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Low-cost superfoods in the caribbean

Fitzroy J Henry

College of Health Sciences, University of Technology, Jamaica

E-mail : Fitzroy.Henry@utech.edu.jm

Shanika Allen

College of Health Sciences, University of Technology, Jamaica

Deonne Caines

College of Health Sciences, University of Technology, Jamaica

Sheerin Eyre

College of Health Sciences, University of Technology, Jamaica

DOI: 10.15761/IFNM.1000136

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Abstract

Commonly consumed foods in the Caribbean were ranked according to a wide range of classical nutritional criteria. The costs of those foods in relation to their rank were also highlighted. Some foods, however, have other natural beneficial effects on body function and maintenance that go beyond the classical nutritional criteria and are relevant to an improved state of health or reduction of the risk of disease. This paper also presents those additional health benefits in the context of the classical ranking and cost of commonly consumed Caribbean foods. The challenges and requirements for the expansion of such foods are presented.

Key words

 caribbean, cost, functional foods, phytochemicals

Introduction

Consumption of a healthy diet is vital to reduce obesity and its consequences such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancers. A healthy diet has traditionally been defined by the classical criterion of appropriate proportions of macronutrients and micronutrients. While most foods are good to maintain a healthy diet, not all contain powerful components that can further fight disease and improve the immune system - noted characteristics of “superfoods”. The “superfood” label is therefore not used here to undermine the nutritional quality of other foods but to highlight their additional active compounds.

In recent decades it has become clear that plant-based diets in particular have components other than traditional nutrients that can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases. More than a dozen classes of these biologically active plant chemicals, known as phytochemicals, have been identified [1]. For example, on cancers, overwhelming evidence from hundreds of studies indicates that cancer risk in people consuming diets high in fruits and vegetables was only one-half that in those consuming few of these foods [2]. For over two decades health professionals have recognized the role of phytochemicals in health enhancement [3]. Beyond cancer, some key phytochemicals have several other benefits: Isoflavones are known to have antidiabetic, antioxidant and anticancer effects. Flavonols in general promote heart health and may help reduce stroke risk. Flavonols such as quercetin decrease oxidative stress and have anti-cancer activity. Catecholamines help with anti-inflammatory activity [4,5].

The recognition of the importance of these phytochemicals has ushered in several new challenges: should nutrition labels include these phytochemicals? Should the food industry be allowed to advertise disease- or health-related messages for their food products which contain them? But the challenge is more complex because in addition to natural phytochemicals, food manufacturers have been manipulating and modifying foods in an attempt to enhance their bioactivity. Consequently, in the last two decades there has been an explosion of consumer interest in the health enhancing role of specific foods or physiologically-active food components, now known as functional foods [6]. The emergence of these functional foods has added additional challenges to the food regulators with respect to safety and health claims.

To better appreciate these challenges in the Caribbean this study examined seventeen commonly consumed foods in the region using both classical health criteria and also their phytochemical profiles. The foods studied therefore included only those that have not been modified-i.e., the natural functional foods.  The study also considered the cost of these foods as this is another key factor that influences food choice. The aim is to identify the food crops, “superfoods”, that can be priorities for production by the agriculture sector in the Caribbean.

Methods

The prices of one hundred and fifty eight commonly consumed foods were obtained from six parishes in Jamaica during the month of June 2014. These prices were collected from popular supermarkets, wholesale and open markets. To increase the applicability of the findings, prices were obtained from densely populated areas and from vendors which were most popular among consumers in each parish. These foods were then ranked according to their health benefits using classical criteria. Unlike other studies that merely compared high and low energy dense foods [7], this study included type of fat, vitamin, mineral and fiber content, and others, in classifying foods as healthy and less healthy. Table 1 shows the criteria used to classify foods that were ranked. The criteria utilized were associated with major chronic diseases prevalent in the Caribbean [8]. Food composition data were used to determine the quantities of the relevant nutrients contained therein. Scores were allocated for each nutrient and then totaled to develop a Cumulative Rank Score (CRS). Note that several criteria items were combined to develop the score. This score was translated into the rank of the food within all food groups. The average cost was calculated using the costs of the commodity in each parish. This approach also avoided the methodological weakness of comparing energy density with energy cost [7]. The food commodities were arranged according to their CRS, with the highest score being first and the lowest score last.

