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TOP 6 NUTRIENTS

Flavonoids & Isoflavones 

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Flavonoids and isoflavones are compounds produced by plants and fungi, which can act as colour pigments in flowers, a defense against high UV light and as a chemical defense against some plant diseases. Flavonoids are present in many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat and drink, such as blueberries, green and black tea, citrus fruits, wine, onions, and cocoa. There is some evidence to suggest that consuming these compounds and their metabolites reduce the risk of developing conditions such as atherosclerosis, reduces blood pressure and improves vascular function. Relatively recent research has shown that specific compounds may reduce cognitive decline, which is linked with improvements in vascular health, increased blood flow and maintaining synaptic connections in the brain. Isoflavones are similar to flavonoids but are produced only by members of the bean family of plants (Fabaceae) – soy, green beans, and peanuts. The health benefits of isoflavones are not as well studied as flavonoids, but there are clinical indications that consumption decreases cancer risk in postmenopausal women and reduces some risk factors of cardiovascular disease.

Nitrate & Nitrite 

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Nitrate was previously thought to be an inert end product of body metabolism. However, research over the last decade or so has revealed nitrate and nitrite to be important molecules for the production of cardio-protective nitric oxide. Nitrate is found naturally in vegetables, particularly green leafy varieties and beetroot. Studies have shown that the consumption of dietary nitrate dramatically lowers blood pressure as well as improving physical performance. These effects are mediated by the conversion of nitrate to nitrite by bacteria in the mouth, followed by conversion to nitric oxide in blood vessels. This causes the vessels to relax and dilate, increasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure. In contrast, the consumption of nitrate and nitrite in processed meat has been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Nitrate and nitrite are often added to processed meat to prevent microbial spoilage and to preserve its red color. Yet, under the acidic environment of the stomach, a nitrite may react with compounds called ‘amines’, found in meat to produce nitrosamines – known carcinogens. However, vegetables have low levels of amines and contain vitamin C and polyphenolic compounds that favor the production of nitric oxide and reduce the formation of nitrosamines

Isothiocyanates  

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Brassicales plants produce isothiocyanates to defend themselves against pests and diseases. They are the reason why cabbage smells sulfurous, why mustard is hot and why you may hate the taste of Brussels sprouts at Christmas. When these plants are eaten, an enzyme converts glucosinolate molecules in the plant tissues into isothiocyanates, creating distinctive aromas and flavors. Some isothiocyanates also happen to be effective against types of cancer. Sulforaphane is an isothiocyanate found in broccoli and rocket and can help prevent and slow the progression of prostate cancer. People who eat a greater proportion of Brassica-type vegetables in their diets (kale, cabbage, broccoli) are at a lower risk of developing chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative conditions. Cooking by boiling, steaming or microwaving is very bad for the enzyme that produces isothiocyanates, as it breaks down at temperatures above 60°C (140°F). Stir-frying helps to maintain the health benefits, and eating raw salads with watercress and rocket is a good way to include them in the diet, without the need for cooking.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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  Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fats. They are rarer in most diets than saturated, monounsaturated and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids come from plants and animals. The main plant omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid. This cannot be made in animals and is an essential fatty acid. The main role of alpha-linolenic acid is as a metabolic precursor of more complex omega-3 fatty acids,  particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, this metabolic conversion is relatively inefficient and humans need preformed EPA and DHA to support cell function and to maintain health. The main dietary source of EPA and DHA is seafood, especially fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel). If people do not eat fatty fish, their intake of EPA and DHA is likely to be lower than recommended (around 200 to 500 mg of EPA plus DHA per day). Getting sufficient EPA and DHA is important for health. DHA has key roles in the structure and function of the eye and brain and getting enough DHA early in life when these organs are developing, is vital. EPA and DHA are important for heart and cognitive health and for the control of inflammation. EPA and DHA are available in supplements, often referred to as fish oils.

Vitamin D & Calcium

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Vitamin D is a vitamin in food that becomes a hormone inside the body. Sunlight supplies most requirements except in northern regions during winter, when dietary sources become important, such as oily fish and eggs. Calcium is a mineral found in dairy foods, green vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Vitamin D supports bone health by boosting calcium absorption in the gut and promoting uptake by the bone matrix. Low vitamin D can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults. Taking calcium with vitamin D improves bone density and lowers the risk of fractures, particularly in postmenopausal women. There are hundreds of vitamin D receptors in the body, suggesting a wider influence. Studies have reported associations between low vitamin D status (blood levels) and a higher risk of cancer or heart disease. Other research notes that children are at greater risk of type 1 diabetes if their mothers were low in vitamin D during pregnancy. Further evidence is needed to confirm these findings. Vitamin D deficiency is common in western and northern countries, affecting 15 to 40% of the population. Those who are obese or have darker skins are more at risk. Recommendations are 10–20 mg daily, and some countries advise daily supplementation as natural sources are limited. 

 
Probiotics & Prebiotics

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Gut health means more than digestive health. The billions of bacteria ('microbiota') in the large intestine live in a symbiotic relationship with their human hosts, influencing a wide range of bodily processes via their proliferation and metabolic activities. In the case of potentially pathogenic bacteria, the impact on health can be negative. However, others such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are associated with beneficial effects such as pathogen inhibition, rebalancing of immune function, blood lipid reduction and metabolic changes that may assist control of weight. Probiotics are live bacteria which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit; prebiotic fibers are selectively fermented ingredients, for example, inulin-type fructans, galactooligosaccharides and lactulose, that change the composition and/or activity of the microbiota to deliver benefits. Do probiotics and prebiotics work? The literature has expanded rapidly and many studies have shown positive outcomes, particularly in relation to infection control, mineral absorption and metabolic effects, some inconsistencies in results are apparent. So, it’s a cautious ‘yes’.

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