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How Can I Eat to Optimize My Genetic Potential for Good Health?

The latest research, building on the results of the Human Genome Project, is showing that virtually all the chronic degenerative diseases—the cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, digestive disorders, loss of mental function, and even many cancers—are the result of dietary, lifestyle and environmental choices we make that do not provide for our genetically inherited needs.

We're learning that—with the exception of a few traits like eye color and an increased potential risk for some diseases—our genetic inheritance or genotype holds not just one, but a variety of options for what will be expressed and appear as our phenotype, our actual physical self.

And we're learning that which genetic options are chosen is affected by the foods we eat, that the foods we consume actually "talk" to our genes, delivering information that changes which aspects of our genes—those that promote health or those that engender dysfunction and disease—will be activated.

Scientists have learned that even the genes we've inherited that render us more susceptible to various chronic diseases do not, inevitably, cause disease. Their damaging messages remain silent—unless we make food, lifestyle or environmental choices that trigger them into action.

While researchers are just beginning to identify which genes are highly protective and which render people more susceptible to unhealthy aging and chronic disease, the latest research already provides sufficient information to make smart choices about the foods you eat. Right now, you can choose the healthy way of eating that hundreds of studies clearly show is most likely to tell your genes to create your healthiest possible phenotype.

Choose Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains, Nuts and Seeds Rich in Phytonutrients

An explosion of recent research has begun to reveal the immense effects that phytonutrients, the thousands of protective compounds in plants (phyto means plant), have on our health.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds contain a lot more than carbohydrate, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Each and every type of plant is loaded with phytonutrients.

Why do plants expend so much of their vital energies creating all these protective compounds? As Sesame Street's Kermit so aptly noted, "It's not easy being green!" Few plants reside in hothouses where they are guarded from assault not merely by pests, but excessive heat, UV exposure, dryness, flooding, hail, snow, sleet, ice—you get the picture. To not merely survive all this, but flourish—a feat which plants have definitely achieved—they need serious protection. Phytonutrients provide it. They're plants' version of the Environmental Protection Agency, National Guard, Police, Fire Fighters, and Emergency Medical Technicians, all rolled into one.

Since not only do environmental conditions vary dramatically throughout the year even in the same locale, but different plants have different requirements for optimal growth, the variety of phytonutrients plants produce is staggering. We already know about hundreds of them and are continually discovering new ones, along with additional ways in which they work together to support human physiology.

Phytonutrients in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds—like flavonoids, catechins, phenols, anthocyanins, isothiocyanates, carotenoids, terpenoids and a legion of other chemicals with tongue-twisting names—modify gene expression, each promoting healthy physiological function in a slightly different way, when consumed.

And for many of us, that's the catch. To get the myriad benefits that occur when phytonutrients "talk" to our genes, we have to ingest them, and that means eating lots of whole, unprocessed, organically grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains: Whole: because many phytonutrients hang out in or immediately under a plant's skin (or in the case of grains, in the outer, fibrous layer), preventing damage to the periphery and fortifying the borders against invaders. Processing often removes and discards this phytonutrient-rich outermost layer of plant foods.

Take apples as an example. Apple peels contain anywhere from two to six times (depending on the variety) more phenolic compounds and two to three times more flavonoids in their peels than their flesh. Not surprisingly, in lab studies, the antioxidant activity of apple peels is much greater, ranging from two to six times greater in the peels than the flesh, depending on the variety of apple.

Or look at what happens when whole wheat is processed into refined wheat flour. Refined wheat flour is made from the starchy endosperm of the wheat kernel, discarding both its bran and germ. Unfortunately, the bran and germ are where virtually all wheat's phytonutrients live. The bran and germ, which are retained in whole wheat flour, contain 83% of wheat's total phenolic content, 79% of its flavonoids, 51% of its lutein, 78% of its zeaxanthin, 42% of its beta-cryptoxanthin, 85% of its water-soluble antioxidant activity, and 94% of its total fat-soluble antioxidant activity. Unprocessed: because some phytonutrients are volatile and evaporate when exposed to heat, light and air. Others spring into action when a plant's surface is cut, expending their protective energies over the next several hours or days—long before a processed food gets shipped to market, bought and brought home to be part of your meal. Organically grown: because research shows that plants produce way more phytonutrients when their needs to defend themselves against pests are not being covered by pesticides. Also because when plant foods are conventionally grown, the pesticides and other potentially harmful agricultural chemicals used are typically concentrated in the skin. Removing the skin greatly lessens the amounts of these toxins we consume, but also deprives us of a significant portion of the plant's phytochemicals.

