An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup

cabbage and rose 3686x1323

I came across this little poem the other day:

I wonder if the cabbage knows

He is less lovely than the Rose;

Or does he squat in smug content,

A source of noble nourishment;

Or if he pities for her sins

The Rose who has no vitamins;

Or if the one thing his green heart knows

That self-same fire that warms the Rose?

This made me think.

Is it true that the rose has no vitamins?

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The Chinese were the first to experiment with flowers as food and their many and varied recipes can be traced back as far back as 3,000 B.C.

In Roman times, the edible flowers of pinks, violets and roses were used in dishes, and lavender in sauces.

Gardeners and cooks over 1000 years ago were already using pot marigolds and orange blossom in their cooking and edible flowers were especially popular in the Victorian era.

After falling out of favour for many years, flower cookery is now back in vogue.

Innovative chefs in fancy restaurants have taken to garnishing their entrees with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance.

But do flowers only have aesthetic value in cooking?

Or do they have nutritive value too?

broccoli flowering

Broccoli flowering

Of course, this is a bit of a trick question because we are already familiar with eating flower heads.

Broccoli and cauliflower are good examples and we know that they are packed with vitamins, minerals and other beneficial substances which act as antioxidants.

But what about the sort of flowers which are usually grown for ornamental purposes, like roses and pansies?

Chive and viola flower salad (theedibleflowershop.co.uk)

Chive and viola flower salad (theedibleflowershop.co.uk)

Nutrient content of edible flowers

I have searched high and low in the scientific literature for quantitative data on the nutrient content of flower petals. There are relatively few references, particularly in English.

Most of the literature is focused on evaluating flowers for their sensory characteristics, such as appeal, size, shape, colour, taste, and above all, aroma, which is important for the cosmetic and perfume industry.

The references I have found in journals from researchers in Turkey, Bosnia, Poland, South Korea and China among others, suggest that the common components – proteins, fats and carbohydrates – are present in similar amounts to those in other plant organs, e.g., in leaf vegetables (1).

Available data on a number of edible flowers show that petals also contain an array of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A and C, various B vitamins, folic acid, and minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and phosphorus.

The data in this table were compiled from sources in the list of references below (1-7).

Flower

Protein

 

Carb

 

Fat

 

Vit A

 

Folate

 

Vit C

 

Ca

 

Fe

 

Mg

 

K

 

 

g/100g

IU

μg/100g

mg/100g

Chives 3.07 108.5
Pumpkin 1.03 3.28 0.07 1947 59 28 39 0.7 24 173
Sesbania 1.28 6.73 0.04 0 102 73 19 0.84 12 184
Hawthorn 900
Banana 2.07 91.4 0.4 33 43 34 571
Gourd 0.62 3.39 0.02 16 6 10.1 26 0.2 11 150
Broccoli 2.98 5.24 0.35 150 71 93.2 48 0.88 25 325

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Flower colour is determined by many chemical compounds but carotenoids and flavonoids are the most important.  The flavonoids in particular have been shown to give flowers high antioxidant capacity (1).

Dandelions, for example, contain numerous flavonoids and carotenoids with antioxidant properties, including four times the beta carotene of broccoli, as well as lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. They are also a rich source of vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, pyroxidine, niacin, and vitamins E and C.

dandelions

Violets contain rutin, a phytochemical with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help strengthen capillary walls.

Rose petals contain bioflavonoids and antioxidants, as well as vitamins A, B3, C and E (6,7).

Nasturtiums contain cancer-fighting lycopene and lutein, a carotenoid found in vegetables and fruits that is important for vision health.

Lavender contains vitamin A, calcium and iron, and is said to benefit your central nervous system.

Chive blossoms contain vitamin C, iron and sulphur, as well as many antioxidants, and have traditionally been used to help support healthy blood pressure levels.

edible flowers 3

So, to answer my original question – yes – roses and other flowers do contain vitamins.

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Practical considerations

When collecting flowers for eating, keep the following in mind;

  • Accurate identification of flowers is essential – if you are in doubt, DO NOT EAT
  • Pick young flowers and buds on dry mornings, before the sun becomes too strong, so the colour and flavours will be intense
  • Use flowers immediately for best results or refrigerate in a plastic bag for a couple of days. Dried or frozen flowers are best used in infusions or cooked
  • Generally, only the petals are used, so discard stamens, pistil and calyx of large flowers like hollyhocks, roses, lilies and hibiscus. The bitter ‘heel’ at the base of the petal should be removed
  • Petals of daisies, borage and primroses can easily be separated from the calyx
  • Smaller flowers in umbels like fennel and dill can be cut off and used whole

There are some poisonous flowers you definitely cannot eat, for example, daphne, foxglove, daffodils, hyacinths and all members of the nightshade family. Consult a reference book, or ask an expert in this area, before being too adventurous.  If you are not sure, DO NOT EAT.  I have included a list of books on edible and poisonous flowers below.

