapefruit health benefits include 73.3 percent of your vitamin C quota for the day, as well as an impressive 23.7 percent of vitamin A.

In addition, grapefruit is a great choice for weight maintenance. And keep in mind that while 100 percent grapefruit juice will deliver nutrients to your body, it will not give you fiber. But as long as you eat the fruit rather than drinking the juice, you will get 0.8 gram of fiber, which fulfills nearly 6 percent of your recommended daily allowance. It is also high in pectin, which helps move things along in your digestive tract to both keep your bowel movements regular and lessen the amount of time potentially damaging fecal matter hangs around in the colon. In addition, that fiber will keep you feel satiated longer, while only serving up a mere 30 calories. And studies have shown that the pectin may be strongly anti-carcinogenic–particularly with regard to colon cancer.

Grapefruit has been found in numerous studies to confer disease protection as well. In a 2006 study, a team of researchers from universities in Israel, Singapore, and Poland split participants into three groups. All of them ate healthy, low-fat diets, but one group had a red grapefruit each day, another had a yellow grapefruit each day, and the third ate no grapefruit. Both groups of grapefruit eaters experienced reduced levels of total cholesterol as well as LDL, the “bad,” cholesterol. The red grapefruit eaters enjoyed the additional benefit of lowering their triglyceride levels too.

So, with all these health benefits, why has the media labeled grapefruit a danger? Simply put, grapefruit can enhance the risks already inherent in pharmaceutical drugs. Upwards of 85 medications have been found to interact with grapefruit. Those research and development departments at pharmaceutical conglomerates keep busy by constantly rolling out new drugs, so needless to say, the incidence of problems experienced by grapefruit eaters has risen in recent years. And, despite the known interactions, many doctors don’t think to ask patients if they eat grapefruit or mention that it is a contraindication.

Grapefruit itself is not harmful. Certain pharmaceuticals for pain, heart disease, schizophrenia, and cancer, on the other hand, have been found to be problematic when combined with grapefruit. The danger comes from the fact that grapefruit inhibits the CYP3A4 enzyme in the liver that helps the body metabolize the pharmaceutical. Therefore, the medication is much stronger as it enters the system, and its effects are magnified, sometimes to the point of causing an overdose.

But the key issue to remember is that the toxicity is inherent in the pharmaceutical drug, not the grapefruit. The problem, once again, is that grapefruit can enhance that toxicity–particularly that of statin drugs. If you are prescribed pharmaceuticals, it is essential to discuss with your doctor whether grapefruit is safe to consume for the duration of the medication. And if you are not taking any kind of prescription medicine, dig right into this citrus delight because, for most of us, grapefruit is nothing but healthy.

What Does ‘Gluten Free’ Really Mean?

Gluten-free products have increased in popularity in recent years, but with so many “-free” products on the market, it can be hard to know how “free” a product really is, unless there is standardized labeling.

Avoiding gluten is important for people with celiac disease, as they can experience serious adverse effects if they consume it. Others prefer to avoid it because they feel better or believe it is healthier to do so.

Gluten is what gives the dough its elasticity. It gives shape, strength, and texture of bread and other grain products.

Some gluten-free foods are naturally gluten-free and healthy, for example, apples or sweet potatoes. Other gluten-free foods are processed to remove gluten or processed without gluten-free containing ingredients but may still be high calorie, full of additives and low in fiber.

Gluten-free bread, for example, is a practical alternative for a person with celiac disease because it contains no gluten or only minor traces of it.

What does ‘gluten-free’ mean?

[gluten free]
To be gluten-free, a food must contain less than 20ppm of gluten.

In August 2013, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a new definition for “gluten-free” for the purpose of food labeling.

For a food to be labeled as gluten-free, the FDA states that it must contain no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

The choice of 20 ppm rather than zero ppm is because current technology cannot reliably measure gluten presence below 20ppm.

Evidence suggests that trace amounts of gluten, defined as up to 20 ppm, do not have adverse health effects on people with celiac disease.

The use of the label is voluntary for manufacturers, but if they use it, consumers will know that their products really are gluten free.

Any product that has less than 20 ppm of gluten can carry the following labels:

  • Gluten-free
  • Free of gluten
  • Without gluten
  • No gluten

People who wish to avoid all traces of gluten will choose to eat rice instead of cereals that might contain it.

Those who can tolerate traces of gluten can consume cereal-based products where the gluten has been removed, but they need to know that the level of gluten is minimal. The labeling system can help these people.