For a glimpse into the abundance and complexity of nutrients whole foods deliver, let's look at oranges. When we think "oranges," we think "vitamin C," but as important as this antioxidant is to our health, it's the tip of an orange's nutrient iceberg.

As internationally respected nutritional biochemist, Jeff Bland, Ph.D., notes in his ground-breaking book, Genetic Nutritioneering, more than 170 phytochemicals have been identified in oranges, including more than 60 bioflavonoids that modify gene expression to lessen inflammation, inhibit blood clot formation and activate the body's detoxification system. More than 20 carotenoids are also found in oranges, including not only beta-carotene, but lutein, zeazanthin and cryptoxanthin, which are associated with lower incidence of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the leading cause of blindness in the United States after age 65.

And each fruit, vegetable, whole grain, legume, nut and seed has developed its own unique array/combination of phytonutrients for its personal defense and optimal growth. It's not surprising—given how evolution works—but still a most elegant serendipity that these phytochemicals in plant foods modify our gene expression in ways that help protect us against premature or unhealthy aging and chronic diseases.

From what we've learned so far, phytonutrients in whole foods interact with our genes to increase the expression of those that encode for the production of antioxidant and detoxification enzymes, while putting to sleep those that promote inflammation and the development of cancer. In doing so, phytonutrients turn up a profusion of protective processes in our bodies, while shutting down the damaging ones.

Here are some of the most studied phytonutrients, the foods in which they're highly concentrated, and a few of their beneficial gene-related actions. (Remember we've already discovered about 1,000 of these compounds and have just begun to explore what they do): Allyl sulfides Garlic and onions

Powerful antioxidants, allyl sulfides protect our genes, promote detoxification of carcinogens, lower blood pressure, and boost immune defenses. Flavonoids Green tea, grapes, onions, garlic, and the fleshly inner peel of citrus fruits, like orangesFlavonoids are potent antioxidants and promote the expression of anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory genes and the enzymes responsible for the second, final phase of detoxification.

Catechins are one kind of bioflavonoid highly concentrated in tea. Epigallocatechingallate (EGCG), the most active catechin found in green tea, is thought to be responsible for many of its wide-ranging anti-cancer, cardioprotective, detoxification-enhancing and immune-supportive effects.

Quercitin, another flavonoid found in onions and garlic, lowers the expression of pro-inflammatory genes associated with allergy and arthritis.

Resveratrol, a flavonoid found in grapes, especially their skins, and red wine, is a powerful antioxidant not only protects against free radical damage to the lining of our blood vessels, but also alters gene expression to protect against blood clot formation and heart disease.

Anthocyanins, another type of flavonoid with powerful anti-oxidant activity, protect plants from free radicals formed by UV light and during metabolic processes. As the following table indicates, many commonly eaten foods, especially berries and dark purple fruits, but also some vegetables and even beans, are excellent sources of anthocyanins.

Common U.S. Foods Highest in Anthocyanins
Food Anthocyanins in 100 grams (1 cup)
Marion Blackberries 433 mg
Blackberries 353 mg
Blueberries, cultivated 529 mg
Blueberries, wild 705 mg
Black currant 533 mg
Elderberry 1993 mg
Chokeberry 2147 mg
Sweet cherry 177 mg
Cranberry 133 mg
Concord grape 192 mg
Black plum 82.2 mg
Plum 12.5 mg
Black raspberry 845 mg
Red raspberry 116 mg
Strawberry 69.2 mg
Red cabbage 113 mg
Red radish 116 mg
Eggplant 35 mg
Red onion 38.8 mg
Black bean, raw* 23.1 mg
* Beans are not eaten raw, but only after cooking. Since anthocyanins leach into cooking water or canning brine, only 50-70% of them are likely to be retained in cooked beans.
Curcumin The yellow pigment in the spice, turmeric

Yet another formidable antioxidant, curcumin protects our genes, reduces expression of pro-inflammatory genes, and switches on anti-inflammatory genes. Ellagic acid Walnuts,strawberries,cranberries, raspberries,grapes

