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March, 2009

Glorious Greens

By Cheryl Forberg

I’m convinced that if everyone understood the priceless benefits that fruits and vegetables contain, we’d be eating a lot more of them.

Fruits, vegetables, as well as whole grains contain many different plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that help prevent a variety of conditions from cancer to heart disease. Here are just a few of the beneficial components you’ll get from a variety of plant foods.

Organic Garlic
Allium compounds: These substances found in garlic, onions, and chives may make carcinogens less harmful. Allium compounds become primarily available to your system when the foods are cut, crushed, and heated. Beta-carotene: This carotenoid pigment, when digested, produces more vitamin A than any other carotenoid does. It’s also a powerful antioxidant. You’ll find it in dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach and orange fruits and vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.








Oranges
Carotenoids: The vivid pigments that give foods their yellow, orange, and red colors act as protective antioxidants in your body. More than 600 carotenoids have been discovered; the more well-known ones include beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lycopene. Though high levels of preformed vitamin A from animal sources can be toxic, provitamin A from carotenoids can be very beneficial in fighting aging and decreasing risk of breast, cervical, colon, lung, and skin cancer.

Catechins: These fall into a larger family called phenols and show significant antioxidant power. You’ll find them in rich supply in green and black tea and wine.






Organic Strawberries
Ellagic acid: Pop a few strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, or walnuts and you’ll get a burst of this cancer-fighting phytochemical.

Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG): This catechin found in tea possesses powerful antioxidant properties that play an important role in preventing cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Flavonoids: These are some of the most potent types of antioxidants found in plants. They’ve been the subject of lots of research and have been shown to help protect cells from carcinogens. They’re found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and tea.



Edamame
Genistein: You’ll find this in rich supply in soybeans, soy milk, tofu, and other soy foods. Genistein falls within a group of flavonoids called isoflavones, which are also referred to as phytoestrogens, or plant-based estrogens. Isoflavones may occupy estrogen receptors on cells, keeping your own estrogen from interacting with the cells. The verdict is still out on whether this can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Indoles: You get these cancer-fighting compounds from cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and mustard greens.

Lignans: The richest source of these phytoestrogens is flaxseed, though you’ll also find them in whole grains and soybeans. They may help protect you from cancers such as breast cancer by blocking the effects of your body’s estrogen, although again, the evidence is still shaky. They’re also antioxidants.

Limonene: This is found in citrus peel and herbs including dill, coriander, and fennel. Research has shown that it can help prevent cancer. Quercetin: This flavonoid compound, abundant in onions, apples, grapes, and broccoli, works as an antioxidant, decreases inflammation, and helps inhibit cancer formation. Resveratrol: Another flavonoid found in grape skins, grape juice, and wine, it helps fight cancer by inhibiting cell growth.


Organic Blueberries
Salvestrols: These powerful anticancer phytochemicals, found in bitter flavors in fruits, exist in higher levels in organic produce than in produce treated with fungicide chemicals. Processed fruit products, such as juices, are lower in salvestrols because the bitterness is removed. Good sources of these chemicals are whole organic strawberries, cranberries, red wine (resveratrol is a form of salvestrol), blueberries, broccoli, and cabbage.

Isothiocyanates:
Like indoles, these are also found in cruciferous vegetables and have been shown to have significant cancer-fighting ability. A sulfur compound, isothiocyanate is found in mustard greens and seeds, daikon, horseradish, and wasabi. Like the indoles, these phytochemicals have similar cancer-fighting effects Mustard greens are also loaded with highly absorbable calcium and vitamins A, C, thiamin, and riboflavin.

Southern-Style Greens
This combination of greens has a hint of bitterness that balances nicely with the sweetness in balsamic vinegar.
Yield: 2 cups; four (1/2-cup) servings

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 ounces fresh mustard greens, cleaned and chopped
8 ounces collard or other greens such as, turnip, or beet, cleaned and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until wilted and lightly golden, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and mustard powder and cook for 1 minute; do not brown garlic.

Add the vinegar and mix well. Begin adding the greens, one-third at a time, pressing them down as they begin to wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until the greens are soft, about 8 minutes. Serve hot