Edible ornamental flowers

Many garden favourites are edible and a few are listed below:-

  • Alpine pinks (Dianthus) – a clove-like flavour ideal for adding to cakes as flavoured sugar, oils and vinegars
  • Bergamot (Monardia didyma) – a strong spicy scent, makes good tea and complements rice and pasta
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum) – petals flavour and colour cream soups, fish chowder and egg dishes in the same way as calendula
  • Daisy (Bellis perennis) – not a strong flavour but petals make an interesting garnish for cakes and salads
  • Day lily (Hemerocallis) – add buds and flowers to stir fry, salads and soups. Crunchy with a peppery after taste but may have a laxative effect. Avoid buds damaged by gall midge
  • Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) – used to make wine and cordials, or place in a muslin bag to flavour tarts and jellies but removed before serving. Elderflowers can be dipped in batter and deep fried
  • Hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis) – refreshing citrus-flavoured tea enhanced by rosemary
  • Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) – remove all traces of pollen and decorate cakes with crystallized petals
  • Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) – flavoured sugar, honey or vinegar can be used in cakes and biscuits and dried flowers used as tea
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) – brightly-coloured, peppery flowers are good in salads and pasta dishes. The whole flower, leaves, and buds can be used or just the petals for a milder flavour
  • Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) – intense colour and a peppery taste useful in soups, stews and puddings. Petals can be dried or pickled in vinegar or added to oil
  • Primrose (Primula vulgaris) – decorate cakes with crystallized or fresh primrose or cowslip flowers. They can be frozen in ice cubes
  • Rose (Rosa) – all roses are edible with the more fragrant roses being the best. Petals can be crystallized, used to flavour drinks, sugar and even icing for summer cakes
  • Scented geraniums (Pelagonium) – flowers are milder than leaves and can be crystallized or frozen in ice cubes for summer cordials
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – blanch whole buds and serve with garlic. Petals can be used in salads or stir fries
  • Sweet violet (Viola odorata) – delicate flavour suitable for sweet or savoury dishes as well as tea. Use candy violets and pansies as a garnish on cakes and soufflés
  • Tiger lily (Lilium leucanthemum var. tigrinum) – delicate fragrance and flavour enhances salads, plus can be used to stuff fish

Edible flowers from your vegetable patch and herb garden

Herb flowers like basil, chives, lavender, mint, rosemary and thyme impart a more subtle flavour to food than the leaves. By adding sprigs of edible herb flowers like basil or marjoram to oils the delicate flavours can be used over a longer period.

  • Borage (Borago officinalis) – the cucumber flavour of these attractive blue flowers adds interest to cakes, salads and pate. Flowers are easily removed and can be frozen in ice cubes or crystallized
  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – sweet, clover-like flavour compliments tomato dishes as well as oils, salad dressings and soups. Use aromatic leaves of both green and purple in Mediterranean dishes
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens) – aniseed flavour, ideal addition to salads, vegetables and fish dishes. Add flowers to mayonnaise, white sauce and pickles
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – mild onion flavour, good in salads, egg dishes and sauces for fish
  • Clover (Trifolium pratense) – both red and white clover flowers can be used to garnish fruit and green salads or make wine from whole red flowers
  • Courgette or marrow flowers – can be eaten hot in a tomato sauce or cold stuffed with cooked rice, vegetables and nuts. Use male flowers so as not to reduce yield
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – all parts are edible and enhance salmon, pâtés and salads. Flowers preserved in oil or vinegar can be used in winter
  • Garden pea (Pisum sativum) – add flowers and young shoots to salad for a fresh pea taste
  • Mint (Mentha sp) – Apple, pineapple and ginger mint, plus peppermint and spearmint flowers can all be used in oil and vinegar for both sweet and savoury dishes
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – a sweet flavour similar to the leaves can be used fresh to garnish salads and tomato dishes or to flavour oil
  • Salad rocket or arugula (Eruca vescaria) – adds sharp flavour to salads or preserve in oil

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Recipe

Here is a recipe using nasturtium flowers from one of my favourite cookery books – “Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume” by Silvena Rowe.  Although not all of the recipes are plant-based, I love Silvena Rowe’s creative combinations of flavours and colours.