A phenolic acid with potent antioxidant activity that also helps maintain levels and promotes production of antioxidant enzymes, ellagic acid also induces apoptosis (suicide) in tumor cells. Glucarates Oranges, apples, grapefruit, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli

Improve detoxification by inhibiting beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that helps recirculate potential carcinogens, particularly those involved in breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Glucosinolates (indole-3-carbinol, isothiocyanates, sulforaphane) Crucifers: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Swiss chard, mustard greens, collards, kale

Promote expression of detoxification and antioxidant enzymes and lessen inflammation by turning off genes that produce NF-kappaB, a compound central to the inflammatory process. Gingerols Ginger

Work with curcumin to silence pro-inflammatory genes, also prevent inflammation by inhibiting enzymes involved in the production of inflammatory compounds (PG synthetase, which produces inflammatory prostaglandins, and arachidonate 5-lipoxygenase, which is involved in leukotriene synthesis). Inhibit platelet activation, thus preventing blood clots. Protect against ulcers, gastric and colon cancer by inhibiting the growth of H.pylori. Isoflavones (genistein and daidzein) Soybeans

Improve detoxification and normalize activity of estrogen/testosterone. Multiple beneficial effects through a variety of mechanisms on breast and prostate cancers, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis and stroke, and brain cell deterioration. Isothiocyanates (sulforaphane, I3C, DIM) Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Swiss chard, mustard greens, collards, kale

Stimulate production and balance activity of detoxification enzymes. The liver clears out toxins in a two step process. In the first step, Phase I, the cytochrome p450 family of enzymes dismantles some toxins and converts others into even more dangerous compounds that then attract the Phase II enzymes, which render them ready for elimination from the body. If Phase I is too active, the more dangerous compounds it creates can stockpile. The isothiocyanates in cruciferous vegetables promote an even flow through our detoxification system by inhibiting the Phase I (cytochrome P450) enzymes, while stimulating the activity of Phase II enzymes.

Isothiocyanates help protect our genes from damage by carcinogens. In cells that have become cancerous, isothiocyanates block cell replication and trigger apoptosis (suicide) by damaging the mitochondria (energy production factories) in these cells, causing them to literally run out of energy and collapse. Lignans Flaxseeds and soybeans

Bind to estrogen-receptors on cells and normalize metabolism of estrogen/testosterone.

Protect the liver by preventing a decrease in levels of liver antioxidant enzymes.

Inhibit the production of a variety of compounds involved in cellular inflammation processes, angiogenesis (in cancer, an excessive development of new blood vessels) and blood clot formation.

Protect the cardiovascular system by decreasing oxidative (free radical) stress, lowering total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and increasing levels of (good) HDL cholesterol.

Inhibit proliferation of hormone-sensitive tumor cells, e.g., cancerous breast and prostate cells. Phytosterols Soybeans and other legumes

Cause beneficial alterations in both cholesterol metabolism and inflammatory pathways.

Reduce absorption of cholesterol from foods. Decrease the production of cholesterol esters by human liver cells and chylomicrons by intestinal cells. (Chylomicrons are small globules composed of a protein plus a fat molecule, Made by the cells lining the intestine, they are secreted after a fat-containing meal to carry fat to the liver, where it is then used to produce cholesterol.) Lower total cholesterol, (bad) LDL cholesterol, raise (good) HDL cholesterol, and lower triglycerides.

Decrease inflammation by promoting production of anti-inflammatory interleukin (IL)-10, while also lowering production of lower two pro-inflammatory compounds, cytokine (IL)-6 and TNF-alpha.

What should I eat to send healthy messages to my genes?

While the evidence is complex, the conclusion it all points towards is simple: A Mediterranean-style diet is the best way we can choose to send our genes the messages that will produce our optimal health.

This healthy way of eating—which easily delivers between 5-10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, nuts, cold-water fish rich in omega-3 fats, and the healthy fats found in olive and flaxseed oils—is absolutely loaded with hundreds of phytonutrients.

Research uncovering the multitude of ways in which phytonutrients talk to our genes is now beginning to explain the many epidemiological studies that link a Mediterranean-style diet to healthy aging, protection from and/or treatment for all the major age-related chronic diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.

