From Arthritis To Zeaxanthin, EN's A-To-Z Guide Meets The 21st Century


The new millennium has already ushered in more than its shard of note-worthy nutrition findings from A to Z.

The trend for thc 21st century seems to be an embrace of all that's natural, from herbal remedies like kava and yohimbe to supplements like L-arginine and probiotics. Moreover, the benefits of natural phytochemicals like quercetin and zeaxanthin are now backed by more research, prompting experts to urge a new appreciation for whole foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Here are highlights from EN's not-to-be-missed stories that spanned the millennial shift.

A growing number of people are turning to alternative remedies to alleviate the debilitating and painful effects of arthritis. The promising nutrition therapies for osteoarthritis (the type caused by the wear and tear of aging) are glucosamine, chondroitin,, SAM-e, antioxidant vitamins and minerals, vitamin D, a vegetarian diet and exercise. For rheumatoid arthritis: omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid and vitamin E. But beware the cyclical nature of arthritis, which makes it difficult to assess the effectiveness of any treatment, traditional or alternative.

Benecol, the first margarine-like spread touted to lower cholesterol, recently received Food and Drug Administration approval to make heart-healthy label claims, as did a similar product, Take Control. The benefit comes from ingredients called phytosterols, substances derived from pine trees or soy, for instance. They are believed to bind with cholesterol in the gut and prevent its absorption. When used regularly with a low-fat diet. these products can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels by as much as 14%.
Cancer-Fighting Foods

All fruits and vegetables pack a punch when it comes to protecting against cancer. But are some foods better than others? You bet. For example, cooked tomatoes tussle with prostate, lung and colon cancers, tea does battle with skin, colon and bladder cancers and foods high in folate (e.g. asparagus, lentils, orange juice, peanuts) fend off colon, breast and cervical cancers. Scientists attribute differences to the unique mix of phytochemicals and nutrients they contain.
Detox Diets

Diets that purport to rid the body of impurities or detoxify poisons typically involve laxatives, diuretics or fasting. Such detox diets have not proved safe or effective. Some scientists, however, believe fasting might benefit high blood pressure. EN discourages anything but modified fasts that include a carbohydrate source (e.g., fruit, juice or rice), a multivitamin and plenty of water. A physician should closely supervise any fast that's more severe, longer than two or three days or if any medical condition exists.

Everyone knows the best way to lose weight is to get moving. But now there's even more reason for dieters to start exercising--to boost the immune system. Several studies have linked obesity to lowered immune function. Severe restriction of calories causes further impairment. Adding regular exercise to a diet regimen, however, not only counteracts the immune-suppressing effects of a low-calorie diet, but boosts immune function even higher than before the diet started.
Farmed Fish

Aquaculture was designed to relieve the depletion of fish in the wild. But certain farmed species like salmon have exactly the opposite effect on the environment. Farming such fare results in wasteful catches, destroys coastal land and reduces the population of wild fish used for feed. Moreover, when you order wild salmon, there's a 40% chance that what you get is actually an "escapee" from a fish farm. Choose farmed fish with less environmental impact, such as tilapia, catfish, carp, clams and mussels.

You can't tell by looking at it, smelling it or tasting it, but the food you buy may contain an ingredient that comes from a genetically modified organism (GMO). Genetically modified plants have genes inserted in them from another plant or even from another species. Consumer groups estimate that half of all packaged foods in the U.S. contain at least one GMO ingredient, yet are not labeled as such. If you're concerned, look for products identified as "GMO-free" or buy 100% certified organic foods.

One of every two people over age 50 has hemorrhoids. Prevention and treatment benefit from the same advice: Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods (25 grams a day), drink lots of fluids (at least eight cups a day) and stay fit (exercise daily). Creams and hot baths may temporarily relieve discomfort; laxatives are okay only on occasion.
Insulin Resistance

For people whose cells are resistant to insulin, too many carbohydrates can spell trouble. Not because they cause obesity, as many diet books claim, but because the resulting excess insulin elevates blood sugar levels and can lead to a cluster of metabolic problems known as Syndrome X, raising the risk of heart disease. The best way to control insulin resistance is to maintain a healthy weight, exercise daily and choose carbs wisely. Focus on high-fiber, low-calorie foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Juice Wannabes

Although it's still minus the fiber and concentrated in calories, fruit juice may be the next best thing to a piece of fruit--if it's 100% juice. Many of today's drinks merely masquerade as juice. Blends, drinks, punches and cocktails may contain as little as 5% real juice, with lots of sugar and water. EN says stick to 100% juice. And check the ingredient list to see what you're getting; the juices listed may not match the name on the label.

Known as kava-kava in its native South Pacific, this plant is a natural stress-buster. It appears to promote alert relaxation, followed by restful sleep. A recent British study found kava to be effective in treating mild anxiety. Although side effects are few, there are some cautions. Kava should not be taken with alcohol or other drugs that act on the central nervous system. It should not be used when taking blood thinners, by people with Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia or depression or by pregnant or nursing women.

L-arginine is an amino acid found naturally in protein-rich foods. It is also the precursor of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring compound that dilates arteries so blood can flow freely, and it may be involved in wound healing. Short-term studies show that supplements that contain L-arginine, like HeartBar, can relieve symptoms in people with cardiovascular disease. But there are no long-term data yet and certain side effects and drug interactions could be dangerous.

