- Consuming a plant-based diet can be beneficial for your health
- National Nutrition Week: Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
- A good diet can set foundation of a strong and healthy body
National Nutrition Week is observed every year from 1st September to 7th September and can be considered a significant period to raise awareness on the therapeutic effects of foods. Food, in its most natural or raw form, can have considerable medicinal properties helping to keep chronic diseases at a bay. Hippocrates (460-377 BC), the well-recognized father of modern medicine, stated "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" to predict the relationship between appropriate foods for health and their therapeutic benefits. The truth in this saying is widely recognized even today and is gaining momentum.
Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods
The term "nutraceuticals" is an amalgamation of "nutrition" and "pharmaceutical" which precisely signifies a nutrition supplement obtained from natural food to prevent, manage, or treat diseases. Functional foods are health-benefiting foods in their raw or cooked form and not necessarily consumed in the form of diet supplements.
Beneficial plant-based compounds and how they can benefit your health:
Macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and micronutrients like vitamins, and minerals, along with phytochemicals, all contribute significantly to human health and well-being. Mentioned below are significant plant compounds and their subsequent therapeutic benefits on health:
1. Lycopene: Found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, guava, papaya, and watermelon. Lycopene possesses strong antioxidant activity and may protect against the formation of cancer mainly prostate, bladder, and cervical cancer. Lycopene containing fruits and vegetables exert cancer-protective effect via a decrease in oxidative and other damage to DNA.
2. Phenolic acids: Found in berries, cherries, apples, kiwi, wheat, oats, and legumes. Phenolic acids have strong anti-inflammatory properties and are readily absorbed from the foods. They help prevent cell damage and reduce the oxidation of bad cholesterol (LDL), thereby reducing the risk of heart diseases.
3. Resveratrol: Found in grapes, peanuts, cocoa, blueberries, and raisins. Resveratrol helps manage blood pressure, help reduce high cholesterol levels, and prevent the risk of heart diseases and cancer. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. The skin of dark grapes contains the highest amount of resveratrol.
4. Saponins: Saponins are reported to possess antitumor and anti-mutagenic activities and can lower the risk of human cancers, by preventing cancer cells from growing. Saponins are phytochemicals that can be found in peas, soybeans, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, alfalfa, and clover. Saponins can boost the immune system and can also help lower cholesterol levels.
5. Ellagic acid: Found in strawberries, cranberries, walnuts, pecans, pomegranates, and the best source, red raspberry seeds. It is also found in peaches and pomegranates. Ellagic acid and resveratrol are two important components to reduce the risk of cancer and coronary heart diseases. It can prevent various infections and can help your body to detoxify naturally.
6. Anthocyanins: Anthocyanins are the pigments that give cranberries their rich, red color. These are also found in blueberries and blackberries. Anthocyanins function as strong antioxidant compounds, counteract inflammation in the body and lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Anthocyanins can help you manage your weight better because of their strong anti-obesity effects. They also possess antibacterial properties and can keep bacterial infections at a bay.
This National Nutrition Week, let food be your medicine
For a long time, natural products obtained mainly from plants have been used as a prominent source of therapeutic agents for the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases. Diet alone may not replace medicines in all possible circumstances but it can definitely build the foundation of a strong and healthy body system that requires the least dependency on medicines.
(Nmami Agarwal is nutritionist at Nmami Life)
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