How to Eat for Youthful Aging

"Most of the characteristics that determine health and vitality after mid-life are related to the inducible or modifiable genetic factors and not the hard-wired or constitutional factors. In fact, gerontologists now state that 75 percent of an individual's health after age 40 is dependent upon what the person has done to his or her genes, not the genes themselves," notes Dr. Bland, a man who has obviously induced the right genes since, at age 60, he has twice the energy of men half his age.

So, which genetic factors does Dr. Bland recommend we induce and what foods should we eat to do so?

In fruit flies, the rate at which cells age is directly related to how well those cells can protect themselves against free radical damage. According to this free radical theory of aging, which applies to us as well, the less exposure to free radicals and the more antioxidant protection a cell has, the longer its youthful lifespan.

So, for youthful aging, we need to avoid unnecessary exposure to free radicals and keep our cells well supplied with antioxidants, both by consuming them ready-made in the foods we eat and by inducing those genes that maximize our own internal production of antioxidants.

In addition to familiar antioxidants in foods, such as vitamins E, C and beta-carotene, our cells rely for protection on a number of very powerful antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and glutathione reductase, all of which are manufactured in our cells—if the right messages are sent to our genes by phytonutrients, especially the flavonoids.

Enjoy Lots of Flavonoid-rich Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes, and Whole Grains

One of the largest groups of phytonutrients, the flavonoids (the red, blue and purple pigments in plants), includes compounds such as:

To make sure we provide our cells with a constant supply of flavonoids, these foods should be staples in any anti-aging plan.

The following trace minerals, and thus the foods in which they are concentrated, are also necessary since they are essential components of our antioxidant enzymes:

Choosing Foods that Talk to Your Genes to Lower Disease Risk


In a review article published in 1992 in Nutrition and Cancer, 82% of 156 population studies found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides significant protection against cancer. People eating the least of these phytochemical-rich foods were found to have almost double the risk of developing cancer compared to those with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables.

The National Cancer Institute has now spent well in excess of $20 million dollars and funded more than 1,000 studies to evaluate the anticancer potential of plant foods. These studies indicate that the following foods contain phytochemicals that either trigger the expression of genes that shut down cancer cells or put oncogenes (genes that promote the development of cancer cells) to sleep.

Foods with the highest anti-cancer activity include garlic, soybeans, cabbage, ginger, licorice and the umbelliferous vegetables (including carrots, celery, cilantro, parsley, and parsnips).

Significant cancer-preventive actions have been seen in studies on onions, flaxseed, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, turmeric, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, chili peppers, brown rice, whole wheat and barley. Oats, mint, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, basil, cucumber, cantaloupe and berries, including blueberries, raspberries and cranberries, have also demonstrated cancer-inhibiting effects.

Cooking to Lower Cancer Risk

In addition to enjoying these foods as a regular part of your healthy way of eating, your choice of cooking methods may also affect your cancer risk. Charbroiling meat, fish or poultry, for example, promotes the formation of a family of toxic substances called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs), which can become carcinogens or impair the function of the immune and nervous systems.

A healthy detoxification system—supported by foods high in fiber along with antioxidants and bioflavonoid phytonutrients, particularly a phenol called oleoresin found in rosemary—can help protect you against the occasional dietary indiscretion. In a study published in Food Chemistry and Toxicology (May 2000), when rosemary was added to beef patties before they were fried, HAA formation was reduced by 44%!

Cooking methods that expose fats to high heat greatly lessen the amount of any protective compounds the fats contain, while also producing free radicals and other potentially harmful compounds. This is why we recommend adding oil to your foods after cooking. You'll get all the flavor, while retaining the phytonutrients in the oil—and you won't consume harmful free radicals.

Cardiovascular Disease

The belief that cholesterol alone is the root cause of cardiovascular disease has been superseded by a deeper understanding of the complex processes that result in high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.

Research has revealed that chronic inflammation is highly correlated with an increased risk of heart disease. Elevated blood levels of markers of inflammation, such as homocysteine, are now well recognized as cardiovascular risk factors as, or even more important than, cholesterol.

One reason for this is that until cholesterol is damaged, which occurs when high levels of inflammatory compounds are in the bloodstream, it does not begin the process of attachment to the blood vessel wall that is a first step in the development of atherosclerosis.

Chronic low grade inflammation may be due to infection with an unfriendly organism, such as Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes ulcers, or can be caused by eating a diet that sends unfriendly messages to our genes.

