University Of Florida LogoAccording to scientists from University of Florida, cheeseburgers and French fries may look tempting, but eating a portion of broccoli or leafy greens first could possibly assist people in battling metabolic processes that result in obesity and heart disease. Consuming more plant-based foods seems to prevent oxidative stress in the body, a process associated with obesity and the start of disease.

Plant-based foods are known to be rich in substances called phytochemicals. In order to get sufficient of these protective phytochemicals, study authors suggest eating plant-based foods such as leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes at the start of a meal. Oxidative stress is known to occur when the body produces too many damaging free radicals and lacks enough antioxidants or phytochemicals in order to deactivate them. Since, excess of fat tissue and certain enzymes are more active in overweight people, being obese could perhaps activate the production of more free radicals as well.

Lead author of the study, Heather K. Vincent, an assistant professor in the UF Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute explained that making use of a phytochemical index could remind people to get adequate phytochemicals during their usual meals and snacks. Phytochemical index is believed to compare the number of calories consumed from plant-based foods in contrast to the overall number of daily calories.

“We need to find a way to encourage people to pull back on fat and eat more foods rich in micronutrients and trace minerals from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and soy,” says Vincent. “Fill your plate with colorful, low-calorie, varied-texture foods derived from plants first. By slowly eating phytochemical-rich foods such as salads with olive oil or fresh-cut fruits before the actual meal, you will likely reduce the overall portion size, fat content and energy intake. In this way, you’re ensuring that you get the variety of protective, disease-fighting phytochemicals you need and controlling caloric intake.”

During the study, the experts were believed to have examined a group of 54 young adults, thereby analyzing their dietary patterns over a three-day period. More so, they seemed to have repeated this same measurement nearly eight weeks later. The participants were observed to have been classified into two groups namely normal weight and overweight-obese. The findings revealed that while the adults in the two groups consumed about the same amount of calories, overweight-obese adults seemed to have consumed fewer plant-based foods and afterward lesser protective trace minerals and phytochemicals and more saturated fats.

Additionally, they appear to have increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammation as compared to their normal-weight peers. Apparently, these processes are related to the onset of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and joint disease.

“Diets low in plant-based foods affect health over the course of a long period of time. This is related to annual weight gain, low levels of inflammation and oxidative stress. Those are the onset processes of disease that debilitate people later in life,” adds Vincent.

It was noted that because many phytochemicals have antioxidant properties, they can assist in battling free radicals. Apparently, phytochemicals include substances such as allin from garlic, lycopene from tomatoes, isoflavones from soy, beta carotene from orange squashes and anythocyanins from red wine, amongst others.

Vincent said that, “People who are obese need more fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholesome unrefined grains. In comparison to a normal-weight person, an obese person is always going to be behind the eight ball because there are so many adverse metabolic processes going on.”

She was of the opinion that instead of making extreme changes, people may perhaps alternate one or two choices a day with phytochemical-rich foods in order to make a difference in their diets. For instance, substituting a cup of steeped plain tea instead of coffee or consuming an orange instead of a granola bar could increase a person’s phytochemical intake for the day without even changing the feeling of fullness. Moreover, in the long run, replacing more pre-packaged snacks with fresh produce or low-sugar grains could perhaps become a habit that fights obesity and disease.

“We always want to encourage people to go back to the whole sources of food, the nonprocessed foods if we can help it. That would be the bottom line for anyone, regardless of age and body size, keep going back to the purer plant-based foods. Remember to eat the good quality food first,” she continues.

Susanne Talcott, an assistant professor of food science and nutrition at Texas A&M University claims that at present, there seems to be no recommendations for how much of these plant compounds people should be getting each day. However, making use of the phytochemical index could be a good way to come up with these recommendations. Similar to Vincent, Talcott also cautions people to try and stick to whole sources of foods and be alert of processed foods that promise benefits from added plant compounds.

The findings of the study have been published in the online Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.