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Published on April 30, 2016

Popeye had it right and other food truthsPopeye had it right and other food truths

Popeye was onto something when he turned to spinach to keep his vim and vigor. Nutritionists and dieticians recommend eating one cup of the dark green plant every day because it and other leafy greens can lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain.

Spinach also has the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which help reduce the effects of cataracts and macular degeneration.

“One serving every day of any green can reduce your risk of glaucoma by 59 percent,” said Amy Rose Sager, dietician for the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod.

Now, researchers have discovered that leafy greens contain an unusual sugar that helps grow beneficial bacteria in the intestine and crowds out bad bacteria. The sugar is called sulfoquinovose and it is created in leaves during the process of photosynthesis.

Sager, who also owns Leap into Wellness, a health and nutrition business, said that intestinal health is incredibly important.

“Fifty to 70 percent of our immune system is in our gut,” she said. “This can help inhibit the growth of bad bacteria or things that cause infection. When you eat foods that have fiber, like fruits and vegetables, they produce short chain fatty acids like butyrate. This helps decrease inflammation. Our gut is where we get our vitamins absorbed and it keeps us from potential cancers.”

Carrots and Eyes

Another food myth that’s based in truth is that carrots are actually good for your eyes, just as your mother told you. The orange root vegetable does in fact slightly help your vision because it contains beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A.

But carrots aren’t the only food that will help keep eyes healthy. In addition to leafy greens, cold water fish like salmon, contain fats that also stave off damage to the eyes caused by macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

“Butternut squash is another good source of carotenoids with vitamins A, B, B6 and folate,” Sager said. “It’s rich in these vital chemicals that decrease your risk of macular degeneration and other diseases.”

Apple and the Doctor

As for the proverb, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” it has been around for about 150 years and originated from a Welsh nursery rhyme: “Eat an apple on going to bed and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.”

A study done in England suggested that an apple a day could be as effective as taking a statin a day for vascular health – with much fewer side effects. The polyphenols in apples naturally lower levels of LDC cholesterol in the body.

“The quercetin found in apples is beneficial to lowering blood pressure,” Sager said. “That’s actually what gives the color to apples.”

The most beneficial apple is the Ida Red, but Red Delicious, Honey Crisp, Granny Smith and Cortland apples all rank high on the nutrient list as well, she said.

Blueberries Are Super Foods

There is no doubt that berries are a super food. They offer cardiovascular benefits and the dark pigments in blueberries and blackberries have anti-inflammatory effects. An intriguing recent study also showed that a cup of blueberries a day could keep erectile dysfunction at bay. Strawberries, blackberries and citrus fruits are also good ways to naturally combat ED.

Nature’s Viagra comes from the athocyanins and flavonoids of the fruits and berries. In the study, men who ate the most fruit were found to have a 14 percent lower risk of erectile dysfunction than men who ate the least fruit. Even better, men who combined a diet rich in flavonoids combined with regular exercise had a 21 percent reduction in ED.

Erectile dysfunction can also be a hint that your heart is in trouble too.

“One of the things they find is that if somebody younger has erectile dysfunction, even if he has no cardiac symptoms, he is usually at risk,” Sager said. “We know that erectile dysfunction is showing us that other arteries are clogged. The benefits of eating more plants can help this problem they have sexually, but it also reduces their cardiovascular risk which is more important.”

Chicken Soup for Your Health

If you were raised by a Jewish mother, chances are you have heard of “Jewish penicillin,” or chicken soup. Research does show modest benefits if you eat it when you have a cold or the flu.

But if you really want a health boost, chicken barley soup is a better choice. Researchers at Lund University in England reported that barley reduces the risk of diabetes and lowers blood sugar levels. Participants also had improved metabolisms for up to 14 hours after eating bread made with barley. The dietary fibers in barley are good for a host of other health benefits.

“There are two kinds of fiber,” Sager said, explaining that you need both. “You get insoluble fiber from wheat, nuts and vegetables. That keeps everything moving and helps us with constipation. Then there is soluble fiber that dissolves in water and barley is included in that category. This is what helps lower blood pressure and helps us with glucose as well. I find even 10 grams of fiber at each meal can help regulate blood sugar without even counting carbs. If you power up your plate with fiber, that’s usually going to help everything.”

Sager cautioned against magical thinking that any one food can cure you. She said that these foods should be part of an overall healthy diet, preferably plant-based.

“If people are eating one or two of these things and they are eating the standard American diet of processed food, then that is not necessarily consistent,” she said. “It’s only helpful if they make other changes in their diet as well.”