Pink Grapefruit, Avocado and Pomegranate Salad with Nasturtium Flowers

Serves 4

pink grapefruit avocado and pomegranate salad with nasturtium flowers

Ingredients

  • 2 pink grapefruits
  • 2 large avocados, stones removed, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
  • 1/2 large bunch of fresh purple basil, leaves only
  • seeds of 1 large pomegranate
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon mild mustard
  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon ground sumac
  • 6-8 nasturtium flowers

Method

Peel the pink grapefruits, making sure you cut away all the pith, then cut them into individual segments. Place in a large bowl along with any juice, add the avocado, basil and pomegranate seeds, and season. Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard and pomegranate molasses and pour over the salad. Toss gently to combine, sprinkle with the sumac and serve garnished with the nasturtium flowers.

Books on poisonous and edible flowers

  • Poisonous Plants by Elizabeth A. Dauncey
  • The Edible Flower Garden by Kathy Brown
  • Edible flowers by Kathy Brown
  • The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy
  • Cooking with Edible Flowers by Miriam Jacobs
  • Good Enough to Eat by Jekka McVicar
  • Edible Flowers, Desserts & Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash
  • Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate by Cathy Wilkinson Barash

References

  1. Otakar Rop, Jiri Mlcek, Tunde Jurikova, Jarmila Neugebauerova and Jindriska Vabkova. Edible Flowers — A New Promising Source of Mineral Elements in Human Nutrition. Molecules 2012, 17, 6672-6683; doi:10.3390/molecules17066672
  2. Monika Grzeszczuk, Aneta Wesołowska, Dorota Jadczak, Barbara Jakubowska.  NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF CHIVE EDIBLE FLOWERS. Acta Sci. Pol., Hortorum Cultus 10(2) 2011, 85-94
  3. USDA National Nutrient Database.http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
  4. Azra Tahirović, Amira Čopra – Janićijević, Nedžad Bašić, Lela Klepo, Mirel Subašić1. DETERMINATION OF VITAMIN C IN FLOWERS OF SOME BOSNIAN CRATAEGUS L. SPECIES. Works of the Faculty of Forestry University of Sarajevo No. 2, 2012 (1-12)
  5. Zhan-Wu Sheng, Wei-Hong Ma, Zhi-Qiang Jin1, Yang Bi, Zhi-Gao Sun, Hua-Ting Dou, Jin-He Gao, Jing-Yang Li and Li-Na Han.  Investigation of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin E and other nutritional compounds of banana flower of two cultivars grown in China.  African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 9(25), pp. 3888-3895, 21 June, 2010
  6. Alejandra Mabellinia, Elisabeth Ohacoa, Mónica Roselva Ochoaa, Alicia Graciela Kesselera, Carlos Alberto Márqueza, Antonio De Michelisb. Chemical and Physical Characteristics of Several Wild Rose Species Used as Food or Food Ingredient. Int. J. Ind. Chem., Vol. 2, No. 3, 2011, pp. 158-171
  7. Hanan M. K. E. Youssef, Rasha M. A. Mousa. Nutritional Assessment of Low-Calorie Baladi Rose Petals Jam. Food and Public Health 2012, 2(6): 197-201. DOI: 10.5923/j.fph.20120206.03

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Diet and your eye sight

Recently one of my clients was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration and was advised by a health professional to take supplements of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin to prevent progression of this condition. Given that these supplements are expensive, she wanted to know if her investment would pay off.

As discussed below, the bottom line is that, to date, there is little scientific evidence to support the use of antioxidant supplements either to prevent or delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Indeed, there is evidence that such supplements may be harmful.

In contrast, there is scientific evidence that consumption of a plant-based diet with a variety of whole grains, vegetables and fruit has many benefits with regard to preventing and treating diseases like macular degeneration, and does no harm.  Further research is required in this area.

The best way to protect the health of your eyes is to eat plenty of different coloured vegetables and fruit; for example, broccoli, cabbage, kale, collard greens, green peas, spinach, courgettes, red and yellow peppers, winter squash, kiwi fruit, blueberries, oranges and mango.

What is age-related macular degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration is an eye condition affecting older people, and involves the loss of the person’s central field of vision. It occurs when the macular (or central) retina in the eye develops degenerative lesions. The retina is the light-detecting membrane at the back of the eye. The macula contains a particularly high density of light receptors, especially cones (the receptors that detect colour) and so the macula is particularly important for seeing fine detail and objects directly in front of us. It plays a vital role in helping people to read, write, drive and perform other detailed tasks. It also enables us to recognise faces and see colour.

According to the World Health Organisation (1), globally, age-related macular degeneration ranks third as a cause of blindness after cataract and glaucoma; it is the primary cause in industrialized countries. Several forms of age-related macular degeneration exist.

