Jim Duke’s Cuban Food Farmacy Trip Report

Jim Duke

At the luncheon we enjoyed at the Cuban Botanical Gardens, there was a healthy and delightful array of fruits and veggies, many not emphasized in the handout I sent you before our Cuba trip. Here I enumerate some of the more important items I enjoyed during that marvelous and healthy luncheon.

But first there was the eternal, infernal mojito with its diced spearmint. Ironically spearmint contains several volatile compounds which do what Aricept® does, preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, the cerebral messenger at the synapses. As of my last tally, my computer listed carvone, carvacrol, 1,8-cineole, p-cymene, elemol, isomenthone, limonene, menthol, menthone, piperitenone, pulegone, gamma-terpinene, terpinen-4-ol, thymol, viridiflorol, count them, 15 natural antiacetylcholinesterase phytochemicals, absorbed via inhalation, perorally, or transdermally (from Duke’s Phytochemical Database). Aricept® contains one unnatural anticholinesterase chemical with lots of side effects.

Mojitos waiting to be made at the Buena Vista Social Club

Your mojito probably contained most of these, all of which have been described from spearmint, and indeed many other mints, e.g., rosemary, sage, and lemonbalm, proven to slow the breakdown of the cerebral messengers (acetylcholine, butylcholine, perhaps choline itself) , and all in my cream d’mentia. Please remember though, easy on the alcohol! It is contraindicated in Alzheimer’s, cerebral plaque, and dementia!!!

And a word about the Spanish paella, which some of us experienced while in Cuba. With many of us approaching the age of dementia, we should recognize that paella with mojitos (remember, very weak or non-alcoholic) might be a double whammy as a dementia preventative.

Paella at La Terraza, the fisherman's bar and restaurant Hemingway frequented in Cojimar, Cuba

Most paella is colored yellow with saffron which has some chemical or chemicals that have been proven to help with both dementia and depression. Iran, a major producer of the labor-intensive saffron, has performed clinical studies showing that very small amounts of saffron have impressive effects. I recommend it. A lot of people come back at me and say they would not believe an Iranian study. I disagree heartily feeling that in most countries the agencies try to help the citizenry. I trust the Iranian study more than the FDA-approved study(ies) that approved the Aricept®. Lamentably, I do not believe that BigcPharma and the FDA are trying to improve the health of the American citizenry.

Ironically, saffron is mentioned only once in the Bible. But scholars do not agree. Some claim it is the Iranian/Spanish saffron, Crocus sativus. Others claim the Biblical saffron is the Oriental turmeric, Curcuma longa, of Asian Indian and Chinese origin, one of the most important anticancer herbs. But, most important for dementia, this unrelated spice also prevents dementia and depression. It seems to curb the so-called Beta-Plaque of the brain, which seems to be more important in dementia than the anticholinesterase activity in our mojitos. What to do? Be generous with both the Crocus sativus and Curcuma longain your paella and other dishes.

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, drying in an organic cooperative farm, Alamar Organoponico, in Havana

Back to lunch at the botanical garden. I have never seen so many cases of the color code in action. To your health, eat as many colorful veggies as possible for better health, the wider the variety the better. They were especially generous with many examples of good sources of lycopene, with four foods or beverages made from guava, Psidium guajava, almost a weed tree in tropical America. And there was the African watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, and, the American tomato, and the pink grapefruit, which, unlike the yellow grapefruit is rich in lycopene. Any and all of these might reduce your odds of hormone-related cancers. But the red hibiscus petals, some of us ingested with our luncheon, were healthy due to anthocyanins and beta-hydroxy acids, also good for the complexion.

Guava, Psidium guajava, for sale at the farmer's market in Havana, Cuba

Many, if not all members of the cabbage family contain cancer-preventing isothiocyanates and indoles and a few contain sulforaphane, the more piquant the better. So do the petals of the nasturtium flowers some of us ate. And the horseradish tree, Moringa oleifera, we talked about in those lovely mountains above Trinidad. The purple cabbages also contain anthocyanins.

