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Friday, June 7, 2013

Coke with your candy corn?


 My heightened interest in nutrition probably springs from my determination to try to keep being allowed to have a dose of Avastin every three weeks. This is in spite of the fact that it's putting my kidneys at grave and increasing risk because of this very long time as an Avastin user.

    I'm trying to do two contradictory things; to keep taking a drug that prolongs my life by slowing down the progress of a brain tumour, but permanently damages my kidneys. I have to keep protein levels excreted by my kidneys down as far as possible.

    My body needs protein, but it can also indirectly reduce the length of my life.

    I don't have much room to manoeuvre. Too little and my immune system suffers more than it has already from chemotherapy in the past. Too much protein and my kidneys register a dangerously high reading. A too-high reading, and the makers of Avastin stop supplying the drug to me, for good reasons.

   So, continue to take Avastin, and my kidneys will shut down at some point. Stop taking it, and my brain will be overrun by the tumour.

    How do I pick my way through this life-and-death matter? Mainly by understanding foods and how my body deals with them, minimising risk and optimising the balance between two dangers, both of which are deadly. And in my search for nutritious lower protein foods, I've discovered unexpected things relevant not only to me, but to other sick people, and to healthy ones (like you, I hope).

    Meat and seafoods are high in protein. Leaving aside any ethical objection, eating a sensible amount of them of good quality and properly prepared is healthy. No surprises there. But I'm ignoring them here and talking about vegetables.

    What I've found (in this case, mainly from the article referred to below), is that humans have unwittingly degraded the nutritive value of vegetables we take for granted as potent in promoting health. But here's what was the surprise to me. This isn't necessarily because of something recent. It started happening when humans changed from foraging for wild food to growing it themselves more than ten thousand years ago. It's obvious if I'd thought about it a bit more.

    I'm not fond of bitter vegetables, like rocket-style lettuce. I tended to go for something more bland, such as the Iceberg variety. But the more unappealing they may be to our taste buds, the more they mimic the taste of those from which they've descended in the wild, and their strength in fighting the scourge diseases of modern society turns out to be vastly higher.

   Baby-boomers in Australia were usually brought up on bland vegetables, cooked to within an inch of their lives. A vast amount of sugar was added to everything that wasn't meatfruits, desserts and cakes... and sticky lollies were reward items – caramels, boiled sweets, toffee.... No wonder we had fillings in every tooth before we were teenagers, and half the population had dentures. But to come back to the point.

      Dandelions have many times the disease-fighting properties of Popeye's famous spinach. In promoting health, yams are streets ahead of the supermarket potatoes that may appeal more to customers.

White sweetcorn: 40% sugar
    Farmers have chosen to grow vegetables most pleasing to the palate. It's hardly surprising. They are more marketable and still have good nutritive value in most cases – but not all of them, it seems.

   I was taken aback by what we've done to corn – the eating variety we call sweet-corn. The whiter the kernals, the sweeter, but the poorer in nutrition. I was shocked to find that they were up to 40% sugar – much like Coca Cola, but with a little more fibre!

Green is good
    Shallots – spring onions if you like, or scallions – they're fantastic –  especially if you eat the green part, much of which is often chopped off when you buy them at the supermarket. It's about presentation as well as taste. We like the appearance of the white part more, it's neater on the shelves and looks better value for money. It's best to buy a bunch untrimmed, chop it up and put every bit into the casserole, soup, or salad.

   I'm not saying the vegetables we're eating aren't healthy, but that some choices may be better than others. We just need accurate information. 

   Here are excerpts from a recent New York Times article on this subject from which I've extracted some of the above. I recommend that you read the complete article. It's not long. It may not be news to you, but a lot of it was to me.

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...much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.

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Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.” A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common russet potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious displayed in our supermarkets. 

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Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have chosen the least bitter plants to grow in their gardens. It is now known that many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil.

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Anthocyanins have the potential to fight cancer, calm inflammation, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, protect the aging brain, and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

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The disadvantage of being yellow, we now know, had been an advantage to human health. Corn with deep yellow kernels, including the yellow corn available in our grocery stores, has nearly 60 times more beta-carotene than white corn, valuable because it turns to Vitamin A in the body, which helps vision and the immune system. 

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Today, most of the fresh corn in our supermarkets is extra-sweet. The kernels are either white, pale yellow, or a combination of the two. The sweetest varieties approach 40 percent sugar, bringing new meaning to the words “candy corn.” 

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Select corn with deep yellow kernels. 

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In the lettuce section, look for arugula. Arugula, also called salad rocket, is very similar to its wild ancestor. 

