A FLAVONOID A DAY? (May 2/97)

Isn’t it ironic that the experts who scoffed at folk medicine are now saying miraculous health ingredients are found in common plants?

Generations of scientists belittled the possibility that roots, barks, berries, leaves, fruits, vegetables and grasses had medicinal properties. Now look at what they’re telling us. Every time you pickup a paper or turn on the news, there’s a “new discovery” about the healing benefits in foods and plants people have been using as medicine for centuries.

Take that old saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away, for example. We’ve all quoted this ancient saw one time or another and medical people have been laughing about it for ages. How could eating an apple by itself make you healthy.

Well… ever hear of flavonoids? An ingredient common to most fruits and vegetables, flavonoids apparently are powerful cancer fighters and may positively effect the body’s basic processes. Scientists studying flavonoids have found one that appears to ward off cancer. This flavonoid is called apegenin, and guess what fruit has an abundance of it? If you answered “the apple” go to the head of the class.

Described as powerful antioxidants, flavonoids may also be good for the heart as well by preventing damage to blood vessels. In addition to fruits and veggies, red wine is a good source of flavonoids – which may explain why countries such as France, with its high fat and high wine consumption, have a low rate of heart disease.

The discovery of the flavonoid apegenin confirms that folk wisdom in the saying about apples, except that maybe it should have been, “A flavonoid a day keeps the doctor away.” One bit of folklore about onions reducing the risk of eating fatty foods may also be accurate; onions are an excellent source of flavonoids.

Folklore and foods… some of the beliefs about the curative powers of fruits and vegetables are as ancient as the pyramids. In Greek mythology, for example, apples tasted like honey and healed all ailments. Long before the power of flavonoids was discovered, apples were believed to be effective in treating a host of ailments, including gout, rheumatism, jaundice, all liver and gall bladder problems, and nervous disorders.

The folklore about other fruits is equally as interesting as the old tales about apples. Looked upon as an aphrodisiac in medieval times, the tomato, according to folklore, is good for liver troubles, kidney problems and constipation. The folklore about prunes and their laxative powers are well known and undisputed. According to folklore, peaches and apricots also have “prune powers.”

Among the vegetables, the folklore about potatoes is the most widespread. According to old beliefs, potatoes cure dyspepsia, aid indigestion and purify the blood. Raw potato juice and hot potato water are supposed to relieve gout, rheumatism, lumbago, sprains and bruises. At one time people carried raw potatoes to ward off rheumatism – I recall this treatment being used when I was a boy.

Is the potato that powerful a food medicine? It could be. For generations people laughed at the folk tales about apple’s curative power. No one is scoffing now.

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