Classical criteria for grading

Associations with major sub-regional public health diseases

High in Complex Carbohydrates

  1. Greater glycaemic control due to lower glycaemic index, reducing risk of impaired glucose tolerance (precursor to diabetes)
  2. More satiety for fewer calories, allowing for better weight management

High in Dietary Fibre

  1. Reduces plasma total and LDL cholesterol levels, reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs)
  2. Reduces transit time through gut, possibly lowering absorption of carcinogens

Low in Total Fat

  1. Reduces the build-up of excess adipose tissues that contribute to body weight

Low in Cholesterol

  1. Reduces the risk of vascular disease which causes plaque build-up on blood vessel walls
  2. Reduces impaired glucose tolerance and dyslipidaemia

Low in Saturated Fats

  1. Reduces risk of elevated total and LDL cholesterol levels
  2. Reduces risk of fat-induced impaired glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
  3. Reduces risk of obesity and co-morbidities

High in Monounsaturated Fats

  1. Reduces risk of elevated total and LDL cholesterol
  2. Reduces risk of impaired glucose tolerance

High in Polyunsaturated Fats

  1. Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)

High in Iron

  1. Reduces risk of iron-deficiency anaemia
  2. Reduces the risk of impaired cognitive function

Low in Sodium

  1. Reduces risk of elevated blood pressure and CHD

High in Potassium

  1. Reduces risk of elevated blood pressure and CHD

High in Calcium

  1. Reduces risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis

High in Vitamin A

  1. Promotes the body’s use of iron
  2. Reduces the risk of blindness and ocular injury
  3. Reduces the risk of impaired growth and development and of impaired immunocompetence

High in Vitamin C

  1. Facilitates iron-absorption
  2. Possibly lowers risk of cancer and CVDs

High in Vitamin B6

  1. Assists release of glycogen for energy from the liver
  2. Enables the body to manufacture and convert amino acids and  metabolize proteins

High in Folate

  1. Promotes DNA synthesis and cell replication to probably decrease the risk of certain cancers and CVDs.
  2. Aids in reducing blood homocysteine levels

Table 1. Classical Criteria for ranking commodities and the associations with major public health diseases

In addition to the classical criteria, selected foods were also assessed according to their phytochemical content. Fruits and vegetables are well known for their high phytochemical profiles [9,10]. Hence, fruits and vegetables were not included in this analysis. For this paper 17 of the top ranked staples and other plant foods were analyzed.

Results

The main phytochemicals identified in the literature for the selected foods and their relationships to health are presented in Table 2.

Foods

Scientific name

Some phytochemical  constituents

Overall therapeutic  indications

Ackee

Blighia sapida

Alkaloids, tannins, saponins, flavoniods and phenols

Antioxidant activity

Avocado

Persea americana

Isoflavones, Lutein, zeaxanthin, saponin, genestein

helps support cardiovascular health; anticancer activity; boost immune system

Banana - Green/Ripe 

Musa acuminate, Musa sapientum

Catecholamines, tannin, albuminoids, glycosides, alkaloids , flavonoids;quercetin, Sterols

Antidiarrhoeal; Ulcer protective antimicrobial activity; wound healing, kidney cancer activities

Breadfruit

Artocarpus altilis

Flavonoids including geranyl

Cytoprotection; Anti-cancer; antioxidant activities

Cassava

Manihot esculenta

Alkaloids,  saponins, steroids, flavonoids; Flavonols

Cytoprotection; wound healing

Coconut

Cocos nucifera

Terpenoids, alkaloids, lauric acid, glycosides and steroids; flavanoids, phenols, steroids

Glucose homeostasis and antioxidant activity; controls severe hyperglycemia 

Corn

Zea mays

Phenols; Lutein, Zeaxanthin;freeStanols/Sterols; anthocyanins

Controls diabetes, lowers blood pressure; anticancer activities

Dasheen

Colocasia esculenta 

Thiamin,  folate, calcium oxalate

 Management of diabetic nephropathy.