Carotenoid pigments in the eye – lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin

Pigments known as carotenoids are found within the eye. There are over 600 known carotenoids in nature but in the human eye, just three of these pigments – lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin – form a concentrated ‘yellow spot’ in the macula, known as the macular pigment. This pigment has two main functions: it acts as an antioxidant and it filters light.

As short wavelength (blue) light passes through the retina to the photoreceptors and pigmented epithelial cells, reactive oxygen species are generated. The conversion of the light energy into a nerve impulse by the photoreceptors generates free radicals – unstable molecules which damage a variety 
of tissues – resulting in many of the diseases and conditions associated with ageing. Antioxidants in the eye are able to quench these free radicals, thereby protecting the eye from oxidative damage. Lutein, zeaxanthin and particularly meso- zeaxanthin are very effective antioxidants.

The pigments lutein and zeaxanthin can be found naturally in a number of food sources (2). For example, lutein can be found in yellow peppers, mango, bilberries and green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, chard and broccoli. Zeaxanthin can be found in winter squash, orange sweet peppers, broccoli, corn, lettuce, spinach, tangerines, oranges and eggs.

Blue light, because of its relatively high photon energy, more readily damages the retina than yellow or red light, which is less energetic. The macular pigment acts as a filter, particularly to blue light, and therefore protects against this damaging effect.

Given that the development of age-related macular degeneration is likely to involve a complex interaction of cellular and vascular factors, which may be promoted by light damage, oxidative stress, and inflammation, it is biologically plausible that a number of dietary components may be protective.

Effect of diet on age-related macular degeneration

The results of several epidemiological studies and clinical trials in the peer-reviewed scientific literature suggest that diets high in antioxidant nutrients (vitamins C and E, carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, fruit and vegetables that contain these nutrients, and non-nutritive antioxidants) or zinc are associated with a decreased occurrence of early or late age-related macular degeneration (3) (4). A high dietary intake of fat was associated with a higher prevalence or incidence of early or late age-related macular degeneration in numerous studies (5), whereas higher intakes of fish or omega 3 fatty acids were associated with lower rates of age-related macular degeneration (5).

Despite nutritional advice being available, awareness of the link between diet and eye health is poor. A survey conducted by the Eyecare Trust (6) found that Britons are oblivious to the fact that unhealthy lifestyles and obesity can substantially increase the risk of macular degeneration and ultimately blindness.

Efficacy of nutrient supplements for age-related macular degeneration

Some clinicians argue that it is difficult to obtain adequate amounts of the protective nutrients required for the eyes from a ‘normal’ diet. They thus prescribe high doses of nutrient supplements. But are these nutritional supplements effective?

A recently published Cochrane Review (7) identified four large, high-quality randomised controlled trials which included 62,520 people. The trials were conducted in Australia, Finland and the USA and investigated the effects of vitamin E and beta-carotene supplementation. These trials provide evidence that taking vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements is unlikely to prevent the onset of age-related macular degeneration. There was no evidence for other antioxidant supplements and commonly marketed combinations.

Another Cochrane Review (8) investigated whether progression of age-related macular degeneration may be slowed down in people who take antioxidant supplements (carotenoids, vitamins C and E) or minerals (selenium and zinc). The authors identified 13 randomised controlled trials which included 6150 participants; five trials based in the USA, two in the UK, two trials in Austria, and one trial in each of a further four countries (Australia, China, Italy and Switzerland). The review of trials found that supplementation with antioxidants and zinc may be of modest benefit in people with age-related macular degeneration. This was seen mainly in one large trial that followed up participants for an average of six years. The other smaller trials with shorter follow-up do not provide evidence of any benefit. Large well-conducted trials in a range of populations and with different nutritional status are required.

Safety of antioxidant nutrient supplements

Although generally regarded as safe, there is evidence that antioxidant supplements may have harmful effects. A Cochrane Review in 2008 (9) demonstrated that antioxidant supplements seem to increase mortality in sufferers of cancer and cardiovascular disease. This review was updated in 2012 (10) and found no evidence to support antioxidant supplements for primary or secondary prevention. Beta-carotene and vitamin E seem to increase mortality, and so may higher doses of vitamin A. The authors concluded that current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases in a stable phase, including gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neurological, ocular, dermatological, rheumatoid, renal, endocrinological, or unspecified diseases.

Conclusion

The bottom line from all of this work is that, to date, there is little evidence to support the use of antioxidant supplements either to prevent or delay the progression of macular degeneration. Indeed, there is evidence that such supplements may be harmful.

In contrast, consumption of a plant-based diet with a variety of whole grains, vegetables and fruit has many benefits with regard to preventing and treating disease, and none of the disadvantages associated with nutritional supplements.  Further research and analysis of the literature is required in this area.

