Nutrition: Eat your greens & avoid cancer

Some vegetables and fruits contain natural anti-cancer compounds

We have the technology to help treat cancer, but we still don't know the exact causes. Scientists generally believe that cancer cells are continually produced in the body. Whether they go on and develop into malignant tumours depends on how well they're killed off beforehand.

There are nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E and the mineral selenium, that have been specifically linked with cancer prevention. The simple advice of 'eat your greens', passed down through generations, seems to be even more important now.

Fresh produce not only contains a bundle of energising micro nutrients, associated with energy release and particularly useful for cyclists, but recent research has shown that some fruits and vegetables contain a newly discovered group of compounds known as salvestrols, with powerful anti-cancer properties. One of the first salvestrols to be discovered was resveratrol, found in grape skin and present in red wine (white wine is made from fermenting grape juice, while the whole fruit - pulp, skin and juice - is used in red wine).

Some fruits and vegetables contain a newly discovered group of compounds known as salvestrols, with powerful anti-cancer properties

Looks can be deceptive...

Many more foods have been analysed and other, more powerful, salvestrols have been found in broccoli, cabbage, avocado, red and yellow peppers, and herbs such as basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Strawberries, tangerines and fresh cranberries also contain salvestrols.

However, new research has shown that most of those bright, clean, vibrant-looking fruits, herbs and vegetables stocked in supermarkets are woefully low in salvestrols, and may not be as healthy as they look. Imagine browsing in a cycle shop and being attracted by a top-of-the-range cycle jacket designed for winter rides, only to find that it wasn't waterproof, breathable or windproof when you came to use it.

Salvestrols are powerful anti-cancer compounds within our bodies, but are part of a plant's natural defence mechanism, too. A ripening fruit or vegetable is prone to attack by fungal mould, so salvestrols are produced within the plant to fight it off. However, most modern farming techniques involve spraying the crops with fungicide so that they're rarely exposed to fungus. The end result is that most fruits and vegetables are not stimulated to produce salvestrols.

Levels of salvestrols are up to 30 times higher in organic produce compared with those sprayed with agrochemicals

Go organic

Organic farming regulations don't allow the use of fungicide chemicals and, not surprisingly, research has shown that levels of salvestrols are up to 30 times higher in organic produce compared with those sprayed with agrochemicals.

Modern farming is highly efficient and the commercial grower is encouraged by supermarkets to grow particular varieties of fruits, which have been bred for their uniform shape and size rather than for their flavour. Other less commercial varieties and the pitted, imperfect fruits have been found to have around twice the level of salvestrols compared with those destined for supermarkets.

Bitter fruit...

Salvestrols also tend to lurk with bitter flavours and, in our liking for sweetness, this aspect is removed from food. Most fruit juices are processed to remove the bitter element so that they taste 'naturally sweet' without the addition of sugar. Fresh cranberries and real cranberry juice are very bitter - but contain much more of the all-important salvestrols.

Boost your quest to live life to the full - choose organic greens and fruits in season

These work by triggering an enzyme (a protein known as CYP1B1). This protein lurks within cancer cells, but is immobilised until it's activated by salvestrols. Once triggered, it unleashes a rush of compounds that are deadly to cancer cells. The system is rather like having an army of police standing by waiting for a bank to be robbed by a gang of known criminals. The cops are pretty useless unless they are given the command to go after the individuals and prevent the robbery.

So, if you're going to boost your quest to live life to the full, without the challenge of surviving cancer along the way, choose organic greens and fruits in season. Some herbs that are available as teas (mint, camomile, lemon verbena and Rooibos - red bush tea) are also rich in salvestrols and make for a refreshing way to rehydrate after a long ride.

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