A diet high in processed, refined foods, saturated and trans fats, puts the part of our immune system found within our digestive tract—the gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT—into a state of alarm.

These foods—the bulk of the standard American diet—deliver messages that tell the GALT to call out the troops. Gene expression alters in the cells composing the GALT to ramp up production of inflammatory molecules called cytokines, which are sent out to prime the entire body to be ready to eliminate enemy agents.

An immune system on continuous red alert can over-react, wiping out normal tissue that its soldiers mistakenly perceive as the enemy. Such "friendly fire" casualties can lead to damage not only to cholesterol and blood vessel walls, but to joints as well.

So, what foods can we eat to lower inflammation? Are there foods that can deliver messages that help shut down H.pylori? Lower levels of homocysteine? Tell our blood vessels to relax? Signal the GALT it's okay to step down, kick back and take a break? Absolutely. Here are some of them and what they do.

Foods that Fight Helicobacter Pylori

Broccoli sprouts

If your digestive system is frequently upset, your stomach may be reacting to an unwelcome guest: Helicobacter pylori. Infection with H. pylori is very common worldwide. Some experts estimate that nearly 50% of the American public harbor the bacterium.

Regularly eating broccoli sprouts—100 grams (3 ounces) a day—can significantly reduce H. pylori infection, confirms two studies that follow several years of laboratory research on the sprouts, one published in an early 2005 issue of Inflammopharmacology and another in the November 2005 issue of the Japanese medical journal, Nippon Rinsho.

Broccoli sprouts' ability to inhibit H.pylori is thought to be due to their especially rich concentration of glucoraphanin, the precursor of sulforaphane, which is highly protective against free radicals that can increase inflammation, damage DNA, and potentially cause not just ulcers, but stomach cancer.

Sulforaphane is made in our bodies from glucoraphanin, the key protective compound in broccoli. Glucoraphanin is at least 20 times more concentrated in 3-day-old broccoli sprouts than in mature broccoli. H.pylori infection produces a constant barrage of free radical damage to the cells that make up the lining of the stomach. To survive, these cells must be able to increase their arsenal of antioxidant enzymes to protect themselves from DNA damage.

The research published in Inflammopharmacology revealed that the gene that encodes Nrf-2 (NF-E2 p45-related factor-2) plays an important role in increasing the production of these protective enzymes. Sulforaphane stimulates this nrf-2 gene-dependent production of antioxidant enzymes, thereby guarding cells against oxidative injury during H. pylori infection.

For the study published in Nippon Rinsho, researchers recruited 40 patients infected with H. pylori. Twenty patients ate broccoli sprouts; the other 20 ate alfalfa sprouts. After two-months, in those who ate 100 grams (3 ounces) of broccoli sprouts per day, both H. pylori and pepsinogen (an indicator of damage to the stomach) markedly decreased. Those eating alfalfa sprouts showed no benefit. Ginger

Ginger has a long history of use in the treatment of gastrointestinal ailments like indigestion, motion sickness and nausea during pregnancy. Since the bacterium, H.pylori, is now recognized as a primary contributing factor to not only indigestion, but peptic ulcers, and gastric and colon cancer, researchers decided to see if ginger had any effect on H.pylori. Ginger absolutely trounced the bacterium.

In this research, published in the September-October 2003 issue of Anticancer Research, 19 different strains of H.pylori went head-to-head with ginger. Final score: Ginger: 19 / H.pylori: 0. Yogurt

Yogurt may also help control H.pylori, according to a study published in the September 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In this research, 48 adult volunteers infected with H.pylori ate yogurt containing two kinds of probiotic bacteria, Lactobaciullus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis, twice daily after a meal for 6 weeks, while 11 others received a milk placebo.

After 8 weeks, subjects were given the C-urea breath test, which measures the amount of urease, an enzyme used by H.pylori to allow it to penetrate and infect the stomach lining. In those receiving the yogurt containing probiotics, urease levels were way down indicating that H.pylori activity was effectively suppressed.

Foods that Help Lower Homocysteine

Homocysteine is created in our cells as an intermediate step in a process that is absolutely essential to our health called the methylation cycle. When our cells are supplied with the necessary amounts of betaine and the vitamins B6, B12, folate, homocysteine is quickly converted into other useful compounds. But when the foods we eat fail to supply us with adequate amounts of these nutrients, homocysteine builds up and moves out of our cells into the bloodstream where it causes damage to the lining of our blood vessels and nerves.