Further information and help

If you are suffering from a specific health problem or would just like to improve your general health and well-being, you will benefit from a personal nutrition consultation. Simple changes to diet and lifestyle can lead to significant improvements in the way you feel.  For a delicious recipe full of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, please click here.

References

(1) http://www.who.int/blindness/causes/priority/en/index8.html

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1722697/

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16380590?dopt=Abstract

(4) http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/09286580903450353

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14662593?dopt=Abstract

(6) http://www.eyecaretrust.org.uk/view.php?item_id=563

(7) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000253.pub3/abstract

(8) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000254.pub3/abstract

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18425980

(10) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD007176.pub2/abstract

Fruit, vegetables and nuts may reduce onset of eye disease by 20 per cent

University of Liverpool scientists claim that the degeneration of sight, caused by a common eye disease, could be reduced by up to 20% by increasing the amount of fruit, vegetables and nuts in the diet. 

 

fruitsveggies

 

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the UK, with 45% of those registered as blind suffering from the disease.  The condition results in a gradual loss of central vision, due to the failure of cells in the macular – the light sensitive membrane at the centre of the retina. There is currently no cure for the more common ‘dry’ form of the disease, which is suffered by 90% of AMD patients.  

 

Professor Ian Grierson, Head of Ophthalmology at the University, has produced a comprehensive cooking guide called ‘Fruit for Vision’, designed to add fruit and vegetables into everyday meals (published by Indigo Creative Marketing and the Macular Disease Society). The recipes will help AMD sufferers slow down the degeneration process by increasing micronutrient, vitamin and antioxidant intake in the diet. Non-sufferers can also use the book to add fruit, nuts and vegetables into each meal to protect against the disease. 

 

Layout 1

 

Professor Grierson said:

 

Poor eating habits have a huge impact on health in general and the health of your eyes is no exception. Eye problems such as AMD, cataract and even glaucoma can all be affected by what we eat. But a relatively minor change in diet – adding a little more fruit into our meals – can make a profound difference and can keep eye diseases like AMD at bay for up to 20% longer.   There are of course other risk factors related to AMD such as age, light exposure, smoking and being overweight. But if we can improve the kind of food that we eat, we could dramatically reduce the number of people who may suffer from eye diseases in the future.

To learn how to incorporate more fruit and vegetables in your diet and create imaginative and mouthwatering recipes for all the family, come along to a Cooking for Health class, held throughout the year in Somerset, UK. 

 

If you run a catering business, you can obtain valuable information and suggestions on how to increase fruit and vegetables in your menus at Healthier Catering courses, run by the nutrition expert, Jane Philpott, MA (Oxon), MSc, PhD.

 

 

Green and black tea may reduce stroke risk

Drinking at least three cups of green or black tea a day can significantly reduce the risk of stroke, a new University of California LA study has found. And the more you drink, the better your odds of staving off a stroke.

 

green-tea

 

The study results, published in the online edition of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, were presented on 19 February at the American Heart Association’s annual International Stroke Conference in San Diego, California.

 

The UCLA researchers conducted an evidence-based review of all human observational studies on stroke and tea consumption found in the PubMed and Web of Science archives. They found nine studies describing 4,378 strokes among nearly 195,000 individuals, according to lead author Lenore Arab, a professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

 

“What we saw was that there was a consistency of effect of appreciable magnitude,” said Arab, who is also a professor of biological chemistry. “By drinking three cups of tea a day, the risk of a stroke was reduced by 21 percent. It didn’t matter if it was green or black tea.”

 

And extrapolating from the data, the effect appears to be linear, Arab said. For instance, if one drinks three cups a day, the risk falls by 21 percent; follow that with another three cups and the risk drops another 21 percent.

 

This effect was found in tea made from the plant Camellia sinensis, not from herbal teas.

 

There are very few known ways to reduce the risk of stroke, Arab said. And developing medications for stroke victims is particularly challenging, given that the drug has to get to the stroke-damaged site quickly because damage occurs so fast. Arab said that by the time a stroke victim gets medical care, it’s nearly too late to impede the damage.

 

“That’s why these findings are so exciting,” she said. “If we can find a way to prevent the stroke, or prevent the damage, that is simple and not toxic, that would be a great advance.”

 

Though no one is certain which compounds in tea are responsible for this effect, researchers have speculated that the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) or the amino acid theanine may be what helps. Antioxidants are believed to help prevent coronary artery disease.

 

“And we do know that theanine is nearly 100-percent absorbed,” Arab said. “It gets across the blood-brain barrier and it looks a lot like a molecule that’s very similar to glutamate, and glutamate release is associated with stroke.

