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KS Cover no. 72 2006 May

MAY 2006 :: 072


Super foods

'You are what you eat' — Few of us probably put much stock in this well-worn adage, but recent medical studies indicate we should give it a great deal more credence.

If asked to rank the factors that most affect their general physical and mental well-being, most people would probably place food fairly low on the list. Or if they did rate food highly, it would probably be in terms of volume, rather than quality. Perhaps with such an abundant supply, we simply do not take the time to think about what we put in our mouths — if it tastes good …

This is despite myriad examples from everyday life of the impact food has on our mood, energy levels and long-term health. Does this sound familiar?: You are feeling strung out from work or relationship stress, so you reach for a sugary treat. Within minutes you are feeling noticeably cheerier — then not so much longer after that the glow abruptly runs out and you end up worse than before.

It is not just the sweets that do this. Most processed foods, especi- ally ones containing large amounts of preservatives and flavour enhanc- ers, have a similar effect. But does it necessarily follow that if process-ed foods are bad for us, whole foods are good? Well, increasingly, yes. Particularly if you are Doctors Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews, the authors of SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life.

Pratt and Matthews' theory is that not only do whole foods provide general health benefits, some of them also have specific preventative and curative medical properties. And contrary to what you might expect, these foods are not exotic recent discoveries from the depths of the Amazon, just simple, everyday stuff like beans and oranges and salmon and tea. (See side bar.)

Some of the foods have already been receiving attention in their own right. Tomatoes, for example, are being feted for their high concen- tration of licopene, which is believed to be effective against prostrate cancer, while yoghurt is enjoying a surge of local popularity following media reports that it can benefit hay fever sufferers. However, according to the doctors, it is when all of these foods are combined in a balanced diet that they really go gold.

Pratt and Matthews are very fond of this 'balanced diet' idea, noting that overeating of even super foods does you no favours. Although they do not spell it out, this is likely a reaction to the large number of people now following eating programmes such as the Atkins Diet, which advises a substantial reduction in carbohydrate intake — thereby virtually elimi-nating a major source of slow-burn energy.

However, one thing the doctors could probably have played up more is the importance of liquids. Unfortunately, this is not a licence to soak up pints of alcohol — unless you really want elevated levels of oestrogen — water is the beverage of choice here. Drink as much of the stuff as you can. This may seem like poor advice when the ultra-humid Japanese Summer descends, but you'll notice the difference in your energy levels.

Theory into practice

So, how much trust should you put in yet another theory on what is good for us? Well, Pratt and Matthews certainly have no shortage of medical studies to back up their ideas, and on a more philosophical level, their whole foods approach reflects the growing suspicion that it is just a mite unlikely human scientists can surpass in a few tens of years what the natural world has taken billions to sort out.

But, as with everything, the super foods concept has a number of practicalities and caveats to consider. The most obvious of these is that 99 percent of us shop in supermarkets, where we buy food that is force grown with chemicals before being treated with other chemicals (or irradiated) to keep it 'fresh'. Organic it is not. How does this affect the potency of a supposed super food?

Doctor Pratt addressed this point in an interview on www.webmd.com not long after SuperFoods Rx was released: “[I]t is more important to eat the fruits and vegetables and grains than it is to worry about whether they are organic or not.” This will probably come as some relief to Japan residents — the humid, insect-friendly climate and consumer demand for unblemished produce here seems to mandate the use of massive volumes of agricultural chemicals.

Pratt also maintains a similar line on whether super foods are more nutritious fresh or preserved, raw or cooked. The one place he does stand firm is with the salmon, insisting that farmed should not be sub- stituted for wild, and, in fact, claiming that canned wild beats fresh farmed due to the levels of pollutants found in these fish. You may want to mull this over before your next shopping trip, as a high percen- tage of the fish sold in Japan is farmed.

Another point for whole fooders to keep in mind is colour. It is now well established that the colour of each food indicates the nutritional compounds it contains. For example, as well as (red) tomatoes, lico-pene is found in pink grapefruit, watermelon and some papaya, while replacements for pumpkin include butternut squash, sweet potatoes and orange bell peppers. So, don't just eat your greens, eat your reds and your yellows too.

Finally, for those who think healthy eating need be dull, take a look at Pratt and Matthews' latest book, SuperFoods HealthStyle.

In addition to the various substitutes the Rx book recommends for the big 14, dark chocolate, honey and kiwi fruit are now on the menu, as are spices of all types. The two even give the nod to dietary supple- ments, although as Pratt cautions in his webmd interview: “It is impo- ssible to manufacture a supplement that has all the nutrients found in food.”

So, just in case you have yet to figure it out, the message is simple here: Keep it whole, and you're a starter; Eat super foods, and you're winning.


Text: Kym Hutcheon • Photo: KS

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Super foods and their benefits

Lower cholesterol, fight heat disease, stabilise blood sugar, reduce obesity, relieve hypertension and help prevent cancer.

Help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer, and fight age- related problems such as skin and mental deterioration.

Boosts immune system, lowers incidence of cataracts, supports cardiovascular health, builds bones and fights birth defects.

Lower cholesterol, help prevent coronary heart disease and Type II diabetes, plus high in fibre and protein.

Support heart health and help prevent cancer, stroke, diabetes and various chronic ailments.

Reduces risk of various cancers, supplies nutrients necessary for youthful skin and helps prevent damage from sunlight.

Wild salmon:
Reduces risk of heart disease and cancer.

Helps prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis, helps relieve menopausal/menstrual symptoms, plus only complete vegetarian source of protein.

Helps prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Tea (green or black):
Boosts immune system, helps prevent cancer and osteoporosis, lowers risk of stroke and supports cardiovascular health.

Reduce risk of (prostrate) cancer, raise skin's sun protection factor and may help prevent age-related macular degeneration.

Reduce risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Boosts immune system, supports heart health, plus excellent source of protein and calcium.