Kidney bean –red

Phaseolus vulgaris

flavonoids, unsaturated sterols saponins,

Hypoglycaemic, antidiabetic properties, appetite control

Oats -rolled

Avena sativa

Phenolic compounds, flavonoids, sterols

Lowers LDL cholesterol and blood pressure; improved insulin sensitivity

Peas - Pigeon (gungo)

Cajanus cajan

Sitosterol, isoquercitrin, quercetin, 

Anti-inflammatory , antioxidant, Immuno-modulatory activities

Peas– split

Pisum sativum

phenolic acids,  flavone and flavonol glycoside.

Antioxidant activity

Plantain - Green /Ripe

Musa paradisiaca

Serotonin; Flavonoids; Acyl steryl glycosides

Gastroprotective; lowers cholesterol; antioxidant; mutagenic effect

Potato, Irish 

Solanum tuberosum

Phenols,carotenoids; anthocyanins

Reduces blood pressure and cancer cell growth

Potato, sweet –purple

Ipomoea batatas

Anthocyanin; Quercetin;steroids ,Flavonoids, Polyphenols

Antioxidant; anticancer activities

Rice, brown

Oryza sativa

Phenols; Phytic acid

Cancer prevention

Yam

Dioscorea spp

Phenols

Lowers LDL cholesterol and colon cancer risk

Table 2. Common Caribbean food commodities showing potential health benefits

Table 3 shows the ranking of the selected foods according to classical criteria in Table 1. The legumes such as pigeon peas and kidney beans are highly ranked whereas the plant fats such as ackee and avocado are lower in the ranking. Tubers such as dasheen and cassava are lower ranked than yam and sweet potato. It is important to note that banana/plantain, sweet potato breadfruit, yam, dasheen and cassava are among the cheapest foods on the market, whereas the legumes are among the most expensive.

Food

Classical rank

Cost US$/Kg

Potential for added health benefits*

Pigeon (gungo) peas

1

4.06

xxxx

Red Kidney beans

2

2.34

xxx

Green /ripe Plantain

3

1.38

xx

Green / ripe Banana

4

0.45

xx

Yam

5

1.33

xx

Split peas

6

3.29

xx

Brown Rice

7

2.49

xx

Rolled Oats

8

3.32

xxxx

Sweet Potato-purple

9

0.99

xxx

Breadfruit

10

1.10

xxx

Irish Potato

11

1.53

xx

Avocado

12

3.36

xxx

Dasheen/Eddo

13

1.24

x

Cassava

14

1.28

x

Coconut

15

1.34

xx

Corn

16

1.80

xxx

Ackee

17

1.90

x

*Potential health benefits based on strength of evidence and range of activity

xxxx = convincing; xxx = very strong; xx = strong; x = probable

Table 3. Ranking and cost of selected foods based on classical criteria and other health benefits

Table 3 also shows the potential added health benefits from these foods. The rating of potential health benefit is based on the strength of the scientific evidence and the range of therapeutic action.  Strikingly, some expensive foods such as pigeon peas, kidney beans and rolled oats have good added potential. But cheap foods such as breadfruit and sweet potato also provide good options.

Discussion

It is important to note that thousands of phytochemicals have been identified and there may be many more yet undiscovered. The powerful phytochemical benefits from vegetables and fruits are well established [9,10]. This paper highlights the lesser known phytochemical benefits in staples and other common plant foods in the Caribbean.

Table 2 shows that phytochemicals have the potential to stimulate the immune system; slow the growth of cancer cells, activate insulin receptors, prevent substances from becoming carcinogenic, reduce oxidative damage to cells, among others (World Cancer Research Fund, 2007). The key word however is potential - because identifying which compounds are responsible for the benefits is difficult due to interactions with vitamins and minerals.  Further, the bioavailability and storage ability of phytochemicals varies considerably. Moreover, their antioxidant activity is reduced during metabolism [11]. Despite these drawbacks there is clear evidence that phytochemicals can help to prevent disease [12-17].