 

“It could be that theanine and glutamate compete for the glutamate receptor in the brain,” she added.

 

Although a randomized clinical trial is needed to confirm this effect, the findings suggest that drinking three cups of green or black tea a day could help prevent an ischaemic stroke.

 

Whilst drinking a moderate amount of green and black tea clearly has benefits, excessive consumption can upset blood sugar regulation due to the relatively high caffeine content of the leaves of Camellia sinensis.  If blood sugar is not well-regulated in the body, it can lead to symptoms of fatigue, cravings for sugar and a heightened stress response.  If you like regular hot drinks throughout the day, why not try some herbal teas which also contain powerful antioxidants.  Many people enjoy drinking Rooibos (or redbush) tea, made famous by the heroine of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Precious Ramotswe (Alexander McCall-Smith).  Rooibos is naturally caffeine free and contains high levels of the antioxidants aspalathin and nothofagin.  Aspalathin also has anti-mutagenic properties.

 

rooibos_aspalathus_linearispict2814_

 

To learn more about green tea and herbal teas and their health benefits, why not come to a Cooking for Health course, held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.

 

 

 

References

A. Von Gadow, E. Joubert and C. F. Hansmann.  Comparison of the antioxidant activity of rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis) with green, oolong and black tea Food Chemistry, Volume 60, Issue 1, September 1997, Pages 73-77

 

 

 

Turmeric – spice up your health

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.  It is native to tropical South Asia and needs temperatures between 20°C and 30°C, and a considerable amount of rainfall to survive.

Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes.  The rhizomes are boiled for several hours and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep orange-yellow powder commonly used in spices and curries, for dyeing, and to impart colour to mustard condiments and butter.  Its active ingredient is curcumin, which has an earthy, bitter, peppery flavour and a mustardy smell.

turmeric

Turmeric has been used for at least 4000 years in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of ailments.

There are frequent media reports claiming medicinal properties of turmeric, some of which are supported by quality scientific data and some of which are not.

It is important to bear in mind that many studies have been done in test tubes and animals, and the herb may work differently or not as well in humans.

Furthermore, some studies have used an injectable form of curcumin, and the results may not relate well to the effects of oral ingestion of turmeric itself.

In spite of these caveats, there is promising evidence that turmeric may be helpful for fighting infections and some cancers, reducing inflammation, and treating digestive problems.

turmeric spice

The curcumin in turmeric has been shown to stimulate the production of bile by the gallbladder.

Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant.  Antioxidants protect the body from the adverse effects of very reactive molecules called free radicals, which damage cell membranes and DNA, and may even cause cell death.

In addition, curcumin reduces inflammation by lowering levels of two inflammatory enzymes (called COX-2 and LOX) in the body and stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots.  COX-2 is the target enzyme of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, so curcumin works in a similar way to these drugs, without the side-effects.

Indigestion

At least one double-blind placebo-controlled study has shown that turmeric was effective for treating people with indigestion, reducing symptoms of bloating and gas.  In Germany, turmeric has been approved for use in treating digestive disorders.

Ulcerative colitis

In one double-blind placebo-controlled study, people whose ulcerative colitis was in remission either received curcumin or placebo, along with conventional medical treatment for 6 months.  Those who took curcumin had a relapse rate that was much lower than those who took the placebo.

Stomach ulcers

Turmeric does not appear to be helpful in treating stomach ulcers, and there is some evidence that it may increase the amount of acid in the stomach, making existing ulcers worse.

Osteoarthritis

Turmeric may be useful for relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis due to its ability to reduce inflammation.  A study of people using an Ayurvedic formula of herbs and minerals containing turmeric as well as Withinia somnifera (winter cherry), Boswellia serrata  and zinc significantly reduced pain and disability.  Due to the study design, it is not possible to know if this effect is from turmeric alone, or the combination of herbs working together.

Atherosclerosis

In animal studies, an extract of turmeric lowered cholesterol levels and kept LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol from building up in blood vessels, a process that can result in blocked arteries leading to heart attack or stroke.  Turmeric also stops platelets from clumping together, so may help to prevent build-up of  blood clots along the artery walls.  These findings need to be confirmed in clinical trials.

Cancer

There is substantial interest in turmeric’s potential anti-cancer properties.  Evidence from test tube and animal studies suggests that curcumin may help prevent, control or kill several types of cancer cells, including prostate, breast, skin and colon.  Curcumin’s effects may be due to its ability to stop the blood vessels that supply cancerous tumours from growing, and from its effects as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage.  More research is needed in order to understand if turmeric is effective in preventing or treating cancer in humans.

