Imagine getting a prescription from your doctor for broccoli, garlic and wheatgrass. This is the scenario that scientists are predicting, as more and more phytochemicals are found in food.

With the discovery of more and more phytonutrients, medicine is coming full circle and starting, once again, to embrace the words of Hippocrates – “Let food be your medicine, and medicine your food.” Certain foods have been found to be particularly powerful health promoters. It is highly beneficial to include these ‘superfoods’ in your daily diet. Aloe vera Extracts of Aloe vera first became popular as a proven skin healer. Aloe actually accelerates fibroblast development in the skin which is necessary for collagen repair and wrinkle prevention. But recent research shows this ancient remedy does much more. It is a powerful detoxifier, antiseptic and tonic for the nervous system. It also has immune-boosting and anti-viral properties.

Exactly what the ‘active ingredient’ is remains a bit of a mystery. Aloe vera is rich in mucopolysaccharides, one of which is called acemannan, but also contains lignins, enzymes, antiseptic agents plus vitamins, minerals, essential fats and amino acids. Researcher by Doctor Jeffrey Bland found that adding Aloe vera to one’s daily diet improved digestion, absorption and elimination139. As such, it is an aid to digestion. There is some controversy about the best source. Most authorities agree that too much ‘aloin’, an ingredient in the outer flesh, has a purgative effect. Hence, some companies ‘fillet’ the leaf to produce a gel from the inner part.

Other companies process the whole leaf in such a way to remove the aloin. Concentration also varies from one product to another. Technicalities aside, there seems great benefit in taking a measure of Aloe Vera each day as a general health tonic. Berries Berries and other fruits with a purple/blue colour such as black grapes, bilberries, cranberries, blackcurrants and blueberries are especially rich in a type of flavonoid called anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins. These phytonutrients are very powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. They are substantially stronger than vitamin E in this regard140 and are well worth including in your diet, either by eating berries when available or by supplementing concentrated extracts. Many advanced antioxidant formulas now contain a source of these flavonoids, for example bilberry extract.

Blue-Green Algae
These organisms are literally at the bottom of the food chain and represent the purest nutrition you can get, rich in chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, essential fats and phytonutrients. Spirulina: is a blue-green alga which flourishes in the warm water lakes of Mexico and Africa. It is 60 per cent protein and a rich source of essential fats including GLA, vitamins and minerals. It is especially rich in beta-carotene – 3 grams provide as much as 16,000ius. Spirulina has been shown to have numerous health benefits, particularly in relation to arthritis, immune system enhancement and skin problems. It is a worthwhile addition to a supplement programme at around 3 grams a day. Quality can vary – go for high quality, organic spirulina. Chlorella is another kind of alga and, like spirulina, it’s rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and chlorophyll.

Klamath Lake Blue Green Algae Refers to a particular species of alga (Aphanizomenon Flos-Aquae) which is only found in Klamath Lake in Oregon, USA. The lake is very nutrient rich due to run-off from several rivers originating in the surrounding mountains and it is abundant in this algae which is harvested and freeze-dried. It has similar benefits to spirulina. As with all algae products, quality can vary so choose carefully. It is a worthwhile addition to a supplement programme at around 3 grams a day. Carrots, Sweet Potato, Watercress and Peas All these foods are very rich in carotenoids and beta-carotene, as well as other nutrients. They’re great to eat on a regular basis. Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, mashed and are great in soups. A carrot a day may indeed keep the doctor away.

Cruciferous Vegetables: These members of the Brassica family are rich sources of the anti-cancer phytochemicals isothiocyanates. They include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cress, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard radish and turnip, and have been linked to a decreased cancer risk. Research has shown that if you eat cabbage more than once a week, you are only one-third as likely to develop colon cancer as someone who never eats cabbage141 i.e. one serving of cabbage a week could cut your chances of colon cancer by 60 per cent. Both broccoli and Brussels sprouts show a dose-dependent protective response against cancer. One particular phytochemical in these foods, glucosinolate, has been shown to significantly increase liver detoxification potential142 – a 30 per cent increase was achieved by eating three servings of Brussels sprouts a day.

Essential Oils In spite of the bad name given to fats there are two we cannot live without. These are Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. From these two families of fats, the body makes cell membranes, brain tissue and prostaglandins, powerful hormone-like substances that control cardiovascular health, fertility, sex hormones, brain and nerve function, skin health and a host of other essential processes. Almost all food processing damages essential fats and they rapidly become rancid. So food manufacturers have carefully kept them out of modern food. Any kind of frying not only destroys these oils in food, but damages them so that they have a detrimental effect. The consequence is that our modern-day diet is devoid of fresh seeds and their oils, but abundant in processed and cooked food. This produces both fatty acid deficiency and an imbalance between these two important nutrients. In fact, approximately three quarters of people are grossly deficient in essential fats, while the average person today gets one sixth of the intake of Omega 3 oils of people in the 19th century.

