Compounds in chocolate, tea and olive oil: Why are they so healthy?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
ACS researchers explore health benefits of our favorite foods more closely.
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Scientists from the American Chemical Society (ACS) remind us again about the health benefits that come from ingredients found tea, chocolate and olive oil. Why are certain foods so good for our health and well-being?

Many foods have compounds in them that promote health at a cellular level. Unlike foods that are ‘inflammatory’ and can promote disease, chocolate, olive oil, coffee and tea, fruits and vegetables and whole grains have polyphenols in them that we know best as antioxidants. Food can have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body and help us manage existing health conditions as well as preventing others.

Grains add fiber to our diet and help us feel full. But there is still much to learn about the health benefits of our favorite foods.

Scientists call healthful food compounds “phenolic derivatives” that are studied for their effect on human and animal health.

Many foods are good for us, but sometimes we forget to focus our diets on what goes on inside the body; trading better heath for convenience.

Researchers recently highlighted some of the foods that can help stave off cancer and heart disease at the American Chemical Society’s 246th National Meeting & Exposition, presenting new findings about specific compounds and how food derivatives could help keep us healthy and live longer.

Some of the compounds are being looked at for pharmaceutical development.

Included in their research were:

• Compounds from curcumin that occur naturally in the Indian spice turmeric
Ginger substances that can kill cancer cells
• How our gut bacteria interact with antioxidants in cranberries
• How biotechnology could help make antioxidants even more healthful

Curcumin

The latest research shows there are a variety of compounds in curcumin from turmeric that have a wide range of anti-cancer activities including stopping cancer’s spread and even killing cancer.

One compound in curcumin, 2-[(E)-3-(4-Hydroxyphenyl) acryloyl]-6-[1-(4-hydroxyphenyl)meth-(E)-ylidene]-cyclohexanone, was targeted as a strong candidate for developing drugs to fight cancer that also seems to be non-toxic.

Cranberries

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The ACS scientists are also working on understanding how cranberries interact with gut bacteria to potentially boost immunity and for quelling inflammation that is the root cause or effect of all chronic diseases.

Whole wheat

We’re still not sure why everyone doesn’t benefit from eating certain foods, despite observational studies suggesting a ‘one size fits all’ approach to diet.

One example is whole wheat. ACS researchers are trying to sort out what happens in the body when we consume whole wheat and how much should we should consume for optimal health.

According to the researchers, “Studies, however, have failed to generate consistent results on this topic due to a lack of accurate tools to assess dietary intake and internal dosage.”

Thanks to new research a metabolite has been identified in wheat that can help scientists tell us more about the health benefits of wheat grain and fiber. We can look for more information in the future.

Ginger

In the past decade ginger has been suggested to have anti-cancer benefits. Now researchers understand even more about how ginger could be used as a cancer treatment or preventative.

The major pharmacologically active components of ginger are gingerols and shogaols, researchers found.

Shogaols are the main constituents of dried ginger after it is dried.

New research shows shogaols are the more powerful compounds in ginger that are toxic to human colon and human lung cancer cells than gingerols.

“Our studies on the metabolism of [6]-shgaol indicated that it is extensively metabolized in cancer cells, in liver microsomes, and in vivo. Our results also found that most of the metabolites of [6]-shogaol remain bioactive and some of the metabolites even have greater activity than [6]-shogaol in cancer cells and in mice,” the authors wrote in a press release.

Thanks to technology and new research, we now know more about the powerful healing properties of some of our favorite foods like chocolate, olive oil, tea, coffee and even the kitchen spice turmeric.

The hope of researchers is to develop natural compounds in enhanced ways to help treat disease and that deliver even more antioxidant power to help us stay healthy and live longer lives.

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