Table 3 highlights the health benefits of several Caribbean staples such as breadfruit, sweet potato, yam, banana, plantain, among others. These foods are low-cost and excel in terms of various health criteria. We contend that Caribbean agriculture and food security strategy must include cost and health as imperatives in advancing the food policy in the region. The variety of health gains that can be exploited from foods that are ranked high with both the classical and non-classical criteria suggests that these can be regarded as “superfoods”. But this notion of superfoods has led the global food industry to capitalize on these additional benefits in their production and marketing. Further, the food industry has dramatically expanded this phenomenon and has manipulated several foods in its attempt to make wide-ranging health claims for their modified products. The result of this expansion has led to what is known as functional foods [3,6]. These functional foods have raised several challenges: Should these foods form a distinct category within the Caribbean food supply system? Should they be distinguished from foods simply fortified with vitamins or minerals?

We contend here that the law in Caribbean countries should allow health claims for nutrients naturally contained in conventional foods which have proven health benefits. For foods manipulated by food manufacturers, a different process should obtain. Many of these functional foods are little more than marketing gimmicks that attempt to gain a competitive advantage and to justify an increase in price rather than genuine efforts to improve the health of consumers.

The explosion of functional foods with these false claims clearly warrants regulation so that it maximizes health benefits and minimizes health risks. Caribbean regulators should ensure that only safe and effective products are marketed and that health claims are supported by adequate scientific evidence.The research should show that the product is safe for the general public, for both well and ill persons who might unintentionally consume the product. We already have regulations on ingredients added to preserve, flavor, and color foods. It is suggested here that similar regulations should apply to functional ingredients added to foods to provide a physiological effect. Failure to regulate these functional foods will provide no protection of the public from potentially hazardous ingredients and will lead to information confusion and misleading claims.

The advent of functional foods should therefore not detract from or reduce attention to the well -established classical criteria for healthy diets. So while the regulators evaluate the safety of various functional foods, the key to improved diets will remain with effective nutrition labeling using classical criteria. Foods with added beneficial ingredients that are supported by sufficient scientific substantiation have the potential to be an increasingly important component of a healthy lifestyle and will be beneficial to the public and the food industry. The demand and market value for health-promoting foods and food components will continue to grow. The next challenge will then be to develop meals with functional foods for healthy persons; demonstrate that they can prevent the risk of disease; and prepare meals appropriate for persons diagnosed with disease.

While the debate will continue about the efficacy of functional foods this study shows that the natural ingredients which promote added health benefits to low-cost Caribbean foods should be compelling enough to bolster the food security strategy in the region.

Acknowledgements

We thank the University of Technology, Jamaica for providing funding, through the Research Development Fund managed by the University’s Research Management Office, the School of Graduate Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship.