One of the simplest ways to prevent deficiency and correct the balance is to have one or two tablespoons of the right kind of oils a day, added to salads, soups, cereals and other food, after cooking. Two such oil blends currently exist, using combinations of organic sesame, sunflower and borage oil (rich in Omega 6) and flax and pumpkin oil (rich in Omega 3) in light-proof containers. These are Essential Balance™ and Udo’s Choice, both available in health food stores. A tablespoon a day ensures optimal intake of essential fats. Fish Quite apart from being a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals (especially selenium), fish are also rich in many brain-enhancing nutrients including choline and DMAE. The fatty or carnivorous fish, salmon, tuna, shark, swordfish mackerel and herring, are rich sources of the essential fats DHA and EPA.

These Omega 3 fats are particularly associated with health improvements, including reduction of risk for cardiovascular disease, balancing hormones and improving mental function. They are certainly essential during pregnancy and infancy for proper mental development. While these essential fats can be derived from alpha-linolenic acid, which is particularly concentrated in flax seeds, the conversion in the body is poor. For this reason a direct source of DHA and EPA may be preferable. This means eating fish three times a week, or taking concentrated fish oil capsules. Look out for purified source of EPA/DHA advertised as PCB free. For vegetarians there is now a concentrated source of DHA extracted from a specific algae, available in capsules.

Garlic For thousands of years people have been aware of the beneficial properties of garlic. The slaves who constructed the pyramids of Egypt were given garlic cloves daily to sustain their strength, as were Roman soldiers. Back in 1958, Louis Pasteur confirmed that garlic had anti-bacterial effects and it was used to treat infection before the days of more specific antibiotics. Garlic contains around 200 biologically active compounds, many of which play a role in preventing diseases including our two major killers, cancer and heart disease.

Studies from China show that people who eat a lot of garlic are protected against stomach cancer143. This may be because garlic is able to block the conversion of nitrites and nitrates (found in many preserved foods) into cancer-causing nitrosamines. Garlic can also inhibit the action of aflatoxins, which are naturally occurring substances found in peanuts, that can cause cancer. The results of a large study involving 41,837 women from Iowa USA, aged between 55 and 69, indicated that garlic was the most protective type of vegetable against colon cancer. Women who said they ate garlic at least once a week, were 50 per cent less likely to contract colon cancer than those who said they never ate it144. By acting as an anti-oxidant, garlic helps to prevent both cancer and heart disease.

Garlic significantly lowers cholesterol in the blood and prevents the formation of atherosclerosis. A three year study at Tagore Medical College in India divided over 400 patients who had already suffered heart attacks into two groups. One group were given garlic supplements (equal to six to ten cloves per day) – they suffered fewer heart attacks and had significantly lower cholesterol counts than those who did not take garlic145. Garlic also helps prevent blood clots – probably a safer way to maintain thin blood than taking an aspirin a day, which can cause stomach bleeding. According to medical trials, garlic also reduces the risk of heart attacks by significantly lowering cholesterol in the blood and preventing the formation of atherosclerosis.

Garlic contains allicin which is anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. It also acts as an antioxidant, being rich in sulphur-containing amino acids. There’s no doubt its an important ally in fighting infections, and a wise inclusion in one’s diet. Have a clove, or capsule a day, and more if you’re fighting an infection. Power Mushrooms Two species of mushrooms, shiitake and reishi, possess immune-enhancing properties. Shiitake mushrooms are particularly popular in Japan and have recently become available in British supermarkets. You can also buy them dry and soak them before cooking. They are an extremely nutritious food and one of the few vegetable sources of vitamin D. Rich in calcium and phosphorus, they also contain high levels of many amino acids including leucine, lysine and threonine, plus the immune-boosting phytochemical, lentinan, a powerful immune stimulant which appears to inhibit virus replication. In animal studies it has shown anti-tumour properties.

Lentinan is widely used to treat cancer in Japanese hospitals. It also induces the production of interferon, the body’s own anti-viral chemical used to fight off infection. Other research suggests that lentinan may have potential in the fight against AIDS. It has demonstrated anti-HIV activity and in one US study, 30per cent of patients taking lentinan who were HIV+ showed an increase in their T cell counts after 12 weeks 146. Another immune-boosting mushroom is reishi, which has long been revered in the East for its healing powers. Although there are at least seven species with many different colours, the red Ganoderma lucidum is regarded as the king. As it’s tough and indigestible, it must be cooked or processed first in order to release the nutrients.

