By Henrylito D. Tacio
DESPITE advance science and medical breakthroughs, diseases continue to take its toll on human beings. Every now and then, new diseases are reported; those that have been reported to be curtailed are staging a comeback.
For every medicine discovered, two new ailments emerge. But nature has provided us medicines that are not only safe but also affordable. They are available in our kitchens, gardens, or tables.
Take the lowly sayote (Sechium edule). The leaves and fruit have diuretic, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties, and a tea made from the leaves has been used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis and hypertension, and to dissolve kidney stones.
Due to its purported cell-regenerative properties, it is believed as a contemporary legend that sayote caused the mummification of people from the Colombian town of San Bernardo who extensively consumed it. The very well preserved skin and flesh can be seen in the mummies today.
What is in a sayote fruit? Upon analysis, its edible portion per 100 grams gives 94 percent moisture, 19 percent calories, 0.4 gram protein, 0.1 gram fat, 4.9 grams carbohydrates, and 0.6 gram fiber. Also found in the fruit in small amounts are calcium, sodium, thiamine, vitamin A, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, and niacin.
Another food that can save a lot of people from starvation during bad times is sweet potato (called locally as "camote" but known in the science world as Ipomoea batatas).
Although perceived as a "poor man's food," it is the most nutritious food of all vegetables, according to the
Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.
American nutritionists found that camote has "almost twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, 42 percent of the recommendation for vitamin C, and four times the recommended daily allowance for beta carotene."
Having high dietary fiber and low fat content, camote is suitable for diabetics because it helps stabilize blood sugar levels and lowers insulin resistance. Among the root vegetables, camote has the lowest glycemic index. As such, it causes only a small rise in blood glucose level.
The roots are not the only edible part of camote but also the leaves and tops. Nutritionists claim the leaves and tops contain high amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
In a study by nutritionist Richard Baybutt of Kansas State University, it was reported that smokers exposed to benzoapyrene, a cancer-producing chemical in cigarettes, were deficient in vitamin A that contributed to lung inflammation and emphysema. Thus, the consumption of foods high in vitamin like camote is recommended to correct such deficiency.
After camote, there's potato. "The potato contains high quality protein and substantial amounts of essential vitamins, minerals, and trace elements," says Potatoes for the Developing World, published by the International Potato Center (CIP). "Raw cereals and beans yield substantially more energy than potatoes, but the difference is much less if comparisons are made on a cooked basis."
Potatoes are rich in several micronutrients, especially vitamin C - eaten with its skin, a single medium-sized potato of 150 grams provides nearly half the daily adult requirement (100 milligrams).
Not only that, the potato is a moderate source of iron, and its high vitamin C content promotes iron absorption. It is a good source of vitamins B1, B3 and B6 and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus and magnesium, and contains folate, pantothenic acid and riboflavin.
In most parts of the world, tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) is eaten freely, and its consumption is believed to benefit the heart among other things. It contains lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidant which has been found to help prevent prostate cancer.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is also a risk factor for cardiovascular problem. As such, scientists tried also to look into the beneficial effects of lycopene extracted from tomato in bringing down blood pressure. Researchers developed lycopene in soft gel capsules and found that eight weeks of daily intake of the said capsule was linked to a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild to moderate hypertension. They assumed that the antihypertensive effect is a result of the antioxidant activity of the tomato extract.
Perhaps those who are getting older should eat a lot of tomatoes. A new compound discovered in tomato plants is 14 times higher than a well-known antioxidant which delays aging. Not only that, the powerful natural antioxidant is 4.5 times more potent than vitamin E and 10 times more potent than vitamin C.
Ampalaya (Momordica charantia) can be considered as nature’s answer to diabetes. Almost 100 studies have demonstrated the blood sugar lowering effect of this bitter fruit. Dr. A. Raman and Dr. C. Lau, who reviewed over 150 pre-clinical and clinical studies on ampalaya’s anti-diabetes properties and phytochemistry, concluded that, “Oral administration of fruit juice or seed powder (of bitter melon) causes a reduction in fasting blood glucose and improves glucose tolerance.”
In the Philippines, Dr. William Torres, former director of Bureau of Food and Drugs, came up with this conclusion after reviewing several studies done on ampalaya: "Ampalaya fruits, leaves, seeds and other parts, when used as dry powders, extracts, decoctions, fresh or cooled, have clearly demonstrated hypoglycemic activity."
Researchers have identified the key compounds present in ampalaya, notably polypeptide-P, a plant insulin found only in the ampalaya. Similar to animal insulin, polypeptide-P lowers elevated blood sugar levels.
Eggplant is a crop native to India, where it has been grown for thousands of years. The Chinese and Arabs grew eggplant as early as the ninth century, and it is said to have been introduced into Europe by the early invaders. British traders brought this vegetable to the London market from West Africa in the seventeenth century, calling it "Guinea squash."
Its scientific name, Solanum melongena, is derived from a 16th century Arabic term for one type of eggplant.
Today, different varieties of eggplant produce fruit of different size, shape and color, especially purple, green, or white. There are even orange varieties of eggplant.