The fruita bomba (papaya elsewhere), Carica papaya, and pineapple, Ananas comosus, contain proteolytic enzymes with a lot of proven biological activities. Of course, papaya juice and citrus juice was available at all our breakfasts.

What could be more important to those who are vegetarian (by religion, choice, or for wise fear of red meat) than beans? We have been overpromoted with soy and underpromoted with our native American beans, like butter beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, string beans and most important of all, the Cuban black beans, the blacker, the better, as far as anthocyanins are concerned. The white navy and pinto beans have little or no anthocyanins. Surprisingly all these American beans have the same estrogenic isoflavones (biochanin, daidzein, formononetin, and most ballyhooed, genistein). Some of the American beans have more isoflavones than the soybean. In moderation, the isoflavones seem to favor anticancer activity. For years soy claimed that it alone contain genistein. Bunk.

Fabaceae, Apiaceae and Brassicaceae displayed at the farmer's market in Havana

Fewer members of the bean or legume family are well endowed with l-dopa which tends to help Parkinson’s disease which has several biological activities [[l-DOPA: Analgesic M29; Anorexic 50 mg/kg scu rat BBE; Antidote (Manganese) M29; Antiencephalopathic M29; Antifeedant SCI181:81; Antimorphinic 100 scu mus BBE; Antineuroleptic M29; Antiparkinsonian 100-8,000 mg/man/day M28 M29 WAF; Antireserpine ED50=400 orl mus BBE; Aphrodisiac M29; Arrhythmigenic M29; Antitremor JBH; Cardiovascular 12 ivn rat BBE; CNS-active 50 ivn rat BBE; Depressant M29; Diuretic 1-2 g/man/day MAR; Dopaminergic 225 orl mus, 50 ipr rat BBE;Emetic MAR; Hallucinogen M29;Hypertensive M29; Hypotensive M29; Insectifuge JAD; Miotic M29; Natriuretic MAR; Prolactin-Inhibitor RAI.

Major Sources:
Fababean Flowers L-DOPA 110,000 ppm PAN
Fababean Pods 500-25,000 ppm L-DOPA PAN WOI
Fababean Seeds 1,500-2,500 ppm L-DOPA JBH PAN
Fababean Sprouts 5,000-60,000ppm l-DOPA SP BAM18:167
Fenugreek 1,590-1,700 ppm l-Dopa SP X17704018; X15331344
Velvetbean Seed 7,810-100,000 ppm L-DOPA MPI RAI JAF44:2638

(from USDA Phytochemical Database). ]] The Biblical fababean (can be allergenic) and fenugreek have been grown in Cuba and the velvetbean (prurient) is apparently native there in Cuba and elsewhere in Tropical America and Tropical Asia. One possible side effect of the l-dopa treatment of Parkinson’s is priapism in a very small fraction of the men taking it. In a sense, that small fraction of men may experience the four-hour erections we hear too much about on TV commercials re some pharmaceutical drugs for erectile dysfunction. We have all three growing here in my Green Farmacy Garden.

As in beans, color is important in native American corns, the white corn, delicious, but lacking the beneficial carotenoids found in yellow corns, and the anthocyanins so prevalent in the so-called blue, black, or purple corns. And the corn silks has many biological activities,

The flesh of the native American squashes and pumpkins are rich in health-giving carotenoids, while roasted pumpkin seeds are a tasty snack for senior dudes like Duke (me), with zinc and three amino acids good for the prostate problems that beset all males if they live long enough. In concert with Amazonian Brazil nuts, richest source of selenium, dare I say, nuts for the prostate. One cousin, two years older than me, was chemically castrated for his prostate cancer, and was suffering, of all things, male menopause. Recent studies show that the sage grown and sold in Cuba can ease menopausal symptoms.

Jim on the streets of Havana

On the streets of Havana, I showed most of you the ubiquitous weed purslane, Portulaca oleracea, which ranges in America from Amazonia to Alaska. It is one of the world’s richest sources of beta carotene, vitamins C and E, all wrapped up with the highest omega-3 composition of any leafy vegetable. One more Latin American herbs with high omega-3s is the chia of chia pet fame. Purslane is to me, one of the most delicious of weeds, raw or cooked or pickled, and if you get caught without your adrenaline kit, ball some up under your tongue and you will get a sublingual equivalent of adrenaline.