References

  1. Steinmetz KA, Potter JD (1991) Vegetables, fruit, and cancer. II. Mechanisms. Cancer Causes Control 2: 427-442. [Crossref]
  2. Block G, Patterson B, Subar A (1992) Fruit, vegetables, and cancer prevention: a review of the epidemiological evidence. Nutr Cancer 18: 1-29. [Crossref]
  3. [No authors listed] (1995) Position of the American Dietetic Association: phytochemicals and functional foods. J Am Diet Assoc 95: 493-496. [Crossref]
  4. Arts IC, Hollman PC (2005) Polyphenols and disease risk in epidemiologic studies. Am J Clin Nutr 81: 317S-325S. [Crossref]
  5. Erdman JW Jr, Balentine D, Arab L, Beecher G, Dwyer JT, et al. (2007) Flavonoids and heart health: proceedings of the ILSI North America Flavonoids Workshop, May 31-June 1, 2005, Washington, DC. J Nutr 137: 718S-737S. [Crossref]
  6. Crowe KM, Francis C; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2013) Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: functional foods. J Acad Nutr Diet 113: 1096-1103. [Crossref]
  7. Lipsky LM (2009) Are energy-dense foods really cheaper? Reexamining the relation between food price and energy density. Am J Clin Nutr 90: 1397-1401. [Crossref]
  8. Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI,2011) The Contribution of CFNI to Caribbean Development 2001- 2010. CFNI/PAHO, 2011.
  9. Hung HC, Joshipura KJ, Jiang R, Hu FB, Hunter D, et al. (2004) Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of major chronic disease. J Natl Cancer Inst 96: 1577-1584. [Crossref]
  10. Slavin JL, Lloyd B (2012) Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. AdvNutr 3: 506-516. [Crossref]
  11. Gordon MH (2012) Significance of dietary antioxidants for health. Int J Mol Sci 13: 173-179. [Crossref]
  12. Hui C, Qi X, Qianyong Z, Xiaoli P, Jundong Z, et al. (2013) Flavonoids, flavonoid subclasses and breast cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. PLoS One 8: e54318. [Crossref]
  13. González-Castejón M, Rodriguez-Casado A (2011) Dietary phytochemicals and their potential effects on obesity: a review. Pharmacol Res 64: 438-455. [Crossref]
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  16. Henry FJ, Caines D, Eyre S (2015) Healthy Eating in Jamaica: The Cost Factor. West Indian Med J 64.
  17. Ceccatto V, Cesa C, Kunradi Vieira FG, Altenburg de Assis MA, Crippa CG, et al. (2012) Characteristics of newly diagnosed women with breast cancer: a comparison with the recommendations of the WCRF/AICR Second Report. Nutr Hosp 27: 1973-1980. [Crossref]

 

Editorial Information

Editor-in-Chief

Masayoshi Yamaguchi
Emory University School of Medicine

Article Type

Research Article

Publication history

Received: December 09, 2015
Accepted: December 17, 2015
Published: December 21, 2015

Copyright

©2015 Bicer AH. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Citation

Henry FJ, Allen S, Caines D, Eyre S (2015) Low-cost superfoods in the caribbean. Integr Food Nutr Metab 3: DOI: 10.15761/IFNM.1000136

Corresponding author

Fitzroy J Henry

College of Health Sciences, University of Technology, 235-237 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6, Jamaica.

E-mail : Fitzroy.Henry@utech.edu.jm

Classical criteria for grading

Associations with major sub-regional public health diseases

High in Complex Carbohydrates

  1. Greater glycaemic control due to lower glycaemic index, reducing risk of impaired glucose tolerance (precursor to diabetes)
  2. More satiety for fewer calories, allowing for better weight management

High in Dietary Fibre

  1. Reduces plasma total and LDL cholesterol levels, reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs)
  2. Reduces transit time through gut, possibly lowering absorption of carcinogens

Low in Total Fat

  1. Reduces the build-up of excess adipose tissues that contribute to body weight

Low in Cholesterol

  1. Reduces the risk of vascular disease which causes plaque build-up on blood vessel walls
  2. Reduces impaired glucose tolerance and dyslipidaemia

Low in Saturated Fats

  1. Reduces risk of elevated total and LDL cholesterol levels
  2. Reduces risk of fat-induced impaired glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
  3. Reduces risk of obesity and co-morbidities

High in Monounsaturated Fats

  1. Reduces risk of elevated total and LDL cholesterol
  2. Reduces risk of impaired glucose tolerance

High in Polyunsaturated Fats

  1. Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)

High in Iron

  1. Reduces risk of iron-deficiency anaemia
  2. Reduces the risk of impaired cognitive function

Low in Sodium

  1. Reduces risk of elevated blood pressure and CHD

High in Potassium

  1. Reduces risk of elevated blood pressure and CHD

High in Calcium

  1. Reduces risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis

High in Vitamin A

  1. Promotes the body’s use of iron
  2. Reduces the risk of blindness and ocular injury
  3. Reduces the risk of impaired growth and development and of impaired immunocompetence

High in Vitamin C

  1. Facilitates iron-absorption
  2. Possibly lowers risk of cancer and CVDs

High in Vitamin B6

  1. Assists release of glycogen for energy from the liver
  2. Enables the body to manufacture and convert amino acids and  metabolize proteins

