Monday, 20 October 2008

Top 20 Functional foods for a long life


Leeds University have created a list of the top 20 functional foods that will help you to live a long and healthy life.

The list was drawn up by Gary Williamson, Professor of Functional Foods at the University of Leeds, and features mainly whole fruit and vegetables (although drinking juices and smoothies will also count). He describes them as "lifespan essential" foods that will give you the best chance of living as long a life as possible.

Top 20 functional foods to eat your way to a healthy long life (non vegetables/fruits)
  • apples
  • blackberries
  • black tea
  • blueberries
  • broccoli
  • cereal bran
  • cherries
  • cherry tomatoes
  • coffee
  • cranberries
  • dark chocolate
  • green tea
  • oranges
  • peaches
  • plums
  • raspberries
  • red grapes
  • red onions
  • spinach
  • strawberries.

These foods contain the fibre, vitamins and antioxidants your body needs to help to reduce your risk of developing cancer and heart disease.

It doesn't matter if these foods are fresh, tinned or frozen, but is it is important to eat the whole of the fruit or vegetable to get all the benefit. Fruit juices and smoothies can also be beneficial.

But, to get the most benefit from these foods, they should not be be packaged with added salt or sugar (for example tinned in a sugar syrup). Any added sugar will raise the risk of developing diabetes and becoming overweight, while added salt is a sure-fire way to raise your blood pressure.

Professor Williamson's list chimes well with the Government's and the Blood Pressure Association's advice to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

From the Press Release:

The foods are rich in polyphenols - naturally-occurring chemicals like tannins, lignins and flavonoids found in plants which are widely accepted as having health benefits. A recent international study carried out by scientists in the US, UK and Australia which looked at the health benefits of polyphenols concluded that they helped protect against heart disease.*

Although the importance of eating fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet is widely understood, Professor Williamson’s work goes further by prescribing 20 foods which are essential to allow you to fulfil your life’s potential.

Professor Williamson, who has published more than 240 refereed scientific publications including more than 100 papers on polyphenols and health, says: “These foods have been chosen because they are highest in polyphenols, which reduce the risk of heart disease and help to slow down ageing processes.

“Epidemiology studies support the protective effects of polyphenol-rich foods. Lack of these components in the diet, because of low intake of fruit and vegetables, increases the risk of chronic disease.

“Although they might not be essential for growth and development or the maintenance of major body functions, there is increasing knowledge concerning their potential for health maintenance or disease risk reduction throughout adulthood and during ageing.

“This means that they are essential to fulfil the maximum individual lifespan, and so I propose that they are ‘lifespan essential’. This does not necessarily include an increase of the maximum potential lifespan, but rather an increase of the chance of reaching the genetically determined lifespan and an increase in the quality of life during aging by reducing the incidence of chronic, age-related diseases.”

* Hooper et al Flavonoids, flavonoid-rich foods, and cardiovascular risk: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2008

In another article in the same issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2008 - Flavonoids and cardiovascular health: which compounds, what mechanisms? Johanna M Geleijnse and Peter CH Hollman

Hooper et al provide a sorely needed comprehensive review of 133 flavonoid trials, which they attempted to include in a meta-analysis. They aimed at determining the optimal doses of flavonoids and food sources for cardiovascular risk reduction and at setting priorities for future research. The main outcomes would not surprise researchers in the field—namely, that polyphenol-rich cocoa reduces blood pressure by 6 (systolic) and 3 (diastolic) mm Hg and that soy protein, which is rich in isoflavones, reduces LDL cholesterol by 0.2 mmol/L.

a drawback of the review by Hooper et al—namely, that a distinction between trials with isolated flavonoids and those with flavonoid-rich products cannot be made easily (if at all). Most of the trials included flavonoid-rich products, whereas only {approx}10 trials were based on isolated flavonoids. Thus, it remains unclear whether the measured effect on cardiovascular biomarkers could actually be attributed to the targeted flavonoid(s). Chocolate and cocoa contain a rich mixture of (poly)phenols such as the flavonoid class of proanthocyanidins, which itself contains many different compounds. Apart from that, plant-derived foods such as tea and cocoa also contain other substances that could exert an effect on the cardiovascular system, such as theobromine, tryptophan, caffeine, and minerals such as potassium and magnesium.

Substantial evidence for a vasoprotective effect of specific flavonoids is, however, still lacking. Optimal doses of specific flavonoids for cardiovascular protection, one of the aims of the review, are still beyond the horizon.

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