Note: The following was written to reflect upon human needs, however, much of it also applies to our companion animals. Much of the facts described below are based on human studies. Dogs share 99% of the same DNA as humans. So, it should be no surprise why much of human nutrition research is relevant and beneficial for dogs as well.
“Nothing you can do for your health and survival is more important than consistently eating foods packed with disease fighting antioxidants”.
Eat Your Veggies!
For decades now, the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and mom have been urging us to eat plenty of servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Research continues to show that people who have high intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 per day) are much less likely to develop certain types of cancer than people who have a low intake (2 servings or less). A majority of health professionals believe that there is a clear connection between a diet high in fruits and vegetables and a low risk of chronic disease.
Harvard researchers studying nearly 80,000 women and 40,000 men found that people who ate five servings of fruits and vegetables every day had 30% lower risk of stroke.
There is compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease. In fact, one of the findings of a Harvard study concluded that increasing fruits and vegetable intake by as little as one serving daily can have a real impact on heart disease risk.
Top Fruit and Vegetable Cancer Fighters for Humans (from Food Your Miracle Medicine):
Garlic, cabbage, licorice, ginger, carrots, celery, tea, tumeric, flax, brown rice, peppers, broccoli, oats, mint, berries, cucumber, thyme, oregano, barley, citrus fruits, whole wheat, tomatoes
Vitamin A (beta-carotene) is necessary to maintain a healthy immune system and develop resistance to infection. It stimulates several immune system responses including enhancing the function of white blood cells. Humans with insufficient intake of this vitamin often experience increased susceptibility to infections.
Vitamin A also protects the body from cardiovascular disease and stroke. Beta-carotene protects the heart and cardiovascular system and promotes wound healing. As an antioxidant, beta-carotene has been shown to inhibit oxidative damage due to cholesterol and protect against atherosclerotic plaque formation. High amounts of beta-carotene in diets have been shown to reduce the risk of breast and cervical cancer in women as well as prostate cancer in men. Vitamin A promotes the healthy surface lining of the eyes and the respiratory, urinary and intestinal tracts. When those linings break down, it becomes easier for bacteria to enter and cause infection.
Foods rich in vitamin A include: Carrots, spinach, kale, red bell peppers, romaine lettuce, sweet potato, cantaloupe, squash, apricots, broccoli, tomato, basil, and asparagus.
Vitamin E has sometimes been called the lightning rod of the cell, allowing reactive molecules to strike the cell, like lightning, without damaging it. Vitamin E works together with a group of other nutrients, selenium, vitamin B3 and vitamin C, by traveling throughout the body neutralizing free radicals that would otherwise damage cell structures. By protecting these cellular components, vitamin E has significant anti inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in chronic conditions such as arthritis, cancer and cataracts.
Vitamin E plays a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease by preventing free radicals form oxidizing cholesterol. Only after cholesterol is oxidized, is it able to adhere to blood vessels, leading to blocked arteries. Studies show that people who get a good amount of vitamin E in their diet are at a much lower risk of dying of a heart attack than people whose dietary intake is marginal or inadequate. This may be due in part to vitamin E’s ability to prevent the formation of blood clots. Research has shown a reduction in the risk of bladder and prostate cancers in humans with a diet high in vitamin E. Vitamin E and omega fatty acids are vital for healthy skin and coat in dogs. A deficiency in vitamin E is associated with digestive system problems in humans where other nutrients are poorly absorbed from the digestive tract leading to pancreatic, gallbladder and liver diseases. An estimated 75% of adults are not meeting the required minimum RDA for vitamin E.
Foods rich in vitamin E include: Mustard greens, sunflower seeds, spinach, almonds, olives, kiwifruit, blueberries, kale, papaya, brussel sprouts, tomato and broccoli.
Vitamin C helps the body cells grow and stay healthy, including those in bones, gums, teeth, ligaments, and blood vessels. It also helps the body’s response to infection and stress. Vitamin C serves as a protective substance in the body. The immune system relies on a wide array of mechanisms to help protect the body from infection, and vitamin C is important in the normal function of the immune system. Cardiovascular disease, cancers, joint diseases and poor wound healing are all associated with vitamin C deficiency.
Foods rich in vitamin C: Papaya, parsley, red bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, oranges, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, lemons, grapefruit, sweet potato, romaine lettuce, and brussel sprouts.
B Vitamins (Folate, B6, B12): Folate plays a key role in building DNA. There have been a number of studies linking high amounts of the vitamin folate with lowered colon and breast cancer risk.
Folate, B6 and B12 have been shown to reduce homocysteine levels in the blood. High levels of homocysteine contribute to the artery-clogging process of atherosclerosis. Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with increased risks of heart disease and stroke.
Foods rich in B vitamins include: Spinach, collard greens, whole grains.
