Test Your Food Smarts Against the French and Italians

garlicWritten by Terri Crosby for In Care of Relationships

In this wonderfully decadent season of “Please pass the gravy” and “Yes, I’ll have another piece o’ that pie, thank you!” it’s good to remember what food really does for us.

Food is medicine.  Natural food, grown in the ground is REALLY good for you.

So in honor of Thanksgiving leftovers and the beginning of yet another December season of FOOD, lots of food, heavenly food — today I’m writing about our relationship — with — hooray — FOOD!

The first entry is about vision, which is of (personal, family, genetic) interest to me, and the one about celery is useful knowledge.  The rest are more about what the Italians and French know that we Americans might not.


QUESTION:  Do carrocarrotts really help vision?

Depends on who you talk to or what you read, but mostly, in a round about sort of way — yes.  It’s easy to remember that carrots relate to vision because a cross cut carrot looks like, well, an eye!

Good eyesight seems to be more connected to genetics, however, than to consumption of food. But carrots seem to help maintain what you already have. So don’t leave out the carrots.

Most science says that carrots give eyes a boost because they contain beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, an essential vitamin for healthy vision.

Vitamin A, also called retinol, is key in fighting vision problems like cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and night blindness.  It is found most abundantly in fish oils, liver, eggs and fortified dairy products. However, if you don’t eat animal products (or eat enough of them), you can get plenty of vitamin A by eating fruits and vegetables that contain carotenoids like beta-carotene, or “provitamin A.”

Bright yellow or orange fruits like carrots, apricots and sweet potatoes are good sources of beta-carotene, while green leafy vegetables, especially broccoli, are rich in the carotenoids known as lutein and zeaxanthin.

Of the 600-plus carotenoids found in nature, only lutein and zeaxanthin and their metabolites are located in macula of the eye.

Lutein is important if you have signs of macular degeneration — way more important than eating your carrots.  One reason — Lutein absorbs blue light and acts as ‘internal sunglasses’ that may reduce photochemical damage caused by short-wavelength visible light.

And take Lutein that is labeled with the Flora-Glo trademark.  The short story is that it’s better.


tomatoesQUESTION: What do the French and Italians know about tomatoes that Americans may not?

Big Hint:  A tomato has chambers and is red.

The heart has chambers and is red.  Tomatoes — especially cooked — are one of the best sources of lycopene, which is the carotenoid pigment and antioxidant that gives tomatoes their bright color.  According to Harvard Medical School, one slice of raw tomato contains approximately 515 micrograms of lycopene, while 2 tablespoons of tomato paste contains 13,800 micrograms.  Big difference.

Cooked is better, when it comes to lycopene.

In one European study, those who consumed the most lycopene cut their risk of heart attack and heart disease by 50%.   With that in mind, it’s no surprise, that the Italians and the French, who love their tomato sauce, boast a much lower heart disease rate than the United States.

Besides, maybe the Italians and the French live a slower, less stressful lifestyle and enjoy life more than we do???  They certainly believe in luxurious meals, tastes and conversation.  All of it helps!

Other lycopene foods include watermelon, pink & red grapefruit, papaya, guava and rose hips.

So when you’re thinking about your heart, think red!

Beets, for instance, protect your heart by reducing the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood, and increasing the amount of good cholesterol in the blood.

Nice to know.

french lifestyle


QUESTION: Are grapes just a handy sugar snack?grapes cluster

Big Hint: Grapes hang in heart shaped cluster.

Grapes are good for many things other than their sweetness.

Grapes are an excellent source of health promoting flavonoids. Typically, the stronger the color of the grape, the higher the concentration of flavonoids.  The regular consumption of wine and grape juice by the French may explain the “French paradox.” The French eat a diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol and yet have a lower risk of heart disease than Americans.

(Or maybe the French just have more fun?)

Flavonoids in red wine and grape juice seem to increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood, protect against vascular damage, and prevent blood platelets from clumping together and causing those pesky clots.

Grapes also have something called resveratrol, which reduces the buildup of plaque in arteries.  It has also been shown to have anti-cancer effects and anti-inflammatory action. Fresh grape skin contains about 5 to 10 mg of resveratrol per serving, while red wine concentrations range from 1.5 to 3 mg per liter.

So go ahead, eat your grapes!  Think red or black grapes, and think raw, which is pretty easy when it comes to grapes.

Unfortunately, you probably can’t depend on wine alone to get the flavonoids and resveratrol you need.

(Darn it.)

But here’s something wonderful, speaking of the French.  Here is my all time favorite food blog, hands down, no question about it.  It’s called Manger, and it’s written by Mimi Thorisson, who lives in Medoc, France. 

Check it out.  It’s totally, ridiculously gorgeous.  Good Lord.  The woman cooks all day, has children and looks like a model.  Good Lord.  (Yes, I know I’m repeating myself.)

CELERY celery

QUESTION:  How in the heck does silly ol’ crunchy celery help bone health?

Big hint: 
Think Calcium and Vitamin K.
University of Maryland Medical Center says that vitamin K is vital for the proper utilization of calcium by your bones, and can improve bone health and help prevent fractures. High levels of vitamin K are associated with greater bone density; low levels often correspond with osteoporosis. Males over 19-years-old need 120 mcg a day of vitamin K, while women over 19 need 90 mcg.
One large stalk of celery contains 26 mg of the essential mineral calcium. Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is vital to the development and maintenance of strong bones.  In order for calcium to be properly absorbed, vitamin K — along with the essential minerals magnesium and phosphorus — must be present.  
A celery stalk offers up to 7 mg of magnesium and 15 mg of phosphorus, thereby providing all the nutrients essential for bone health.
And by the way, Bok Choy is right up there with celery when it comes to bones.

OLIVESolives and olive oil

QUESTION:  What’s the big deal about olives except that they taste oh-so-good?

Big Hint:  Think “good fat…”

Olives have really good fat.

Olives have very little carbohydrate and they are a great source of monosaturated fat.  Olives are a rich source of polyphenols which are critical as our body’s defense against cancer. Polyphenols have many good properties, and these elements (also the reason for the taste and the smell of the olives), can be anti-inflammatory as well.

onions and garlic


QUESTION:  Besides the olfactory advantage — smelling great as they are sauteing — what do onions and garlic do for our bodies?

Big Hint:   Think “anti.”

You could say that onions and garlic work against.  Or you could say they stand for something that doesn’t allow other things — they are anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral.

That’s pretty “anti!”

And that works FOR us!

Onions and garlic also improve immune function, thin the blood (to control blood pressure), increase anti-oxidants, fight free radicals in blood, and increase blood circulation.  They are rich in chromium, Vitamin C, B6 and selenium.

What do you know and appreciate most about eating good, healthy food?  Do share in a comment below!


For more information about In Care of Relationships, click here.

About Terri Crosby — I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with Eric, my partner of 14 years, two cats and a dog, and as many flowers and vegetables as I can plant.  I love really good food!

beets, bok choy, carrots, celery, eating well, eyesight, garlic, healthy food, heart attack, heart disease, heart foods, In Care of Relationships, lutein, Manger, Mimi Thorissen, Natural food, olives, onions, relationship, relationships, Terri Crosby, tomatoes

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