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Scallions, or green onions, are jewels of nutrition hiding in plain sight. They resemble wild onions and are just as good for you. Remarkably, they have more than five times more phytonutrients than many common onions do. The green portions of scallions are more nutritious than the white bulbs, so use the entire plant. Herbs are wild plants incognito. We’ve long valued them for their intense flavors and aroma, which is why they’ve not been given a flavor makeover. Because we’ve left them well enough alone, their phytonutrient content has remained intact.

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Experiment with using large quantities of mild-tasting fresh herbs.

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We can’t increase the health benefits of our produce if we don’t know which nutrients it contains. Ultimately, we need more than an admonition to eat a greater quantity of fruits and vegetables: we need more fruits and vegetables that have the nutrients we require for optimum health. 

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Many thanks to Jo Robinson, "Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food" http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/opinion/sunday/breeding-the-nutrition-out-of-our-food.html


12 comments:

  1. Very interesting Denis, in that it seems our taste buds have outstripped our evolutionary capacity for change. I wonder what other aspects of modern society might also be similarly affected. Your research also disposes of the hopeful philosophy “if my body craves it, then it must be good for me”. I always suspected that this did not apply to my favourite weakness ... cream cakes ... but Julie did serve up rocket-style lettuce last night, which was not at all bad - when doused in egg mayonnaise!!!

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    1. I don't think we quite made it out of 100,000 years of evolution, where our ancestors before the modern era made good use of whatever sugar was available naturally because they needed energy. They didn't have 'pure white and deadly' refined sugar, one of the main banes of modern existence in a sedentary environment.

      When we were kids, we weren't tubby from eating sugar because of our active lifestyle — but our teeth took a hammering.

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  2. Blast and damn! I tend to love everything about real food (i.e unprocessed food) and I grow a lot of it myself, but one I really don't enjoy, though I can eat it to be polite, is rocket! It just tastes all wrong.
    Thank you for this conversation-starter Denis. It's important stuff. xx

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    1. Yes, evolution has decreed that we crave all the wrong things for modern living — sugars and fats in particular. Good for our ancestors, deadly for us. Great for fast food chains.

      I'm tolerating rocket better with the thought that it must be doing me good!

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  3. I read that article when you tweeted it a week or so ago and found it so interesting I bookmarked it. Over time I've learned to love rocket and anything bitter as, along with dandelion,it's said to be good for the liver - my weak spot. BTW, I read somewhere online that asparagus is good for the kidneys. Don't know how true it is...

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    1. Asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts - go for them! We also really need to know is how much poison has been put on our fruit and veg to make them look that good.... I shudder to think.

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  4. I'm pretty sure Denis and Tracey will already have found this incredibly informative site on kidney health ,but for others who may be interested it is:

    http://www.kidneycoach.com/778/the-definitive-guide-on-protein-and-kidney-disease/

    Luckily, we like rocket and grow it all year round - one of the few greens that survives any conditions Armidale winters can produce! And that bitter, satisfying taste of brussels sprouts - yum! Don't imagine that I'm in any way immune to the delights of cake, chocolate or alcohol though...

    Julie M.

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    1. That's a very good article, I think. Thanks for pointing it out. I can't recall reading it before but when you read a whole lot together it's hard to distinguish.

      "... too much protein can damage the kidneys, yet too little does not provide the building blocks for growth and repair...." sums it up nicely.

      I never thought of brussels sprouts as bitter — I hope I'm not eating a Coca Cola version! I love them. Keely, my s-i-l, calls them the food of Satan. It's not meant as a compliment. :)

      I had no idea rocket grows all year round here. For Armidale, that's impressive!

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  5. I know people who put the water to boil and then run out to pick the corn, run back and hurl it into the pot, because they believe that as soon as you pick it the kernels begin turning into starch (which is not good, apparently). When I grow corn though, I find it's so sweet you don't actually need to cook it at all. In fact, it's too sweet for my liking so I don't grow it any more. But then I like rocket, which is what I do grow a lot of (it's a weed really, of course.)

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    1. I know nothing about the starch thing but used to love eating sweetcorn just from the cob. When we were kids we used to sneak into the neighbour's ordinary corn crop for cattle [we're talking 5 acres at a time here] and select a very young cob. Stripped of the leaves, the corncob can be eaten whole. Very tasty!

      I look at the big healthy dandelions that grow in the garden when the boy hasn't mown for a while, and think how healthy as salad items they must be. I don't think I'd go for dandelion tea though, but I'm sure it's good for you.

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  6. Heavens. No wonder the possums like sweetcorn!

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