High in Folate

  1. Promotes DNA synthesis and cell replication to probably decrease the risk of certain cancers and CVDs.
  2. Aids in reducing blood homocysteine levels

Table 1. Classical Criteria for ranking commodities and the associations with major public health diseases

Foods

Scientific name

Some phytochemical  constituents

Overall therapeutic  indications

Ackee

Blighia sapida

Alkaloids, tannins, saponins, flavoniods and phenols

Antioxidant activity

Avocado

Persea americana

Isoflavones, Lutein, zeaxanthin, saponin, genestein

helps support cardiovascular health; anticancer activity; boost immune system

Banana - Green/Ripe 

Musa acuminate, Musa sapientum

Catecholamines, tannin, albuminoids, glycosides, alkaloids , flavonoids;quercetin, Sterols

Antidiarrhoeal; Ulcer protective antimicrobial activity; wound healing, kidney cancer activities

Breadfruit

Artocarpus altilis

Flavonoids including geranyl

Cytoprotection; Anti-cancer; antioxidant activities

Cassava

Manihot esculenta

Alkaloids,  saponins, steroids, flavonoids; Flavonols

Cytoprotection; wound healing

Coconut

Cocos nucifera

Terpenoids, alkaloids, lauric acid, glycosides and steroids; flavanoids, phenols, steroids

Glucose homeostasis and antioxidant activity; controls severe hyperglycemia 

Corn

Zea mays

Phenols; Lutein, Zeaxanthin;freeStanols/Sterols; anthocyanins

Controls diabetes, lowers blood pressure; anticancer activities

Dasheen

Colocasia esculenta 

Thiamin,  folate, calcium oxalate

 Management of diabetic nephropathy.

Kidney bean –red

Phaseolus vulgaris

flavonoids, unsaturated sterols saponins,

Hypoglycaemic, antidiabetic properties, appetite control

Oats -rolled

Avena sativa

Phenolic compounds, flavonoids, sterols

Lowers LDL cholesterol and blood pressure; improved insulin sensitivity

Peas - Pigeon (gungo)

Cajanus cajan

Sitosterol, isoquercitrin, quercetin, 

Anti-inflammatory , antioxidant, Immuno-modulatory activities

Peas– split

Pisum sativum

phenolic acids,  flavone and flavonol glycoside.

Antioxidant activity

Plantain - Green /Ripe

Musa paradisiaca

Serotonin; Flavonoids; Acyl steryl glycosides

Gastroprotective; lowers cholesterol; antioxidant; mutagenic effect

Potato, Irish 

Solanum tuberosum

Phenols,carotenoids; anthocyanins

Reduces blood pressure and cancer cell growth

Potato, sweet –purple

Ipomoea batatas

Anthocyanin; Quercetin;steroids ,Flavonoids, Polyphenols

Antioxidant; anticancer activities

Rice, brown

Oryza sativa

Phenols; Phytic acid

Cancer prevention

Yam

Dioscorea spp

Phenols

Lowers LDL cholesterol and colon cancer risk

Table 2. Common Caribbean food commodities showing potential health benefits

Food

Classical rank

Cost US$/Kg

Potential for added health benefits*

Pigeon (gungo) peas

1

4.06

xxxx

Red Kidney beans

2

2.34

xxx

Green /ripe Plantain

3

1.38

xx

Green / ripe Banana

4

0.45

xx

Yam

5

1.33

xx

Split peas

6

3.29

xx

Brown Rice

7

2.49

xx

Rolled Oats

8

3.32

xxxx

Sweet Potato-purple

9

0.99

xxx

Breadfruit

10

1.10

xxx

Irish Potato

11

1.53

xx

Avocado

12

3.36

xxx

Dasheen/Eddo

13

1.24

x

Cassava

14

1.28

x

Coconut

15

1.34

xx

Corn

16

1.80

xxx

Ackee

17

1.90

x

*Potential health benefits based on strength of evidence and range of activity

xxxx = convincing; xxx = very strong; xx = strong; x = probable

Table 3. Ranking and cost of selected foods based on classical criteria and other health benefits