Phytonutrients: Recent photonutrient research is probably the most exciting advancement since the initial discovery of vitamins and minerals decades ago. More than 900 different phytochemicals have been found in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. These compounds have separate effects beyond the "macronutrients" we commonly know such as carbohydrates, proteins, fiber and vitamins. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain hundreds of compounds that work together to promote health and prevent disease because they can have anti oxidant, anti inflammatory, anti viral and anti bacterial effects in the body. There are three classes or families of phytonutrients.
Carotenoids are a class of substances found in plants that generally give it brilliant colors – yellow, deep green, red, orange. Carotenoids are plant pigments which protect the plant cell from being destroyed during the process of photosynthesis by acting as potent antioxidants by neutralizing free radicals. Cartenoids protect the body by decreasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness and certain types of cancer. They may also help slow the aging process. Cartenoids are also believed to enhance the function of the immune system. Some carotenoids have been shown to have antibiotic properties by regulating the function of unwanted bacteria and viruses. The Institute of Medicine encourages consumption of cartenoid-rich fruits and vegetables for their health-promoting benefits. Sources of carotenoids include: Green fruits and vegetables such as kiwi fruit, spinach and lettuce; yellow/red fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin and tomatoes; yellow/orange fruits and vegetables such as papaya, oranges and squashes.
Polyphenols may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Phenols can be found in green and black tea, currants, berries, apples, kiwifruit and tomatoes.
Flavonoids are another large family of phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Some of the better known flavonoids include anthocyanins found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, resveratrol and quercetin. Flavonoids have been shown to function as a potent antioxidant and may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a primary cause of cardiovascular disease. Flavonoids are found in organs, grapefruit, berries, apples, red grapes, red wine, broccoli and green tea.
The health community is recognizing antioxidants as premier disease fighters. Everyday the cells in our body fight against free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules that can instigate cancer, heart disease, cause plaque to build up in arteries and contribute to aging. As we process food for energy, our bodies produce free radicals. Free radicals can damage DNA, the inside of the artery wall, proteins in our eyes and just about any tissue substance on our body. We aren't defenseless against these destruction compounds; we extract free radical fighters called antioxidants from our foods. Antioxidants appear to prevent or repair damage caused to the body’s cells by harmful free radicals. Anti oxidants help boost your immune system and increase your resistance to infection. Fruits and vegetables contains hundred of antioxidants.
Our immune system is what fights the onslaught of potential free radical initiators, second hand smoke, bacteria, viruses, pesticides, ozone, chemicals… It is estimated that our DNA gets “attacked” thousands of times each day by toxins and pollutants which are potential cancer initiators. Antioxidants are nutrients which act to sequester the attacks. They work as a team, meaning that you need a combination of substances rather than excessive amounts of single nutrient.
By keeping cells healthy and preventing damage to DNA, many scientists believe antioxidants may impart some protection against certain diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and cataracts. As we age our immune systems decline, but antioxidants keep your immune system healthy and hardy. Using antioxidants helps slow down and prevent free radical damage that speeds up aging. USDA scientists at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging have been finding promising results associated with diets high in antioxidants and other phytonutrients. Slowing down the aging process is no longer a mystery. The best results in research studies have consistently shown that by giving animals low-calorie diets high in antioxidant nutrients, their life span increases up to 40% longer and they are more active during their lives.
Protein is a vital structural and working material of all cells. The most important job for protein is to rebuild cells.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA): Some believe that the #1 nutritional deficiency in American families is healthy fats. Fats build the brain, efficiently use vitamins, build healthy skin and provide energy.
There are two essential fatty acids in human nutrition: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid. EFA are essential to maintain the barrier of the skin and are involved in cholesterol metabolism. Recent studies have encouraged an emphasis of omega-3 fatty acids because the typical American diet over-consumes omega-6. People in industrialized countries eat up to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids, resulting in a relative deficiency of omega-3 fats. Omega-6 metabolic products are formed in excessive amounts causing allergic and inflammatory disorders and make the body more prone to heart attacks, stroke and cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids have many biologic effects that make them useful in preventing and managing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Hundreds of studies have shown that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart attacks. ALA dampens inflammatory reactions by blocking the formation of compounds that promote inflammation (e.g., cytokines, prostaglandins) and injury artery walls. Inflammation is a feature common in most chronic diseases, including arthrosclerosis, arthritis and some cancers such as breast, colon and prostate.
According to some studies, many common mental disorders, such as depression and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety, may be triggered by deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids and/or B vitamins. Moreover, studies of children in the UK taking omega-3 supplements found that 40% of the children showed some clear improvement in school performance. The dramatic effect on the children may hinge on several functions of fatty acids in the brain. It is thought that omega-3s may it easier for signals to cross the gap between brain cells.
Contribution by Thrive! Foods