A lot of you got more cilantro than you wanted here and there. To me, it is a love/hate herb, and about ten percent of the people in my classes hate it. Fortunately for me, my garden crew likes it. In temperate America, the cilantro flavor and health benefits are due to the temperate herb, coriander, Coriandrum sativum. In tropical America, this is due to a weedy herb that looks like a thistle, called culantro, Eryngium foetidum, and the coriander haters will agree, it smells fetid, like its epithet. Me, I like it. Today (April 20, 2012) I am being visited by a companion-plant master gardener wanting to protect his tomatoes from stick bugs (which incidentally have been aromatically linked to the aroma of cilantro. He speculates that coriander or cilantro might help. I voted instead for pulegone-containing mints, many of which grow in Cuba.

Cobblestone streets in Trinidad, Cuba

I’ll have afterthoughts about our Cuban food farmacy for years to come, and I may be compulsive enough to send more info on to you. I’d like to go again, but only when I can fly straight from Baltimore to Havana, and when I can have more time in the country and less on the quaint cobblestone city tours. Cobblestones and cities are not my element; my element is the greenery.

Jim with guide Andres at Escambray mountains Sierra de Sancti Spiritus - Sendero la alfombra magica


Beans, beans, good for the heart
The more you eat, the less you infarct.

1. Ananas comosus L. Bromeliaceae. “Piña”, “Piña negra”, “Pineapple”. bromelain
2. Annona muricata L. Annonaceae. “Guanábana”, “Graviola”,”Soursop”. acetogenins
3. Arachis hypogaea L. Fabaceae. “Maní”, “Peanuts”. daidzein; genistein; resveratrol
4. Bixa orellana L. Bixaceae. “Achote”, “Achiote amarillo”, “Annatto”. carotenoids
5. Capsicum spp. L. Solanaceae. “Aji”, “Hot Pepper”. capsaicin; carotenoids
6. Carica papaya L. Caricaceae. “Fruta Bomba”, “Papaya (elsewhere)”. chymopapain, papain
7. Cucurbita maxima Duch. Cucurbitaceae. “Zapallo”, “Pumpkin”. selenium, sterols, zinc
8. Elaeis spp. Aracaceae. “Palma aceite”, “Oil Palm”. carotenoids, tocotrienols
9. Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. Solanaceae. “Tomate”, “Tomato”. lycopene
10. Persea americana Mill. Lauraceae. “Palta”, “Avocado”. lutein, MUFA, vit. D (?)
11. Phaseolus vulgaris L. Fabaceae. “Frijole”, “Bean”. daidzein, genistein
12. Theobroma cacao L. Sterculiaceae. “Cacao”, “Chocolate”. caffeine, theobromine, theophylline
13. Zea mays L. Poaceae. “Maiz morado”, “Maiz”, “Blue Corn”. anthocyanins, corn silk

Pineapple, Ananas comosus

(lower bad LDL and up the good HDL cholesterol)

Black beans (XX8489997), black pepper; black rice (X21289511), butterbeans (XX8489997), chickpea (XX1800305), chocolate (X20968113), cinnamon (X22186322 in rabbits), coconut, coriander (X18831331in rats), cumin (HMG-CoA-Reductase Inhibitor `X16822210), fenugreek (X21106928), flax (X21152727), garlic (X16320801), ginger (X20730603), grapefruit (seed extract (X19391322), green tea (X17184499), lemon (see Teuscher), lentils (XX8489997), onion (X 20090891), orange (X11063434, X20729016), peas (XX8489997), peanut (X20456815), peppermint (X21647314), pistachio (X21228801), pomegranate (flowers X18950673), pumpkin seed (X21545273), roselle (X19965962), sage (X21506190), tamarind (`X21989999), tulsi (X20608759), turmeric (XX3215683), walnut (X16193197), watercress (X17980985).

[[Note the numbers are PubMed serial numbers of articles showing that the food raised the good HDL-cholesterol, e.g., after 42 days on dietary baked beans, peas, lentils, and butter beans, HDL-cholesterol levels were raised significantly (XX8489997).]]