Traditionally it is decocted as a tea or ground into a powder which can be added to soups and stews. It can also be taken as a capsule or liquid tincture. It is currently the most widely used medicinal mushroom for immune disorders in the East. The Chinese believe reishi is effective for treating a host of diseases including hepatitis, bronchitis, bronchial asthma, coronary disease, gastric ulcers, stomach ache and migraine. Recent medical research has demonstrated reishi’s wide range of adaptogenic properties including blood sugar regulation, immune support, free-radical protection effects, cholesterol lowering properties, sedative and anti-hypertensive effects. Potent anti-allergic activity has been reported including anti-histamine actions and it is being used in Japan alongside cancer treatment to help alleviate some of the toxic side-effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Quinoa Pronounced ‘keenwa’, this is a staple food in the high Andes. Grown for 5,000 years and reputed to be the source of strength for the Aztecs working in high altitudes, it is proving to be food for the gods. Known as the ‘mother grain’ for its unique, sustaining properties, it contains significantly more protein than any grain, with a quality of protein better than meat. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals, providing almost four times as much calcium as wheat, plus extra iron, B vitamins and vitamin E. Quinoa is not technically a grain, rather a seed and as such is rich in polyunsaturated oils, providing essential fatty acids. Quinoa is about as close to a perfect food as you can get. It can be found in many health food stores. Add twice as much water to quinoa and boil for 15 minutes. It’s good with vegetable and tofu steam-frys.

Seeds & Nuts Seeds and nuts are rich sources of essential fats, vitamin E and many minerals including calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium. While nut and seed consumption has declined due to fat phobia, I recommend eating them every day while cutting down instead on sources of saturated animal fat (from meat and dairy produce) and hydrogenated vegetable oils from processed foods. Healthy men placed on diets containing walnuts have a significant decrease in cholesterol levels after only four weeks compared to those following a similar diet with the same fat content but no nuts, according to research in the New England Journal of Medicine. Other nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts have also been shown to have beneficial effects on cholesterol. One of the highest known sources of Omega 3 fats is flax seed. This small brown seed was revered by the Cherokee Indians, who believed it captured energies from the sun that were vital to the body, increased virility, nourished a woman during pregnancy and healed skin diseases and arthritis. All these healing properties have since been proven by modern science.

Pumpkin seed and hemp seed are also reasonable sources. Omega 6 fats are rich is sesame and sunflower oil. To get a balance of both families of essential fats mix together sesame, sunflower and flax seeds, keep them in a sealed jar in the fridge, and eat a heaped tablespoon of these ground seeds each day. Soya Products and Tofu These are both excellent sources of protein and isoflavones, which are powerful phytoestrogens. Isoflavones are known to decrease the risk of hormone-related cancers, including breast and prostatic cancer. Two particular isoflavones have been identified. These are genistein and diadzein. An ideal intake for cancer prevention is around 100 to 200mg a day. This is equivalent to a 12oz serving of soya milk or a serving of tofu.

Watermelon This fruit is a fine example of what wonderful benefits you can get from natural foods. The flesh is very rich in the antioxidants vitamin C, lycopene and carotenoids including beta-carotene. The seeds are rich in vitamin E, essential fats, selenium and zinc. Put the flesh and the seeds in a blender to make watermelon juice, a natural antioxidant cocktail ideal for fighting infections, pollution and detoxifying diets. Wheatgrass & Barleygrass Packed full of nutrients, ‘green foods’ such as these are among the richest natural sources of antioxidants and chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what makes plants green. It is highly cleansing, alkalising and full of minerals, especially magnesium. Cereal grasses have the nutrient profile of a dark green vegetable rather than that of a grain, so they are gluten-free and safe for coeliacs (people allergic to gluten).

There are literally hundreds of enzymes in cereal grasses; some of the most significant to be found in wheatgrass include the antioxidants cytochrome oxidase, required for proper cell respiration and superoxide dismutase. Others enzymes such as lipase, protease and amylase are extremely beneficial for digestion. The plants grow slowly throughout the winter, accumulating and storing vitamins and minerals in their leaves. This grass stage lasts for about 200 days and as the plants reach their nutritional peak in the spring, they begin to form a joint which will go on to produce the stalk of grain. Once jointing occurs, the nutrient levels drop dramatically. These stored nutrients are now needed for the production of the grain. So the grass is usually harvested just before jointing, using only the top three inches – the most nutritious part of the plant. The leaves are can then be dried at a low temperature and turned into tablets or powders which can be added to drinks.

Future Foods As the link between food and health, and the awareness of this link, grows stronger, food will be marketed and grown for its health-promoting properties. Special strains of plants will be sought out that increase their phytonutrient effect. Plants will also be grown in mineral enriched soil. Organic produce will become commonplace. There is every reason to suspect that the quality of food will improve, for those who choose it. To find out more about how you can achieve optimum health through optimum nutrition read Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition Bible