Biomedical Engineering Blog

Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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Phytochemicals and Probiotics

Posted February 24, 2009 12:05 AM by Bone Crusher

Phytochemicals are plant-derived chemical compounds that provide various health benefits. They contain anti-oxidants that reduce cancer-causing free radicals, and anti-inflammatory agents that reduce pain and heart disease.

Many fruits and vegetables contain polyphenol anti-oxidants. The lycopene found in tomatoes has anti-oxidant characteristics and may combat cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Native Americans once extracted aspirin from the willow tree for a natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. C-reactive proteins (CRP) increase during systemic inflammation and are another factor that affects atherosclerosis. CRP levels provide another less commonly used cardiovascular risk assessment factor.

Anti-inflammatory agents might be important in controlling this aspect of heart disease, but studies are in the research stage and still inconclusive. The isoflavones in soy protein (e.g., genistein, daidzein) act as phytoestrogens and inhibit tumor growth. They also lower blood cholesterol levels, decrease the risk of blood clots, and diminish bone loss.

Caffeine and other chemicals in coffee are known to improve mental function and provide many other health benefits. Cinnamon improves the effectiveness of your insulin breaking down glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream and provides remarkable pharmacological effects for the treatment of insulin resistance and diabetes.

My cardiologist has recommended consuming as much cinnamon as possible. He also said not to eat the cinnamon combined with a lot of sugar on toast or in apple pie. That figures, of course, since these are tastiest ways to consume cinnamon. But controlling or reducing sugars is an important factor in reducing your triglyceride levels. Lists of phytochemicals and plants containing phytochemicals can be found on the website.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are fermented products with live cultures of bacteria, yeast or other microorganisms. Examples of probiotics include miso, tempeh, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, pickles, soy sauce, and kimchi. Milk-based probiotics include kefir and yogurt. Probiotics can improve or restore the flora in your digestive tract. Probiotics also seem to help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve mineral absorption, and prevent colon cancer.

Vegetable Products to Avoid

Avoid plant-based foods that have been processed to produce concentrated levels of sugar, and foods that have naturally high levels of sugar or starch. These foods have a high Glycemic Index (or "low GI"), meaning that they turn to sugar more slowly and cause a greater rise in blood sugar levels. Foods that increase blood sugar levels can increase triglyceride levels.

After the sugar level drops, fatigue and hunger often occur. This results in more food consumption and weight gain. Avoid "bad" vegetable food such as sugars, syrups, corn syrup or corn starch, jellies/jams, certain fruit juices, white or wheat bread, most cold cereals, watermelon, pineapple, and baking potatoes. They all have high glycemic index values.

"Good" vegetarian foods with a low-GI value include pumpernickel, rye, multi-grain or sourdough bread; old-fashioned oatmeal, bran cereals, and Grape-Nuts; most fruits; sweet potatoes, pasta, rice, barley, couscous, beans, peas, lentils, and most vegetables. Avoid the tropical oils such as coconut or palm, since these are high in saturated fat. Vegetables coated with a starchy breading and then deep fried in a saturated fat would not be considered part of a "good" vegetarian or vegan diet.


Adopting a "good" vegan or vegetarian diet reduces total cholesterol and selectively lowers the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides levels. "Good" means low-fat foods that contain good fats, foods with low levels sugar or starch, and whole foods – not processed foods.

Editor's Note: This is the final part of a four-part series. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 are already online.


Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC Therapeutic Lifestyle

Make Over Your Diet from NutritionMD

Healthful Benefits of Vegetarian Diets

Role of Vegetarian Diet in Health and Disease

WebMD Triglycerides Overview

Online Heart Health Risk Calculator

Cholesterol Issues on FDA's Information Portal

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Mayo Clinic's Top Five Foods to Lower Your Cholesterol

Top Ten Foods to Lower Your Cholesterol



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Re: Phytochemicals and Probiotics

02/24/2009 1:44 PM

First, vegetarians can't eat meat. Now you say that there are good and bad vegetables. As a meat eater, I am proud if I eat pineapples or watermelon. A vegetarians diet is dwindling to a select few foods that they are able to eat 'healthfully'. I enjoyed reading this article nonetheless!

I also enjoyed how you included links to vegetarian recipes at the bottom of your blog. You are trying to turn me into a vegetarian! Stop it!

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Re: Phytochemicals and Probiotics

02/24/2009 6:20 PM

For the wide world of phytochemicals there are several ways to search at the phytochemical and ethnobotanical database of Dr. Duke at ARS.

But I have to cinnamon protest... cinnamon belongs in pie! and muffins! and sugary toast! True I don't have a scientific ref to prove it. Don't intend to try either, just sit here licking my lips... Wait ten years. Wait twenty years. Sooner or later I know with absolute certainty I will be proved right. Just like lycopene isn't actually absorbed too well without OIL science must eventually stumble on the truth that some phytochemicals are readily absorbed with a bit of SUGAR attached and some others do very nicely in ALCOHOL. The little extra bits, hydroxyls, sugars, isoprene chain, just help the body to figure out where the stuff should be processed and put to good...

Unless you are diabetic or obese, the elimination of sugar from everything is a needless punishment... tasty is where it's at, IMO

incus opella
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