Compare the Amazon Food Farmacy, for my Amazonian Travelers:
1. aguaje, Mauritia flexuosa (super source of beta-carotene)
2. annatto, Bixa orellana(unique source of bixin)

Jim holding Annatto, Bixa orellana

3. avocado, Persea americana (best source of oleic acid and good for lutein, maybe even Vitamin D)
4. black beans, Phaseolus vulgaris (great source of estrogenic isoflavones; good source anthocyanins, choline and folate)
5. blue corn, Zea mays (great source of anthocyanins, reasonable source of melatonin and zeaxanthin)
6. brazilnut, Bertholettia excelsa (best source of selenium and lecithin)
7. camu-camu, Myrciaria dubia (best source of Vitamin C)
8. capsicum, Capsicum spp. (unique source of capsaicin, and good source of carotenoids)
9. chocolate, Theobroma cacao (super source of proanthocyanidins, anandamide, xanthines, namesake of theobromine; but better sweetened with non-caloric Stevia)
10. genipap, Genipa americana (source of geniposide)
11. oilpalm, Elaeis guineense and oleifera (oil one of best sources of tocotrienol and good source of carotenoids)
12. peanuts, Arachis hypogaea (daidzein, daidzin, genistin, puerarin, resveratrol)
13. pineapple, Ananas comosus (unique source of proteolytic enzyme bromelain)
14. papaya, Carica papaya (unique source of proteolytic enzymes carpain, chymopapain and papain; good source of BITC)
15. pumpkin, Cucurbita pepo (seed great source of 3 amino acids for prostate [alanine (200 mg/day), glutamic-acid (200 mg/day), glycine (200 mg/day)], linoleic-acid, selenium, beta-sitosterol ([60 mg/day)])
16. purslane, Portulaca oleracea ( the all-around salad herb, super for A, C, E, magnesium, noradrenalin, protein, and alpha-linoleic-acid)
17. stevia, Stevia rebaudiana (unique source of non-nutrient sweetener stevioside)
18. sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas (good source of ascorbic acid, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, ellagic acid, quercetin and rutin)
19. tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum (tastiest source of lycopene, good source of zinc, GABA)
20. velvetbean, Mucuna pruriens (major source of l-dopa, seeds up to ten percent, even more than fababean, and second best source of lecithin).

Proper consumption of adequate quantities of these Amazon wonders (and echoing the TV commercials, in concert with a prudent and varied diet and exercise regime), harvested renewably, could improve your health while improving the health of the Amazon Rain Forest and our planetary environment. While I am impressed with all of these and think that increased consumption of these (in lieu of reduced animal fats, etc.) by North Americans could do them as much good as going on the Childers, Cretan, or Mediterranean diets, I can also see how using this Amazonian diet renewably and wisely might even help the health of the planet, helping us preserve the vital lungs of our hemisphere (the Amazon rain forest), thereby improving the health of our individual lungs, hearts and other vital organs.

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3 Responses to Jim Duke’s Cuban Food Farmacy Trip Report

  1. Maribel Rodriguez says:

    Superb review and level of detail. I loved it! Could read your accounts over and over and learn so much. You are an enlighting blessing.

  2. Rachel Jackson says:

    Dear Jim and Peggy, Thank you for this account of your Cuban trip. I am in tears of appreciation. You have been constantly in my prayers and thoughts…hoping for relief from your pain. I have another friend with stenosis too. We have been working on her too. Please let me know how your exercise is going. NEVER GIVE UP. WE ALL LOVE YOU WHO ARE NOT MONSANTO ORIENTED. Your friend and admirer, Rachel B.P. Jackson

  3. Helen Walls says:

    I’m asthmatic & last week a bug had me struggling for breath for 2 weeks, I’d been reading green Pharmacy while sick & someone offered me a cup of tea, I was still wheezing but improved,. I remembered what Jim had said about tea & had some, which I had almost stopped drinking for years. I was not surprised to have the wheezing diminish immediately & stop after a few hours. I am resolved to follow the advice in green Pharmacy and am grateful to find such a simple reliever.

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