More is not always better, particularly when it comes to multivitamins. Taking two multi's may be a good thing for some nutrients like vitamin D, but for vitamin A and iron, a double dose has the potential to cause problems. Too much vitamin A is toxic and may increase the risk of osteoporosis. Extra iron is harmful for people with hemochromatosis (iron overload disease). If you want more calcium and vitamin D, take a bone supplement instead of a second multi.

The next time a snack attack comes on, try a handful of nuts. High in healthful monounsaturated fats, nuts are chock full of phytochemicals as well. They are also good sources of protein, fiber, magnesium, potassium and vitamin E. Brazil nuts are super high in selenium. Eating a handful of nuts regularly may reduce your risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure. It may even help combat cancer.
Olive Oil

There's more to olive oil than distinctive flavor. It's rich in monounsaturated fats; studies show that diets high in mono fats can lower "bad" low-density lipoproteins (LDL's) without lowering "good" high-density lipoproteins (HDL's). Olive oil is also rich in healthful phytochemicals. The least processed grade (extra-virgin) exudes the most flavor and provides the most phytochemicals. Still, don't get carried away; one tablespoon contains 14 grams of fat and 120 calories.

Probiotics are friendly bacteria that normally inhabit the intestinal tract. You may know them as the "live and active cultures" added to yogurt, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidus. Now they are also available in capsule form (e.g. Culturelle) and in powder form (e.g. LC1). While supporters say probiotics can improve immune function and reduce your risk of certain cancers, all we really know for sure is they can help deter diarrhea.

Quercetin belongs to the flavonoid family of phytochemicals and, like its cousin, is believed to provide a host of beneficial effects. Scientists suspect that because of its antioxidant properties, it may protect against cancer, heart disease and stroke, as well as keep lungs healthy. Quercetin is most abundant in the skin of apples, onions, tea, berries and red wine.
Respiratory Health

Most people take breathing for granted, but not the 30 million Americans with chronic lung disease. Scientists now think a healthful diet can help these people breathe more easily. That includes loading up on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (especially vitamin C-rich citrus fruits), whole grains and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna. Moderate amounts of caffeine may also offer some benefit. Other tips: Maintain a healthy weight, don't smoke, take a multivitamin and stay active.

You don't need to be quite so uneasy about Salmonella-infected eggs anymore. That's the good news. Over the last five years, better egg handling and increased awareness have caused this foodborne illness to drop nearly 50%. The bad news is that outbreaks are now occurring from tainted produce, often the result of cutting into unwashed cantaloupe and squash. What to do? Before cutting, wash all produce well, even the surfaces of melons and squash.

Like most vitamins, vitamin E exists in several forms, including tocotrienols. Overshadowed by alpha-tocopherol (considered the most important), tocotrienols are being studied for positive effects on cancer cells, cholesterol levels and carotid arteries. While it's too early to tell if tocotrienol supplements can help, it's a good idea to eat vitamin E-rich foods like wheat germ, nuts (especially almonds, peanuts, pistachios and walnuts), legumes and vegetable oils. Unlike supplements, which typically contain only alpha-tocopherol, E-rich foods contain all eight members of the vitamin E family.
Ultra-Pasteurized Milk

Ultra-pasteurization is a new process that heats milk to a whopping 280 degrees F for just two seconds, killing both disease causing and milk-souring bacteria in one fell swoop. It also allows the high-tech milk to stay fresh three times longer than regular milk (although once opened, all refrigerated milks last about a week). Nutrients are not affected by the process, but the milk is slightly sweeter and thicker than regular milk.
Vitamin C

You may know that besides preventing scurvy, vitamin C is involved in wound healing and protein building. But did you know vitamin C may also lower the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, help asthma sufferers and aid vision? Since it's not stored in the body, you must get C every day. Experts say you can get what you need by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. EN agrees. Aim for at least five a day.
Wheat Grass

Wheat grass juice may be the new hot "shot" at juice bars, but we're baffled. The dark green liquid is purported to do almost everything from detoxifying the liver to increasing fertility, but there is little research to back any of this. Nutritionally, wheat grass is a source of many nutrients like B vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium, but because of its high water content you'd have to drink much more than a one-ounce shot to get the equivalent of even 1/2-cup of spinach.
Xanathan Gum

Produced from the fermentation of corn, xanthan gum is one of a family of naturally occurring gums used to thicken foods. It can be found in everything from ice cream to salad dressing and, except for people who are allergic to corn, is considered perfectly safe to eat. Gums are essentially plant flours that swell when wet and can be a source of soluble fiber. They are used in such small quantities, however, that their nutritional value is insignificant.

Before there was Viagra, there was the yohimbe plant. Valued as an aphrodisiac for centuries, yohimbe has been used in Europe for the past 75 years--reportedly with good results. Yohimbe works by increasing blood flow. But because it can cause changes in blood pressure, heart rate and mental state, it is off limits for older men and those with liver, kidney and heart disease or psychiatric illness. Avoid foods containing tyramine and drugs containing phenylpropanolamine (PPA) if you take yohimbe. Lack of standardization of the whole herb favors the prescription form.

Keep your eyes on zeaxanthin. Found in dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collards and spinach, this phytochemical, along with its carotenoid cousin lutein, may be your best defense against age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). Currently, ARMD is the leading cause of irreversible blindness among Americans over 65. These two carotenoids are believed to protect the eye by filtering out ultraviolet light and preventing oxidation of the retina.


By Diane Welland, M.S., R.D.

Adapted by M.S., R.D.

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