Even as far back as 400BC, Hippocrates said, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. An ancient European document, called the Document of Signatures, also held some astounding insights into the way we interact with food and nature. The doctrine suggested that the shape and colour of a plant revealed its health applications. Modern nutritional science has since uncovered much of this ancient wisdom, and today there is a plethora of knowledge on how food affects our health. Take a look at some of the amazing discoveries.
Carrots for eye health
A sliced carrot looks very similar to a human eye, complete with the pupil, iris and radiating lines. And carrots improve eyesight! The bright orange colour of the carrot is due to the high amounts of the pigment and antioxidant, beta-carotene that it contains. After beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the liver, it travels to the retina where it is transformed into rhodopsin, a pigment that is necessary for night-vision. Beta-carotene’s powerful antioxidant actions help provide protection against macular degeneration and the development of senile cataracts, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.
Tomatoes for a healthy heart
Next time you cut a tomato in half, marvel at the way it resembles the human heart. Not only in colour, but also in form. Just like a human heart, the tomato has four distinct chambers. When free radicals attack soluble fats in the blood, the fats solidify and form layers known as plaques, which can build up in the arteries and restrict blood flow. A powerful anti-oxidant, called lycopene, may be behind much of the tomato’s heart healthy properties. One study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, reported that when a group of 12 healthy women ate enough tomato products to provide them with 8 mg of lycopene daily for a period of three weeks, their LDL cholesterol was much less susceptible to free radical oxidation-the first step in the formation of atherosclerotic plaque formation and a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Lycopene concentration is highest when tomatoes are heated (like as a sauce). Raw tomatoes are a rich source of vitamin C, which also helps protect blood fats and blood vessels against oxidative damage. More good news for those at risk of atherosclerosis, or just trying to avoid it, is that tomatoes are a very good source of potassium and a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, and folate. Niacin has been used for years as a safe way to lower high cholesterol levels. Diets rich in potassium have been shown to lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Walnuts boost the brain
A walnut looks very similar to the human brain, with the left and right hemispheres and all the wrinkles and indentations of the neo-cortex. The secret to the walnut’s success is its high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered essential in the diet. Your brain is more than 60% structural fat, and or your brain cells to function optimally; this structural fat needs to be primarily the omega-3 type fat. A quarter cup of walnuts daily provides you with almost 100% of your daily value of omega-3. Over 2000 scientific studies have demonstrated the wide range of problems associated with omega-3 deficiencies, with many of these linking deficiencies to brain disorders, like cognitive dysfunction and learning and behavioural problems.
Avocados for reproductive health
The avocado also bears a resemblance to the female womb. One cup of avocado has 23% of the Daily Value for folate, a nutrient important in preventing infant Neural Tube defects in the womb. Interestingly, it takes exactly 9 months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit. The ancient Aztecs called the avocado tree “Ahuacuatl” meaning testicle tree. The ancients likened the fruit hanging in pairs on the tree to male testicles. In a laboratory study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, an extract of avocado containing these caretenoids and tocopherols inhibited the growth of both androgen-dependent and androgen-independent prostate cancer cells. Avocados are also rich in vitamin E, which is essential to both male and female reproductive health.