As we approach the millennium, our emphasis on how we view food is undergoing a sea change: Rather than thinking about what we can't have, we're excited about all we can have. Of course, we've been eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains all along. Yet only recently have scientific studies shown just how healthful and healing these everyday foods are. And when they're eaten in combination, the results are even more impressive. It appears these foods provide disease-fighting substances that we are now only beginning to discover.
Suddenly food is medicine. Wait! Make that medicine that tastes good. Who would have ever thought that a phytochemical found strawberries and raspberries might protect the genetic material in our cells from carcinogens such as tobacco smoke and air pollution? We'd always heard that garlic was healthful, but now we know it contains quite a few phytochemicals, such as allacin, that may boost our immune systems and may `D therefore help prevent cancer.
And the National Cancer Institute is well into a huge research project that examines the disease-fighting chemicals found in different food groups, including garlic; citrus fruit; and the parsley family, which includes parsnips, carrots, dill, and celery. Studies indicate that cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli may also help protect against cancer. Other studies have been examining substances in foods such as barley, fatty fish and greens that might help protect against heart disease.
"In general, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables," says Clare Hasler, executive director of the Functional Foods for Health Program at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. "I try to eat a variety to get a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. I also try to eat soy products because of the research about heart disease and cancer. And I drink a small glass of red wine a few times a week for the anti-oxidants."
The program is the nation's first and only full-scale scientific program devoted to the study of how phytochemicals and other functional components of food may prevent disease and promote health.
Looking down the road, "I see more health claims on foods, such as the recent petition for wheat bran protecting against colon cancer," Hasler says. "It is exciting because it is the first cancer health claim on foods. Consumers are going to choose foods more consciously based on their disease risk. Those at a high risk for cardiovascular disease will eat soybeans and oats, and those at a risk for prostate cancer will eat tomato products. Almost everyone can look at their family history and modify their diet to help cut down on chances of developing diseases they are at risk for."
But if you're not a doctor and are confused by nutritional labeling, what can you do?
"One of the easiest health concepts to follow is a diet of color," says Debbie Daley, director of nutrition services at the Spa at Doral in Miami. "Even though it's so simple, this concept is one of the most beneficial. When I go through the supermarket produce section with my two little girls, I tell them to find as many different colors as they can. 'Here's some orange,' they'll say, and they'll bring me oranges, or 'Here's some red,' and they'll bring me radishes. This encourages them to find and eat healthful foods. Color is a visual guide to getting the variety of nutrients that you need."
In the accompanying recipe, super-nutritious barley takes the place of rice in a chicken-and-rice update. The simple casserole contains almost 10 grams of fiber, which is more than one-third of the recommended daily intake.
Smothered Chicken and Barley
Serving size: 1 chicken thigh, 1 cup barley mixture and 1 tablespoon green onions
Makes 6 servings
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried mint flakes
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
6 (4-ounce) chicken thighs, skinned
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
3 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 1/4 cups uncooked pearl barley
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
6 tablespoons chopped green onions
Combine the first 7 ingredients in a small bowl, and rub chicken with half of spice mixture.
Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 1 minute on each side, or until chicken is browned. Remove the chicken from the skillet.
Coat skillet with cooking spray; add chopped onion, bell pepper and soy sauce. Cook over medium-high heat 3 minutes, or until vegetables are lightly browned. Add broth, barley, tomatoes and remaining spice mixture, and stir well. Add chicken to skillet, nestling into vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer 55 minutes or until chicken is done. Let stand 15 minutes. Sprinkle with green onions.
Per serving : 302 calories (15 percent from fat), 5.1 grams fat (1.4 grams saturated, 1.2 grams mono, 1.3 grams poly), 22.3 grams protein, 42.8 grams carbohydrates, 9.2 grams fiber, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 2.9 milligrams iron, 491 milligrams sodium, 57 milligrams calcium.
Pub Date: 1/14/98