“An ingredient that has been derived from a gluten-containing grain can be labeled as “gluten-free” if it has been processed to remove gluten and use of that ingredient results in the presence of less than 20 ppm of gluten in the food.”

FDA

A food that is by nature gluten-free does not have to carry “gluten-free” label, but it can do so if it meets all FDA requirements for a gluten-free food.

For this reason, some products, such as bottled water, are unlikely to have a gluten-free label even though they do not contain gluten.

Is all food labeled?

The FDA also encourages restaurants to adopt gluten-free labeling, for the benefit of customers, and to work with local and state governments to oversee this.

The FDA does not prescribe any particular type of labeling, or recommend a location for the label, “as long as it doesn’t interfere with mandatory labeling information and meets the regulatory requirements.”

They point out that some organizations offer gluten-free certification. While the FDA does not endorse any specific certification program or labeling, they accept it.

Not all products are labeled, but all foods and beverages must comply with the regulation that if it does carry a gluten-free label, it must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten. This includes packaged foods, dietary supplements, fruits, vegetables, eggs in their shells, and fish.

Items that are not covered include meat, poultry, some egg products, as these are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and most alcoholic beverages, as these are covered by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. (TTB).

Who should avoid gluten?

Celiac disease is an immune system disorder that is believed to affect around 3 million Americans. It normally appears in childhood, but it can affect people at any age. The exact cause remains a mystery, but it appears to run in families.

In a person with celiac disease, gluten causes the immune system to react, resulting in damage to the absorptive surface of the small intestine.

This prevents vital nutrients – fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals – from being absorbed into the bloodstream.

The gluten protein that causes this reaction are the prolamins known as gliadin, secalin, and hordein. Wheat contains gliadin, barley secalin, and rye hordein. Some varieties of oats may contain a form of gluten, and some types may have it because of cross-contamination. Crossbred grains, such as triticale, can also contain gluten.

[inspecting a label]
People who need to avoid gluten should inspect labels carefully before they buy.

Celiac disease can lead to:

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Itchy, blistering skin rash
  • Depression and irritability are common symptoms, especially in children

Many people with celiac disease have no symptoms, but complications can arise in time.

Possible complications include:

  • Intestinal cancers
  • Short stature and stunted growth
  • Infertility and miscarriage
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Osteoporosis

There is no cure for celiac disease. The only effective treatment is to avoid foods and products that contain gluten.

How to go gluten free

Avoiding gluten is not easy. Wheat, rye, and barley feature in many basic foodstuffs, including bread, breakfast cereal, and pasta. Giving up gluten means finding a substitute for these products.

Foods that tend to be safe to eat include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Raw, plain meat and poultry
  • Raw or frozen plain Fish and seafood
  • Dairy
  • Beans, legumes, and nuts

Rice is a good source of carbohydrate, but it is worth checking the label in case there is any cross contamination.

Other options include:

  • Cassava
  • Corn, or maize
  • Soy
  • Potato
  • Rutabaga
  • Tapioca
  • Beans
  • Sorghum
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat groats, or kasha
  • Arrowroot
  • Amaranth
  • Teff
  • Flax
  • Chia
  • Yucca
  • Gluten-free oats
  • Nut flours

The FDA’s labeling system makes it easier for people with celiac disease to choose from a range of products that contain less than 20 ppm, available in many grocery stores.

These include gluten-free bread, sausages, cereals and so on. It is important to read and consider the labels carefully. “Wheat-free,” for example, does not necessarily mean gluten-free.

Many other products contain hidden gluten, for example, in the flavorings. Rice may be gluten-free, but puffed rice cereal, for example, can contain malt flavoring, with gluten.

Soups and sauces, processed fruits and vegetables, candies, such as licorice, and pre-prepared smoothies may all contain gluten, as can such sundry items as medications, lip-balms, and vitamin supplements.

Drinks and liquids made with malts that are not distilled, such as beers and malt vinegar, will also contain gluten.

The FDA’s “gluten-free” regulation has made it easier for people with celiac disease to choose appropriate foods, but it is important to read the label carefully.

From April 2013, manufacturers had one year in which to comply with the new rule. Now, any company that uses the label inaccurately can face regulatory action by the FDA.

The FDA encourages people who become sick after eating any product to seek medical care, and then to contact the FDA.

If the person suspects incorrect food labeling, they are advised to report it to MedWatch, the FDA’s program for providing safety information and reporting adverse events.