NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina
In last month’s column, we explored by-products from cooking that can pose a threat to human health: HCAs (heterocyclic amines), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) and acrylamide. To help them achieve vibrant health, many people go raw or, at least, increase the proportion of raw food on their plates.
Raw, vegan diets offer impressive advantages, such as helping overweight people lose weight and reducing the risk of chronic disease. Plant foods deliver an army of protective substances, including abundant vitamins as well as the phytochemicals plants produce for their survival and protection. (“Phyto” from Greek means “plant.”) Some phytochemicals contribute a distinctive colour, flavour, texture or aroma to the plant and play an important role in attracting pollinators and seed dispersers. Others act in an internal defence system, protecting plants from pests, pathogens and potentially hostile environments. When we eat plants, their phytochemicals continue these and other good deeds on our behalf. There are as many as 100,000 different phytochemicals, with a hundred or more in a single plant.
Some examples follow. Note that each food listed contains many additional protective substances. In addition to all of these health advantages, the foods below can be combined in an outstanding meal (see sidebar).
- Corn, orange sweet peppers and parsley contain the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein that help our eyes filter out harmful light and protect us against macular degeneration and vision loss that can occur as we age.
- Avocadoes, corn and yellow sweet peppers contain alpha-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that slows the growth of cancer cells.
- Tomatoes and red peppers contain lycopene, which gives a red colour and protects against cancers of the digestive tract, lungs, prostate, bladder, cervix and pancreas.
- Celery, cilantro and parsley contain the flavonoid apigenin, a potent antioxidant that seems to protect against leukemia and ovarian cancer. Apigenin also has anti-inflammatory activity.
- Legumes, such as lentils or black beans, support our immune system, lower cholesterol levels, decrease blood lipids, lower cancer risks and lower blood glucose response.
- Garlic contains the phytochemical allicin, which protects garlic from pests (insects and microorganisms) and humans from harmful bacterial. Green onions contain related compounds.
- Limes, with the protective phytochemicals eriodictyol and hesperetin, can defend cells against oxidative injury. In addition, limonen increases the levels of liver enzymes that can help our body to detoxify potential cancer-causing substances.
- Olive oil contains phytosterols that help reduce cholesterol absorption and total and LDL cholesterol.
- Chili peppers contain capsaicin with pain relieving and anti-inflammatory action.
- Cumin has antioxidant activity due to the presence of the phytochemical ferulic acid.
Spicy Mexican Salad
(makes 8 cups salad)
This recipe provides a phytochemical feast. With sprouted lentils, it’s 100% raw. For a mainly raw meal, use cooked or canned black beans.
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 ripe avocados, finely diced
2 cups fresh or prev. frozen corn kernels
2 ribs celery, diced
1 large orange, red or yellow sweet pepper, sliced into matchsticks
1 cup sprouted lentils or cooked black beans
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, packed
3 green onions, sliced
Spicy Mexican dressing
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. flaxseed oil
2 tbsp. Nama Shoyu (soy sauce) or tamari
1 tbsp. liquid sweetener (e.g. agave syrup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. minced red or green chili
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Combine & blend dressing ingredients in a jar or blender. Add the dressing to the salad and toss. Serve at once or chill for up to two hours.
For more nutrition information and great recipes, see Becoming Raw and the Raw Food Revolution Diet, co-authored by registered dietitians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina.
Brenda Davis: www.brendadavisrd.com 250-712-1094, Kelowna;
Vesanto Melina: www.nutrispeak.com, 604-882-6782, Langley.