One diet has been found to be especially helpful in fighting cancer, heart disease and atherosclerosis. Its effectiveness comes from food rich in phytochemicals, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Heli Roy.
The diet is called DASH - Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Phytochemicals are chemical molecules found in plants. They are what give fruits and vegetables their colors. More than 900 different kinds have been found.
Roy explains that phytochemicals serve as antioxidants, that is, agents that fight diseases by removing free radicals and other harmful substances from the body. Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals formed when body cells burn oxygen for energy. They have beneficial roles but in excess can do a lot of harm by damaging cell membranes and contents.
Roy says the DASH diet has been very successful in reducing hypertension, more so than medication. The nutrients high on the DASH diet are potassium, magnesium and calcium. Researchers believe that these nutrients were responsible for the reduction in blood pressure for diet study participants.
Dr. Marlene Most of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center has conducted further analysis of phytochemicals, comparing DASH to a control diet. DASH is high in fruits and vegetables and therefore contains higher levels of polyphenol, carotenoids and phytosterols. It also includes dairy products to increase levels of calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Most’s findings support research showing that people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants - vitamins A, C and E - have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. These vitamins play a role in reducing harmful free radicals and preventing the oxidation of blood lipids. Her results may be found in the current "Journal of the American Dietetic Association."
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