Research is revealing that some individuals have a much higher need for the nutrients involved in the methylation cycle than other people. If your homocysteine levels are high, which a simple blood test can check, the following foods, rich in these nutrients, are especially important for your cardiovascular health.

And, as high homocysteine levels are also strongly linked to Alzheimer's and other dementias, to your brain's health as well. Foods rich in B6: spinach, red bell pepper, turnip greens, garlic, tuna, cabbage, mushrooms, broccoli, Swiss chard, cod. Foods rich in B12: snapper, shrimp, scallops, salmon, cod, yogurt, milk, egg. Foods rich in folate: romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli, beets, lentils, black beans, summer squash. Foods rich in betaine: eggs, whole wheat, spinach and shrimp.

Don't be afraid to eat eggs. Eggs are an excellent dietary source of choline, from which our bodies derive betaine. Eggs do contain approximately 213 milligrams of cholesterol each, leading to the traditional advice about limiting egg intake. But when researchers used data from the most recent National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES III, 1988-94) to compare the nutritional intake of diets that contained eggs with those that did not, they found that dietary cholesterol was not related to serum cholesterol concentration. As a matter of fact, in this study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who ate 4 eggs per week had lower mean serum cholesterol concentration than those who ate 1 egg per week (193 mg/dL vs. 197 mg/dL).

Foods that Tell Blood Vessels to Relax

In addition to their role in clearing homocysteine, folate-rich foods are essential performers in the intricate biochemical dance through which our blood vessels are instructed to be more elastic, dilate and relax. Their dance partner in this process is the essential amino acid (protein building block), arginine.

Arginine and folate affect blood vessel tone because both are needed for the production of one of the most important agents regulating blood vessel elasticity—nitric oxide. Nitric oxide, which is produced in the vascular endothelium (the lining of the blood vessels), is made from arginine.

In the endothelium, arginine is converted into citrulline through the action of an enzyme called endothelial nitric oxide synthase or eNOS for short. This process is brought about through the action of a coenzyme called tetrahydrobiopterin. And tetrahydrabiopterin is made in the body through a pathway that requires folate in the form in which it is active in the body, which is called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate or 5MTHFR.

Without adequate folate, 5MTHFR cannot be produced. Without 5MTHFR, tetrahydrabiopterin cannot be produced. And without tetrahydrabiopterin, the process through which arginine becomes cirtuline and is converted into NO cannot occur. Without NO, our blood vessels fail to dilate properly.

This is one of the primary reasons why a healthy way of eating that includes foods rich in folate and arginine, such as the Mediterranean and DASH diets, is able to lower high blood pressure as effectively as first generation hypertensive drugs.

Foods rich in folate are noted directly above under Foods that Help Lower Homocysteine. Foods rich in arginine include chocolate, peanuts, most nuts and seeds (sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews, flaxseeds) and buckwheat.

Foods that Fight Cardiovascular Inflammation

Omega-3-rich foods

Cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna and cod, and flaxseeds, are the richest sources of these anti-inflammatory fats. These essential fatty acids are actually precursors to hormone-like substances called eicosanoids, which are converted in the body to a wide variety of cell messengers. Eicosanoids produced from the omega-3 fats talk to our genes, telling them to decrease blood clotting, blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation, and to maintain normal, healthy heart rhythms.

This last benefit—a strong, healthy heartbeat—may be one of the most important since 50% to 60% of deaths from cardiovascular disease are a result of sudden cardiac death from sustained ventricular arrhythmias (when the heart muscle quivers instead of beats). These are the heart attacks that take even apparently healthy people with normal cholesterol levels by deadly surprise. Extra-virgin olive oil

Atherosclerosis develops from an excessive inflammatory response that causes damage to the lining of our blood vessels (the endothelium) and the smooth muscle of the artery wall. Atherosclerotic plaques form, kind of like band-aids, to cover up these damaged areas. Each step in the process through which plaques develop is regulated by the action of messenger molecules produced by the cells in the blood vessel lining and muscular walls.

A variety of compounds in extra virgin olive oil, including its monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and anti-oxidant phenols, intervene to halt virtually every step of the atherosclerotic process.

Numerous studies have shown that replacing saturated fat in the diet with olive oil's monounsaturated fats significantly lowers blood levels of cholesterol, especially LDL-cholesterol.