Diabetes

When laboratory animals with diabetes were given turmeric, their blood sugar levels dropped, as did their cholesterol levels.  Researchers do not yet know if such effects will occur in human subjects with diabetes.

Bacterial and viral infections

Anti-microbial properties of turmeric have been observed in laboratory studies but there is little data available on similar effects in humans.

Uveitis

In one study of 32 people with uveitis, inflammation of the eye, curcumin appeared to be as effective as corticosteroids.

If a teaspoon of turmeric is added to the cooking water of brown rice, the rice becomes a bright yellow colour.  This yellow-coloured rice can then be used in dishes such as paella, kedgeree and rice salad, together with multi-coloured vegetables, such as red pepper, sauteed courgettes, diced carrots, peas and sweetcorn.  Children love the bright colours and this is a good way to tempt them to eat more nourishing whole grains and vegetables.

For recipe ideas, tips and information about following a plant-based diet please sign up for my free newsletter and check out my website.

You can also find me on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Jane Philpott

References

Ammon HPT, Wahl MA. Pharmacology of Curcuma longa. Planta Medica. 1991;57:1-7.

Arbiser JL, Klauber N, Rohan R, et al. Curcumin is an in vivo inhibitor of angiogenesis. Mol Med. 1998;4(6):376-383.

Asai A, Miyazawa T. Dietary curcuminoids prevent high-fat diet-induced lipid accumulation in rat liver and epididymal adipose tissue. J Nutr. 2001;131(11):2932-2935.

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:379-384.

Curcuma longa (turmeric). Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2001;6 Suppl:S62-S66.

Davis JM, Murphy EA, Carmichael MD, Zielinski MR, Groschwitz CM, Brown AS, Ghaffar A, Mayer EP. Curcumin effects on inflammation and performance recovery following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007 Mar 1 [Epub ahead of print]

Dorai T, Cao YC, Dorai B, Buttyan R, Katz AE. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer. III. Curcumin inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis, and inhibits angiogenesis of LNCaP prostate cancer cells in vivo. Prostate. 2001;47(4):293-303.

Dorai T, Gehani N, Katz A. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer. II. Curcumin inhibits tyrosine kinase activity of epidermal growth factor receptor and depletes the protein. Mol Urol. 2000;4(1):1-6.

Funk JL, Frye JB, Oyarzo JN, Kuscuoglu N, Wilson J, McCaffrey G, et al. Efficacy and mechanism of action of turmeric supplements in the treatment of experimental arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2006 Nov;54(11):3452-64.

Gescher A J, Sharma R A, Steward W P. Cancer chemoprevention by dietary constituents: a tale of failure and promise. Lancet Oncol. 2001;2(6):371-379.

Hanai H, Iida T, Takeuchi K, Watanabe F, Maruyama Y, Andoh A, et al. Curcumin maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis: randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006 Dec;4(12):1502-6.

Handler N, Jaeger W, Puschacher H, Leisser K, Erker T. Synthesis of novel curcumin analogues and their evaluation as selective cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) inhibitors. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2007 Jan;55(1):64-71.

Heck AM, DeWitt BA, Lukes AL. Potential interactions between alternative therapies and warfarin. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2000;57(13):1221-1227.

Johnson JJ, Mukhtar H. Curcumin for chemoprevention of colon cancer. Cancer Lett. 2007 Apr 18; [Epub ahead of print]

Kawamori T, Lubet R, Steele VE, et al. Chemopreventive effect of curcumin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, during the promotion/progression stages of colon cancer. Cancer Res. 1999;59:597-601.

Kim MS, Kang HJ, Moon A. Inhibition of invasion and induction of apoptosis by curcumin in H-ras-transformed MCF10A human breast epithelial cells. Arch Pharm Res. 2001;24(4):349-354.

Lal B, Kapoor AK, Asthana OP, et al. Efficacy of curcumin in the management of chronic anterior uveitis. Phytother Res. 1999;13(4):318-322.

Luper S. A review of plants used in the treatment of liver disease: part two. Altern Med Rev. 1999;4(3):178-188; 692.

Mehta K, Pantazis P, McQueen T, Aggarwal BB. Antiproliferative effect of curcumin (diferuloylmethane) against human breast tumor cell lines. Anticancer Drugs. 1997;8(5):470-481.

Nagabhushan M, Bhide SV. Curcumin as an inhibitor of cancer. J Am Coll Nutr. 1992;11(2):192-198.

Phan TT, See P, Lee ST, Chan SY. Protective effects of curcumin against oxidative damage on skin cells in vitro: its implication for wound healing. J Trauma 2001;51(5):927-931.

