Posted on : 12-05-2013 | By : Cindy | In : Drinks, Super-healthy...er...stuff
Unhealthy eating can cause as much DNA damage as exposure to radiation. This is just one little gem of information I picked up from listening to Dr Michael Fenech, Research Group Leader in Genome Health and Nutrigenomics at CSIRO, speak at a seminar for dietitians last week.
He described how a deficiency of folic acid in the body can be more damaging to our DNA than unsafe doses of radiation. We all know that healthy eating has a huge effect on the body but to hear it in terms of the effect on DNA somehow adds more power to the argument.
Plenty of folate in your body means longer telomeres. Telomeres are like the hard bits at each end of a shoelace. They are strips of DNA at each end of a chromosome which protect the DNA in the chromosome. Each time the cell divides the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short the cell can no longer divide and becomes inactive or dies. Researchers measure the length of a person’s telomeres as one indication of DNA damage and consequent aging.
So what we want is long telomeres, not short ones. Eating processed meat, a high homocysteine level (caused by low folate intake), low B12, obesity and stress are all associated with shorter telomeres – not a good thing.
On the other hand these five nutrients are associated with reducing DNA damage ie longer telomeres:
Vitamin E – wheat germ, nuts, seeds, whole grains, eggs
Calcium – cheese, yoghurt, milk, sardines, canned salmon with bones
Retinol (vitamin A & beta-carotene) – oily fish, butter, eggs, cheese, dark green & orange vegetables – broccoli, spinach, silverbeet, carrot
Niacin (a B vitamin) – tuna, salmon, wheatbran, peanuts, legumes, lean meat, liver
Folate (another B vitamin) – green leafy vegetables – spinach, silverbeet, Asian greens, watercress, Vegemite, Marmite, whole grains, nuts, avocado, liver
Nutrition and its effect on DNA is an emerging science. There is so much more to learn but here are a few facts we know so far:
DNA damage increases with age.
DNA damage is greater in overweight people. One study showed that overweight children had five times more DNA damage than normal weight kids.
70% of our enzymes need a nutrient to work. If we don’t put these nutrients into our body, those enzymes won’t be able to work as they should.
What’s really interesting is that people’s specific nutrient needs vary depending on their genotype. For example, choline is an important nutrient found in eggs, wheatgerm and liver but some people will need more of it than others depending on their individual genetic make-up.
So how have I translated this fascinating information to my kitchen? Looking at the list above, the foods I have not been eating so much of are wheatgerm and green vegetables. So I have bought some wheat germ to sprinkle on my porridge and add to homemade muesli (recipe on this blog). I have been cooking silverbeet sauteed with onion, garlic, olive oil, toasted pinenuts and currants – delicious. But to get the maximum amount of folate from green vegetables they should be eaten raw because folate is destroyed by heat. So I have been experimenting with blending raw silverbeet or spinach with various combinations of carrots, apple, pineapple and orange to make a super juice drink. The colours have varied from bright green (comment from husband – “It’s not normal”) to putrid beige (I didn’t dare to even show him that one!) But they taste great and amazingly cut any craving for cakes and bikkies for at least a few hours. Try it – if you dare!
Pictured: Green drink made from 4 leaves spinach, 1 apple, 1/4 pineapple, a splash of apple juice and ice.