The monounsaturated fat in olive oil (oleic acid) also increases blood levels of HDL (good)-cholesterol. It does this, in part, by decreasing the activity of a protein called CETP (the cholesterol ester transfer protein), which dismantles HDL by moving the fats (cholesteryl esters) it contains into other cholesterol molecules. Since more cholesterol esters remain locked up in beneficial HDL, this action also means that less are available for use in the production of potentially harmful LDL.

LDL cholesterol does not cause any damage to the blood vessel unless it has first been damaged by free radicals itself. Each LDL molecule actually contains its own supply of antioxidants to protect itself against free radical damage. Olive oil, which contains both vitamin E and a number of antioxidant phenols, delivers fresh antioxidant troops to LDL, and also protects the endothelium (the lining of the blood vessels) from free radical damage.

By preventing this damage, olive oil short circuits the formation of the numerous inflammatory compounds that would have been generated in response, promoting the development of blood clots and plaques.

Type 2 Diabetes

Our ability to control our blood sugar levels is highly dependent upon our cells' ability to respond to insulin, the hormone that ushers sugar (glucose) out of the bloodstream into our cells for use in energy production.

In his discussion of diabetes in Genetic Nutritioneering, Dr. Bland explains how the standard American diet, which contains large amounts of refined highly processed carbohydrates, speaks to our genes, sending messages that alter our metabolism, so our cells no longer respond to insulin, and we store calories as fat rather than burning them for energy.

Insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, results in high levels of sugar (glucose) circulating in the bloodstream. Recent research reveals that when excessive glucose remains in the blood, it can attach to proteins and tissues. Because the structure of these proteins, called advanced glycosylated end-products or AGEs, is altered, they can no longer function normally, so they deliver dysfunctional messages to the genes.

In addition, these AGEs "poison" our cells' energy production factories, the mitochondria. Not only does this result in insufficient energy production to meet our cells' needs, but a large increase occurs in the amount of free radicals present in our cells as well.

Because the mitochondria use oxygen in the process of creating ATP (the energy currency of the body), an unavoidable byproduct of their energy assembly line is reactive oxygen species—a type of highly damaging free radical. When our mitochondria are functioning properly, these potential cellular terrorists are quickly disarmed, but when AGEs have thrown a wrench in the mitochondrial works, cellular havoc can quickly become the order of the day.

Over time, a poor quality diet and its consequences—a bloodstream full of AGEs—can make us age prematurely. The unhealthy messages given to genes and free radical damage to our cells' energy production factories can result in damage to virtually every organ, including the skin, eyes, blood vessels, heart, kidneys, joints, and brain.

The good news is that a healthy way of eating centered on whole, antioxidant and fiber-rich foods that digest slowly, such as the Mediterranean-style diet recommended on the World's Healthiest Foods, will send a different message to your genes, one that turns this whole situation around and promotes health.

Choosing Foods that Help Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar


Your best choices are antioxidant-rich foods that slowly, steadily deliver enough energy to keep you going, but not so much all at once that your bloodstream is flooded with glucose and insulin.

The key here is that the whole foods that supply complex carbohydrates—whole grains, starchy vegetables, whole fruits, and legumes—are not only loaded with AGE-defying antioxidant phytonutrients, but are much more slowly digested, so they release sugar (glucose) for absorption into the bloodstream much more slowly than processed foods, and thus provoke much smaller releases of insulin.

Processed, refined foods, including most breads, crackers, chips, and snack foods, are largely composed of simple carbohydrates—refined wheat flour, white rice, highly processed potatoes or corn, sodas, table sugar and other added sweeteners like corn syrup and fructose. (Fruit juice, while it contains many more phytonutrients than other processed foods, is still a refined food that very rapidly floods the bloodstream with sugar, causing a corresponding spike in insulin.)

Choosing phytonutrient-rich foods according to their glycemic load is the best way to identify those that deliver the most protection while placing the least amount of strain on our blood sugar-regulating machinery.

You may already be familiar with the glycemic index (GI), which evaluates carbohydrate-containing foods by how much of a rise in circulating blood sugar they trigger—the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response. So a low GI food will cause a small rise, while a high GI food will trigger a dramatic spike. A GI of 70 or more is considered high, a GI of 56 to 69 is medium, and a GI of 55 or less is low.