Pizzorno JE, Murray MT. Textbook of Natural Medicine. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 1999:689-692.

Ramirez-Tortosa MC, Mesa MD, Aguilera MC, et al. Oral administration of a turmeric extract inhibits LDL oxidation and has hypocholesterolemic effects in rabbits with experimental atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis. 1999;147(2):371-378.

Sharma RA, Ireson CR, Verschoyle RD. Effects of dietary curcumin on glutathione S-Transferase and Malondialdehyde-DNA adducts in rat liver and colon mucosa: relationship with drug levels. Clin Cancer Res. 2001;7:1452-1458.

Stoner GD, Mukhtar H. Polyphenols as cancer chemopreventive agents. J Cell Biochem Suppl. 1995;22:169-180.

Su CC, Lin JG, Li TM, Chung JG, Yang JS, Ip SW, et al. Curcumin-induced apoptosis of human colon cancer colo 205 cells through the production of ROS, Ca2+ and the activation of caspase-3. Anticancer Res. 2006 Nov-Dec;26(6B):4379-89.

Verma SP, Salamone E, Goldin B. Curcumin and genistein, plant natural products, show synergistic inhibitory effects on the growth of human breast cancer MCF-7 cells induced by estrogenic pesticides. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1997; 233(3): 692-696.

White L, Mavor S. Kids, Herbs, Health. Loveland, Colo: Interweave Press; 1998:41.

Mediterranean diet may help prevent prostate cancer

Recently reviewed evidence relating diet and prostate cancer suggests that a traditional Cretan Mediterranean style diet based on a variety of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, nuts and legumes), olive oil as the main source of fat, moderate to low intake of dairy foods, moderate to high intake of fish and moderate intake of wine, mostly with meals, may be helpful in reducing prostate cancer risk.

mediterranean_food

A recent meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies using a score to assess adherence to a Mediterranean diet found that stronger adherence was associated with reduced all cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, as well as decreased incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases [i].

Two intervention studies have supported the benefits of a Mediterranean style diet on metabolic risk factors [ii] [iii].  In a Spanish study, men and women with elevated levels of cardiovascular risk factors were randomised to either of two ‘Mediterranean’ diets and provided with either olive oil and nuts, or to a control low fat diet.  After 3 months the Mediterranean diet groups had lower mean plasma glucose, systolic blood pressure and total/HDL cholesterol ratio than the control group [ii].  Italian adults with the Metabolic Syndrome were randomised to a ‘Mediterranean’ diet or a ‘prudent’ diet, both with similar macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, fat) composition.  The ‘Mediterranean’ diet was associated with greater improvements in markers of vascular risk and endothelial function than the control group [iii].  In both studies the ‘Mediterranean’ diet groups received more nutrition education than the control groups.

The Lyon Heart Study demonstrated that a modified Cretan diet low in butter and meats, and high in fish, fruits and enriched with alpha-linolenic acid from canola oil was more effective than a ‘prudent’ diet in the secondary prevention of coronary events and overall mortality [iv]. 

Simopoulos [v] notes that the traditional Greek diet resembles the Paleolithic diet in terms of fibre, antioxidants, saturated and monounsaturated fat, thus is consistent with human evolution.  While traditional diets must reflect regionally available foods, the dietary principles of the traditional Greek diet may be applied in many countries.  The evidence suggests that a traditional Greek or Cretan style diet is consistent with what humans have evolved to consume and may protect against common chronic diseases, including prostate cancer.

For information and practical tuition in how to incorporate the dietary principles of the Mediterranean diet into your own cooking, why not come along to a Cooking for Health course, run throughout the year in Somerset, UK.

Jane Philpott

References

[i] Sofi, F., Cesari, F., Abbate, R., Gensini, G F., Casini, A. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis.  BMJ 2008: 337: a1344.

[ii] Estruch, R., Martinez-Gonzalez, M A., Corella, D. et al.  Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a randomised trial.  Ann Intern. Med. 2006: 145: 1-11.

[iii] Esposito, K., Marfella, R., Ciotola, M. et al.  Effect of a Mediterranean-style diet on endothelial dysfunction and markers of vascular inflammation in the metabolic syndrome: a randomised trial.  J Am Med Assoc 2004; 292: 1440-6.

[iv] de Lorgeril, M., Salen, P. Modified Cretan Mediterranean diet in the prevention of coronary heart disease and cancer.  In Simopoulos A,P., Visioli, F. eds.  Mediterranean Diets.  World Review Nutr. Diet. Basel: Karger, 2000: 1-23.

[v] Simopoulos, A P. The traditional diet of Greece and cancer.  Eur J Cancer Prev 2004; 13:219-30.