The power of the produce-stand now resplendent with the rich colors and inviting smells of ripe fruit and summer’s vegetable bounty is lost to all-too-many Americans. Walk the aisles of a public or farmer’s market at summer’s end and marvel over the blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, the grapes and currants, fragrant peaches, and the amazing heirloom tomatoes, just to name but a few of nature’s treats. How many of us take the time to move beyond a quick coffee and Danish at the local coffee-house, a fast burger and fries from a take-out window, or a take-out pizza often wolfed down in front of the tube or a computer screen? Bite into a peach with juice running down your chin, enjoy the sweet berries in a summer salad, and marvel over heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and fresh basil in caprese with bocconcini mozzarella. How can fast food compete with that?
Organic produce has re-awakened many an American’s appreciation of the bounty of summer’s garden. It is amazing to those of us who follow the nutritional literature that all but a few of us never experience the excitement the nutritional science describes as it confirms what the produce stand offers our health. Read books such as Jean Carper’s Food Pharmacy, Dr. Jim Duke’s The Green Pharmacy, or Dr. Neal Barnard’s The Power of Your Plate or the trio of What Color is Your Diet by Dr. David Heber, Dr. Jim Joseph’s The Color Code, and Eat Your Colors by Marcia Zimmerman, CN. Nutritional science is exciting; it is so interesting to learn the benefits summer’s fruit and vegetables can offer to us.
Case in point is what the nutritional literature mentions in just one recent month:
• A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study involving obese insulin-resistant subjects indicated blueberries may improve insulin sensitivity. Previous studies at Tufts U. showed blueberries can actually slow or stop the aging of the brain.
• A randomized, placebo-controlled study involving patients with early age-related macular degeneration (AMD) demonstrated that saffron (20 mg/d) for a period of 3 months was found to improve retinal flicker sensitivity in early AMD.
• In a controlled study involving symptomatic ischemic stroke patients, those who suffered strokes consumed more bad fats, less good omega-3 fats, and less fruit and vegetables as compared to controls.
• A study of obese subjects with metabolic syndrome found that daily consumption of strawberries for a period of 8 weeks was found to significantly decrease total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as well as other risk factors of heart disease.
• In a study of adolescents with metabolic syndrome it was found that long-term consumption of grape and pomegranate juices may both improve endothelial function (a function of blood vessels that when disturbed sets the stage for blood vessel blockage).
• In a randomized, crossover study involving patients with type 2 diabetes eating almonds were found to improve their weight, their blood sugar controls and their blood fat/lipids levels.
That is incredibly empowering to us who have family or genetic predispositions to chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and diseases of oxidative stress including asthma, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, among others. Dr. Jeffrey Bland educated us in his book Nutritioneering or the recent book by the NIH director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine, the exciting research that our lifestyle choices including our dietary decisions affect our genetic expression. Think of the empowerment that offers to each of us. Our family tree may have a genetic susceptibility to heart disease or diabetes but we can literally change the expression of our genes by making wiser lifestyle choices.
Published science from Harvard University’s School of Public Health from Walter Willett, MD, MPH demonstrates just how powerful those choices can affect our genes. Dr. Willett’s analysis of the Harvard’s Nurses’ Study illustrated that the following lifestyle choices could reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 85% and of type II diabetes by up to 90%:
• eat no bad fats (trans and hydrogenated fats)
• eat some good fats (omega three from cold water fish and plant sources) daily
• if you eat grains, make them whole grains
• eat as many fruits and vegetables daily as possible
• get daily physical activity
• supplement wisely with a multivitamin and mineral
The discussion around the kitchen table that “it runs in our family” may all change with the ability to do genetic testing to determine our hand of cards, that is, the genetic susceptibilities that are unique to us. Additionally, the emerging science that we can tailor our diets, our physical activity, our environment, and the like to either ‘turn on or turn off’ genes is intriguing. For example, you may have a family history of type II diabetes. You may have that susceptibility in your genetic map. You may choose to have daily physical activity, stay away from processed grains and bad fats, eat a diet with optimal protein, good fats, and unprocessed grains with lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as manage the stress in your life and never develop insulin sensitivity that leads to type II diabetes. That is real power from summer’s produce stand.
-Deborah Ray MT (ASCP)