Feeling fruity -- and loving it!
Not enough of us are on track with the five-a-day fruit and veg portions recommended by doctors. Here's what we're missing. By Anita Guidera
Is there no end to the wondrous qualities of fruit and vegetables? Apparently not, if new research is anything to go by.
We are increasingly aware of their importance in our diet but the considerable benefits of at least one fruit has now extended beyond its consumption.
Stepping out of the fruit bowl and into the spotlight is the pomegranate. Long hailed for its high nutritional value and health benefits to those who eat it, it is now taking centre stage in the battle against hospital superbugs.
A team based at the University of Kingston in Surrey has shown that the Asian fruit is proving to be highly effective as part of an ointment used to tackle drug-resistant infections, such as MRSA.
Tests have shown that by mixing the rind of the pomegranate with Vitamin C and metal salts, its infection fighting properties are multiplied. The discovery could pave the way for a skin lotion to be developed for patients, and maybe over time, a new antibiotic.
"It shows nature still has a few tricks up its sleeve," said Declan Naughton, professor of biomolecular sciences at Kingston, who described the breakthrough as significant.
The pomegranate, whose name comes from the Latin term for seeded apple, had already earned its place among the so-called super foods, because of its high antioxidant content and its reputed benefits in preventing heart disease and cancer.
In a recently compiled list of the most potent of antioxidant drinks, pomegranate juice emerged on top, followed by red wine, grape juice, blueberry juice and blackberry juice. Green tea and black tea came ninth and tenth.
Evidence shows that high levels of antioxidants in the body reduce the risk of developing some types of heart disease. There also appear to be clotting benefits and the lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Pomegranate juice has also been linked with lowering prostate cancer risks and scientists in California are currently focusing on the phytochemical, ellagitannin, contained in the pomegranate, and its potential use in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
All that from one simple fruit! But the pomegranate is not alone.
Fruit and vegetables are rich in naturally occurring health-protecting phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene, lycopene and resveratrol.
Experts argue that the inclusion of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables in our daily diet will give us the best defence against many chronic illnesses and diseases.
Yet despite the compelling data that is emerging on an almost daily basis, the awareness of the importance of fruit and vegetables in the Irish diet is growing at an extraordinarily slow pace.
Dr Aileen McGloin, a scientific support manager with Safefood, the North-South body responsible for the promotion of food safety in Ireland, is currently reviewing existing research, and is a little alarmed by her findings.
"There was a large survey in the mid-1990s that was part of a European survey and at that stage they asked people to define healthy eating. Fifty-seven pc mentioned fruit and vegetables. "Our own data in 2007 asked people did they know about the 'five a day' recommendation, and less than half did. That suggests there is still a way to go here," she said.
But she added that while there was no data currently available, knowledge among children appeared to be greater.
Exactly how much fruit and vegetables are being consumed on an individual basis in Ireland is the subject of a survey currently underway by Safefood.
Previous research, over two years ago, showed that just 20pc of people on the island of Ireland were eating the recommended 'five a day'. It showed that the average consumption was 3.5 portions per day.
At the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, Margot Brennan stressed that its message was that 'five a day' was the minimum recommended intake.
'I think people tend to over-report how much fruit and vegetables they take.
"Our recommendation is at least 'five a day' which can be a combination of fresh, dried, frozen, tinned and juice.
"Our key message to people is to aim for this target and to do a quick check every day to monitor how they are doing. We also need to ensure that children are fully on board with this.
"There is very strong evidence around the benefits of fruit and vegetables and we are really only at the tip of the iceberg," she said.
Nigel Brunton, a Research Officer with Teagasc and member of the Irish Phytochemicals Food Network, which aims to promote awareness of phytochemicals in Irish fruit and vegetables, said that there was still much research to be done.
"There is strong epidemiological evidence linking the consumption of fruit and vegetables with a reduced risk of certain diseases like cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and osteoporosis.
"However, we are at the point where we are still not entirely sure which components that are present in the fruit and vegetables are responsible for this fight against diseases," he explained.