Super Food : Beetroot, chocolate and carrots

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BBC Radio Nottingham Health Headlines; April 2013
1. Beetroot proved to lower blood pressure

Beetroot is truly a super food. Not only has it been used by nutritionists and others to help cleanse and detoxify the liver and it’s anti-oxidant properties which help to defend cells from free radical damage is also known because it’s rich red colour contains power full anti-cancer properties (betacyanin). There is now new research to show that beetroot juice can lower blood pressure too and thus help to prevent strokes and heart disease.

The nitrate content of beetroot juice helps lower blood pressure, research has shown.
A study in the US journal Hypertension found that blood pressure was reduced within 24 hours in people who drank beetroot juice or took nitrate tablets.
The higher the blood pressure, the greater the impact of the nitrates.
This research suggests there is hope of using a more “natural” approach to bring down blood pressure. Nitrates are found in a number of vegetables.
A previous study found that drinking a pint of beetroot juice lowered blood pressure significantly in people with normal blood pressure.
Amrita Ahluwalia, author of the study and professor of vascular pharmacology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry said they had now proved why.

Amrita Ahluwalia
London School of Medicine
“We showed that beetroot and nitrate capsules are equally effective in lowering blood pressure, indicating that it is the nitrate content of beetroot juice that underlies its potential to reduce blood pressure,” she said.
The research shows that the inorganic nitrate content in beetroot is changed into the gas nitric oxide when eaten. This gas keeps the blood vessels open and relaxed and keeps blood pressure down.

2. Does Chocolate give you spots?

There are several conflicting reports about whether chocolate is health providing or harmful and whether it can give you spots or not. From a nutritional perspective, chocolate is neither an absolute super food or a totally naughty food because it depends on the quality and of course quantity eaten.
Chocolate or rather the cocoa solid that makes up the chocolate bar contains helpful plant sterols and flavonoids which have a powerful anti-oxidant effect that can help to protect cells from damage. It has also been shown that chocolate can in fact, help to lower cholesterol levels, and the powerful flavonoids it contains help to stop blood from becoming sticky, thus helping to reduce the incidence of heart disease.

However, it is the other ingredients and additives in chocolate that can cause health problems. Many commercial chocolate bars contain high levels of sugar, fat and other additives that not only contribute to raising blood sugar levels, and contribute to weight gain, but these ingredients can effect hormones such as testosterone which can become elevated leading to increased sebum production and thus encouraging spots.

So the rule with chocolate is to try to choose brands that contain higher levels of ‘active ingredient’ cocoa solid, less milk and less sugar. Dark chocolate will contain the highest levels of healthy flavonoids, and some brands are reported to contain 4 times the levels of anti-oxidants than tea.

There is also some new research that has used fruit juice in place of fat which has been shown to be just as velvety and tasty as the high fat chocolate but will have a less detrimental effect on blood sugar levels and weight gain.

3. Can eating more fruit make teenagers calmer?

Eating more fruit and vegetables may make young people calmer, happier and more energetic in their daily life, new research from New Zealand’s University of Otago suggests.

A total of 281 young adults (with a mean age of 20 years) completed an internet-based daily food diary for 21 consecutive days. Prior to this, participants completed a questionnaire giving details of their age, gender, ethnicity, weight and height. Those with a history of an eating disorder were excluded.

On each of the 21 days participants logged into their diary each evening and rated how they felt using nine positive and nine negative adjectives. They were also asked five questions about what they had eaten that day. Specifically, participants were asked to report the number of servings eaten of fruit (excluding fruit juice and dried fruit), vegetables (excluding juices), and several categories of unhealthy foods like biscuits/cookies, potato crisps, and cakes/muffins.

The results showed a strong day-to-day relationship between more positive mood and higher fruit and vegetable consumption, but not other foods.

“On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic than they normally did,” says Dr Conner.

“After further analysis we demonstrated that young people would need to consume approximately seven to eight total servings of fruits and vegetables per day to notice a meaningful positive change.
She adds that while this research shows a promising connection between healthy foods and healthy moods, further research is necessary and the authors recommend the development of randomised control trials evaluating the influence of high fruit and vegetable intake on mood and wellbeing.

4. Could Carrots reduce the risk of Type II diabetes?

Stanford University School of Medicine investigators have found that for people harboring a genetic predisposition that is prevalent among Americans, beta carotene, which the body converts to a close cousin of vitamin A, may lower the risk for the most common form of diabetes, while gamma tocopherol, the major form of vitamin E in the American diet, may increase risk for the disease

In 2010, Patel, Butte and their colleagues published the results of the first-ever EWAS, in which they combed large public databases to compare people with or without high blood-glucose levels – a defining marker of type-2 diabetes – in pursuit of differences between the two groups’ exposures to myriad environmental substances. The analysis fingered five substances, including both beta carotene, found in carrots and many other vegetables, and gamma tocopherol, which is relatively abundant in vegetable fats such as soybean, corn and canola oils and margarine.

The research suggests that the protein in a gene called, SLC30A4, may play a crucial role in the disease. Indeed, that protein is relatively abundant in insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas, where it aids the transport of zinc into those cells. This, in turn, triggers the release of insulin, whose adequate secretion by the pancreas and efficient uptake in muscle, liver and fat tissue counters the dangerous buildup of glucose in the blood and, in the long run, the onset of type-2 diabetes.

The review discusses and identifies the following important nutritional factors that have been shown to be beneficial to the maintenance of muscle mass and the treatment and prevention of sarcopenia:
Protein: Protein intake plays an integral part in muscle health. The authors propose an intake of 1.0-1.2 g/kg of body weight per day as optimal for skeletal muscle and bone health in elderly people without severely impaired renal function.
Vitamin D: As many studies indicate a role for vitamin D in the development and preservation of muscle mass and function, adequate vitamin D should be ensured through exposure to sunlight and/or supplementation if required. Vitamin D supplementation in seniors, and especially in institutionalized elderly, is recommended for optimal musculoskeletal health.
Avoiding dietary acid loads: Excess intake of acid-producing nutrients (meat and cereal grains) in combination with low intake of alkalizing fruits and vegetables may have negative effects on musculoskeletal health. Modifying the diet to include more fruits and vegetables is likely to benefit both bones and muscles.
Emerging evidence also suggests that vitamin B12 and/or folic acid play a role in improving muscle function and strength.

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