The glycemic load (GL) is a newer, better way to assess how a food's carbohydrate affects blood sugar levels that takes the glycemic index into account, but gives a fuller, more practical picture than the glycemic index.

A food's GI tells you only how quickly a particular carbohydrate it contains turns into sugar. It does not tell you how much of that carbohydrate is actually in a serving of a particular food. Since in real life we don't eat carbohydrate by itself, we eat food that contains it along with other things like protein, fat and fiber, you need to know a food's GL to understand its real life effect on blood sugar.

For example, the carbohydrate found in watermelon has a high GI of 72. But there isn't a lot of it, so watermelon's glycemic load is relatively low; a one cup serving (150 grams) of watermelon has a GL of only 5.7. A GL of 20 or more is high, a GL of 11 through 19 is medium, and a GL of 10 or less is low. Similarly for carrots while a half-cup serving of cooked carrots has a GI of 49, the GL is only 1.5. A half-cup of raw carrots has an even lower GL of 1.0.

Other low glycemic load, phytonutrient-dense vegetables (an 80 gram serving—approximately ½ cup—has a GL ranging from 0-3) include: asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, kale, romaine lettuce, crimini mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash and pumpkin. Low glycemic load, phytonutrient-packed fruits include: apples (1 medium has a GL of 6.8). fresh apricots (a serving of 3 has a GL of 4.0), cherries (20 of these sweet treats have a GL of just 2.2), grapes (the GL of one cup is 6.9), grapefruit (1/2 large has a GL of 3) kiwi (1 has a GL of 4.0), oranges (1 medium has a GL of 4.4), peaches (a large fresh peach has a GL of 3.0), pears (1 medium has a GL of 4), pineapple (2 slices of fresh pineapple7mdash;a little less than 3 ounces worth—have a GL of 6.6), plums (3-4 small ones have a GL of just 2.7), and strawberries (1 cup—4 ounces—has a GL of 1). Beans are an excellent low GL choice since, in addition to antioxidant phytonutrients, they're a low-calorie source of both protein and fiber. Black beans—the beans with the highest concentrations of antioxidant anthocyanin phytonutrients—have a GL of 5.7 per half-cup serving. Soybeans—another phytonutrient superstar—weigh in with an even lower GL of just 1.6 per half-cup. Even a cup of soy milk has a GL of only 3.7. Other beans with a very low GL per one-half cup serving include: navy beans (GL =4.2), split peas (5.1), lentils (5.3), pinto beans (5.8) and garbanzo beans (6.3). Phytonutrient-rich low GL grains (one serving = ½ cup) include: barley (GL = 4.25), bulgur (GL = 7.95), brown rice (GL = 8), and millet (GL = 8.52). Low GL breads made from whole grains (a serving = 1 slice) include: wholemeal rye kernel (pumpernickel) bread (GL ranges from 5-8), whole wheat bread (GL ranges from 8-13). Six-ounces of boiled, whole wheat sphagetti has a GL of 14.

Virtually all nuts and seeds have a very low GL. The GL scores for 50 grams (a little less than 2 ounces) are: peanuts (1), almonds (0), cashews (3), walnuts (0). Low-fat yogurt has a GL per 6 ounce serving of 3. Eggs (120 grams or 4 ounces) have a GL of 0.

Eating to Unlock Your Genetic Potential

The information we now have—that the foods we choose to eat deliver so much more than calories, that they contain compounds that actually affect what our genes' will express, and therefore our appearance, overall health, and longevity—is tremendously exciting.

We now know that vibrant health and youthful aging are not just a matter of luck. We can optimize our genetic potential for health every time we eat. And we know enough about the messages specific foods deliver to begin eating to unlock our genetic health potential right now.

Literally tens of thousands of studies indicate that the healthiest way of eating is one in which we enjoy a variety of the World's Healthiest Foods, each of which supplies its own array of dozens of nutrients.

We can't just rely on a few foods, even those considered nutritional superstars, to get maximal benefits. And it's obvious no pill will ever be able to deliver the myriad of genetic messages that make for optimal health.

Only by eating a variety of whole foods—5-10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, nuts, cold-water fish rich in omega-3 fats, and the healthy fats found in olive and flaxseed oils—will we receive the 1,000s of nutrients, all of which, in their own unique ways, provide our genes with a comprehensive set of instructions for optimal health.


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