Free radicals are like the mafia; stealthy, destructive, and impossible to completely eradicate, they seem to play outside the rules of polite society. But a diet rich in antioxidants is an effective method of containment.
By protecting our bodies from oxidation damage done to our cells by free radicals foods rich in antioxidants help to safeguard our bodies from the ravages of aging and disease. They help fight cancer, boost our immune systems, and ensure healthy, great-looking skin and hair.
Everyone is familiar with the most prominent members of the vitamin world marquee players like vitamins C and E. But these days, it’s the exotic-sounding antioxidants that are grabbing the headlines: lycopene, lutein, flavonoids, and resveratrol. The more researchers delve into the nutritional benefits of foods, the more antioxidants they discover and the more they discover about antioxidants.
For instance, nutritionists used to advocate eating apples because of the vitamin C found in the flesh. But it turns out the skin of the same apple contains even more antioxidants in the form of polyphenols. Researchers are also discovering that antioxidants can be affected by how food is prepared. One example: There is five times more available lycopene in tomato sauce than in the same amount of fresh tomatoes. Heat breaks down tomato cell walls, freeing up the lycopene that would otherwise pass, unused, though the digestive tract.
As researchers learn more about the nutritional content of different foods, some of those foods come into vogue. Red wine, green tea, chocolate, goji berries, turmeric, and acai have all been recently celebrated as antioxidant powerhouses. Certainly this is good news for gourmands. But consuming antioxidants does not require visits to exotic lands or fancy food departments. You can cover all of your nutritional bases with a grocery store list that includes broccoli, oranges, red grapes, kale, olive oil, squash, almonds, watermelon, and other readily available fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.
“An antioxidant-rich diet nourishes you not only physically but also psychologically,” points out Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, registered dietician, and the nutrition specialist at the Golden Door spa in Escondido, California. “It preserves your memory, enhances your energy level, and immunizes you from the effects of stress.”
Some doctors and nutritional experts recommend consuming a daily multivitamin in order to fill the antioxidant “gaps” in our diets. But all agree that the optimal way to obtain sufficient amounts of antioxidants is to consume a variety of fresh foods.
“The most nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods are also the easiest to spot,” says Bazilian. “They’re the vibrant colorful fruits and vegetables, along with other prizes from mother nature, like beans, nuts, and whole grains. Make a rainbow of antioxidant-rich nutrients part of your plate. If you go for color and variety, you enhance your health today as well as prepare for the active decades ahead.” For added color, try these recipes developed by Chef Dean Rucker at the Golden Door.
Blueberry, Melon, & Yogurt Cream ParfaitServes 6
This parfait, packed with calcium and lean protein, is high in phytonutrients, including antioxidant-rich blueberries and potassium-packed cantaloupe. Add a sprinkle of granola on top, and you have a nutrient-rich way to start (or end) your day!
1 qt. plain nonfat yogurt
3 tbs. brown rice syrup
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or 1 12-ounce package frozen blueberries, defrosted and rinsed
2 cups cantaloupe, peeled and diced
In a mixing bowl, combine yogurt, brown rice syrup, and vanilla. Whisk together well. Line a strainer or colander with three layers of cheese cloth. Pour yogurt mixture into lined strainer. Place strainer over a bowl to catch the liquid, cover and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight. Once drained, the yogurt will be very thick and creamy.
Choose six pretty clear glasses and spoon in alternating layers of yogurt, berry, and melon. For best results, put the yogurt cream in a piping bag. It’s much easier than spooning it into the glass. Garnish the top with a slice of orange and mint leaves.Per serving: 135 calories, 1g total fat, 10g protein, 24g carbohydrate, 3 mg cholesterol, 124 mg sodium. Note: You can make the yogurt cream ahead of time. It will easily keep in the fridge for a week or more.
White Bean, Roasted Tomato, and Rosemary SoupServes 6
Cooked tomatoes are high in the antioxidant lycopene. The addition of spinach, beans, garlic, herbs, and olive oil ratchets up the antioxidant quotient. If you don’t plan to consume all the soup at one meal, place the fresh spinach and green onions into each bowl and ladle the hot soup over it, instead of adding it to the whole batch. The soup will keep better in the fridge, and when reheated, it can easily be refreshed with spinach and green onions.
2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole
1 tbs. olive oil, divided
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1 cup cannelini beans, soaked overnight
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 bay leaf
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400F. Place Italian plum tomatoes including juice, and 3 whole cloves of garlic in a 1-quart baking dish. Drizzle with half of the olive oil. Roast uncovered for 45 minutes until tomatoes are slightly browned and charred, and liquid is reduced. Puree tomatoes, leaving mixture slightly chunky. Set aside.
In a two-quart soup or sauce pot, sweat the yellow onion with the remaining olive oil. Add drained beans, chicken or vegetable stock, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Tie the herb sprigs and bay leaf in cheesecloth and add to the pot. Simmer one hour until the beans are tender.
When the beans are tender, remove the herb bundle. Add the roasted tomato puree and bring back to a simmer, adjusting the seasonings with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, stir in the fresh spinach and green onions, and serve.Per serving: 101 calories, 3g total fat, 8g protein, 13g carbohydrate, 0mg cholesterol, 185 mg sodium
Carrot-Walnut PateServes 8
This delicious, tangy spread packs the one-two power-punch of walnuts and carrots. Rich in plant-based omega-3 oils and beta-carotene, the walnut and carrot combination provides a new way to spread on those phytonutrients and antioxidants. Serve on whole-grain bread, pita, flatbread, or tortilla with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and Dijon mustard for a terrific vegetarian sandwich. Or enjoy it as an appetizer on whole-grain crackers or vegetables.
1/3 cup walnuts, soaked overnight in the fridge and drained
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion
1 cup shredded carrot
1 whole lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a food processor and purƒ©e for approximately 2 minutes, stopping the machine every 15 seconds or so to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Adjust the seasoning with a little salt and pepper.
3g total fat
0 mg cholesterol
12 mg sodium