Thursday, January 15, 2009


Global pursuit by food scientists for identifying natural foods with special ability to fight some of the modern diseases throws up interesting revelations regarding Nature's own way of fighting diseases. In the last one year there have been many such developments which can help mankind to modify the diet for getting the benefits from these natural food materials. Though hundreds of freak reports emanate from research organizations and Universities in different parts of the world, very few can be of relevance to the day to day life of people.

Extra virgin olive oil which is raw expeller oil from olive fruits contains some unique constituents, capable of triggering death and destruction of cancer cells thus preventing spread of the disease. Association between olive oil and cancer emerged when it was discovered that Mediterranean population were relatively immune to certain cancers affecting mammalian glands, ovaries and colon. On further investigation it came out that their diets were rich in olive oil and this oil might contain some constituents with the property of fighting cancer. Researchers have now established that raw olive oil without undergoing treatment with heat or chemicals as being done during refining contains a few poly phenols, lignans and secoiridoids, hydroxy tyrosol and squalene and consumption of about 25 ml every day in the diet can confer the capability to fight cancers. Besides it is also surmised that the oleic acid present in olive oil suppresses a gene HER2, causing breast cancer. However oleic acid is a constituent of many edible oils and probably it must be working in tandem with other beneficial phytochemicals present in Olive oil. The larger question in such claims is how virgin the oil has to be and what about the lipase action in raw oil during storage at ambient conditions, which can increase the FFA and consequently affect the properties adversely. What about our own varieties of oils available ingenuously? Can some of them extent the same benefit? Indian nutritionists will have find the answer.

Diets rich in nuts, beans and lentils were found to be effective in lowering blood sugar level in Type 2 diabetic people as these crops have low glycemic index (GI) and consequently low glucose load (GL). This is confirmation of what has been suspected that low GI foods reduce the risks associated with both diabetes and cardio vascular diseases. Such low GI foods include beans, peas, lentils (legumes), nuts, pasta, minimally cooked rice, low GI breads, breakfast cereals etc. Those who are ignorant of the complex factors that interplay in the manifestation of diabetes during middle age and later due to many reasons must understand that low GI and GL foods offer the best solution for controlling the ill effects of this disorder. Consuming these foods regularly ensures that the critical HbA1c values, which reflect the dietary control and which are determined once in 3 months, are around 6 or less. Probably daily or 3-4 times daily monitoring of glucose in the blood necessitating frequent pin pricks may not be needed in the case of Type 2 diabetics if HbA1c values are checked regularly every quarter.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, if consumed regularly are excellent insurance against breast cancer in women. This form of cancer is the second leading cause of death in women. In many cases these vegetables also confer protection against lung cancer and other types of cancers. Kale, turnips, collards, radish, brussel sprouts and water cress are other vegetables with same properties. Phenyl isothiocyanate, benzyl isothiocyanate and 3-phenyl ethyl isothiocyanate are glucosinolates, considered precursors of isothiocyanate the active chemical with the protective properties against cancer. It is hypothesized that during cutting and chewing of the vegetables, the glucosinolates are hydrolyzed by natural enzymes present in the tissues into the active principle which then gets absorbed before exerting its beneficial effect at the cellular level in the body. The mode of action is through inhibition of cytochrome P450 enzyme which oxidizes compounds such as benzo pyrenes into carcinogenic artifacts within the cell. While the scientific findings are indeed breath taking, under the Indian cooking practices how far glucosinolase will be active to exert the protective effect is a critical question as we do not have the habit of consuming raw cruciferous vegetables in salad preparations.

Isolated scientific reports like the above, often observed in experimental animals like mice, will confuse the consumers and only organized and well coordinated field studies with human volunteers can prove these claims. What is sure is that consumption of these vegetables, will not do any harm and in fact one can derive other confirmed benefits associated with eating vegetables regularly.


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