Phytonutrients in Fruit and the Cancer Connection

October 28, 2013

Phytonutrients in Fruit and the Cancer Connection 

 Reference:  Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson 

 This is such an important topic, we’re doing two weeks.  We covered vegetables last week and now fruit.  To recap the concept.  GMO food is not new.  We, humans, have been genetically modifying food the old-fashioned way for the last 5000 years by farmers selecting foods that are better tasting (usually means sweet and less bitter), bigger and prettier.  As an unintended consequence, we have gradually reduced the phytonutrient content of our foods.  We may not have been doing it in a test tube at a major food research lab, but we have been modifying our plants nevertheless.  The phytonutrients are often the bright colors in foods, but also the bitter flavor.  In plants, they serve to ward off insect predators.  In humans, they stimulate our immune system to then react against cancers and inflammation.   

Here is what has happened to fruits. 

 1.  Apples.  A catastrophic decline.  Our 9 major apples in grocery stores are almost all void of much value.  A wild apple from Nepal measures 475 times the phytonutrient content of a Ginger Gold or a Golden Delicious.  A study from Japan in the 90’s showed that Fuji apples (representing modern ones) had one eightieth (1/80) of the cancer-fighting ability of Japanese heirloom apples.  Some tips on how to get the most from your apples:  buy heirloom, look for the brightly colored ones that have been the most sun-exposed, eat the skin, and don’t get the pesticide-covered ones.  Pesticides cause cancer too. 

 2.  Blueberries.  Once so abundant in North America, folks just went to the woods.  Chokeberries, the wild form, have a level of 160 compared to most modern berries in the 2-5 range.  Despite that, research from Tufts has shown that a diet of 10% blueberries completely prevent Alzheimer’s in rats.  The ORAC score of blueberries (ORAC = Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) is 3500 for half a cup.  That’s about the highest fruit in America.  Tips:  buy during mid-season and freeze them.  Buy organic and pay more (less pesticide).  Buy frozen if you need to – harvested at peak.  And cooked blueberries have double the antioxidant.  Cooking releases good stuff. 

 3.  Blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, and strawberries.  Are all high ORAC scoring (1800-2500 range) so make for superfoods.  Strawberries are heavily pecticided so buy local, wash carefully, pick your own.   All berries are high cancer fighters. 

 4.  Peaches.   Exception to the color rule: white peaches are 3 times better than yellow.  But then red flesh is the better yet. (5801 to 637 score). 

 5.  Apricots.  Superstars!  Up to 8 times the value of a peach.  Given a choice, take the apricot.  Early varieties are dramatically low in antioxidants do buy in July and August.   Since we eat more dried than fresh, how it’s dried matters: tunnel drying quadruples the antioxidant result compared to sun drying. (It’s faster) 

 6.  Cherries.  Also superstars.  Bing beats Ranier 4 to 1 for antioxidants.    And cherry juice is a potent anti-inflammatory.  Foreign cherries have less pesticides. 

 7.  Plums and Prunes.  Buy the darker varieties that mature later, like apricots.  They too reduce inflammation dramatically and now have been proven to build bone. If you have osteopenia or –porosis, you should eat dried plums daily. 

 8.  Grapes.  Native American muscadine grapes are dramatically better than imported European varieties, so worth the tough skin and seeds.   White grapes are sweet, pretty, and worthless.  Eat black seedless and get 4 times the antioxidant.  Concord grape juice is a secret sleeper – better anti-oxidant than acai berries.  Yeah, yeah – that stuff your Mom bought you is a star.   Concord grape juice fares well in Alzheimer’s research, cardiovascular disease research…  so if you drink any fruit juice, make it Concord grape.   Rinse just before eating for all the heavy pesticides. 

 9.  Currants.  Rare and not often eaten. Too bad.  Much, much better than grapes. 

 10.  Oranges.  Hesperidin might be a cancer fighter, but you get it only in the whole fruit.  Don’t drink the juice: pure sugar.  The pith might be a cancer superstar. 

 11.  Lemons.  Are second only to cranberries against cancer in test-tube experiments.  And the peel/pith is really where the action is.  Find a way to “zest” your foods more.  Add lemon to your green tea and double the green tea antioxidant effect! 

 12.  Grapefruits.  Might be cardiac disease superstars.   But they don’t mix with some meds – changing drug levels as much as 50%.  That might be a benefit, or not! 13.  Bananas.   Don't.  Unless you buy heirloom or Asian varieties.  Or just want carbs. 

 14.  Pineapples.  Interestingly enough, newer super-sweet varieties have more anti-oxidants.  Eat right away. They don’t improve with age. 

 15.  Mangos. Worth discovering.  5 times more Vit C than oranges, 5 times more fiber than pineapples and more phytonutrients than papaya.  Learn to cut them and eat them with relish.  

16.  Guavas.  Also worth discovering.  It might be a sleeper superstar and not much studied but all indications are “go”.   Hispanic stores have it.  Lucky devils. 

 17.  Melons.  Pretty low on the ladder.  Taste good.  Not much value.  They’re all water.  Red watermelon does have some lycopene, in addition to all its sugar. 

 18.  Pomegranates.  The juice has been shown to reverse plaque in carotid arteries. 

 WWW.  What will work for me.  Fruits are pretty high on the antioxidant ladder of foods, but just like vegetables, there is a huge range of nutritional value.  There are enough superstars out there that I can build an interesting menu with lots of variety.  I’m having fun adding  cranberries, prunes and apricots to my menu.  And mangoes every chance I get.  I can eat 4 mangoes at a sitting.    I’ll show you how to cut them.    Caveat.  Fruit is nature's candy and often has too much sugar, making for a high glycemic load.  

 Pop Quiz 

 1.   Pytonutrients are the trace elements in plants that help the plants fight insect invaders.  T or F                            Answer:   True 

 2.  Those trace elements in humans seem to nudge our immune system to be its best, and fight cancer effectively.  T or F                         Answer:  Another true. 

 3.   A crab apple a day keeps the doctor away.  T or F                           Answer:  That's it in a nutshell. Our modern, genetically modified plants have lost much of their trace nutritional value, something we have not measured to date.  Crab apples, still in their genetically original form have as much as 100 times the antioxidants of some modern sweet apples. 

 4.   Cranberries are pretty high on the list of great foods.  T or F True                          Answer:  (Brought to you by the Wisconsin Cranberry board)-but still true. 

 5. Apricots, tunnel dried are a great antioxidant treat. T or F?                        Answer:  True.  The rapid tunnel drying preserves their antioxidant value. 

 6.  Melons are great anti-oxidant foods.  T or F If you said true, you hadn't read to the bottom.  They are nice and sweet, but mostly water.  Try mangoes instead. 

 7.  The best fruit to build bone is...?.                                Answer:  Prunes.  

Column Written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI.