by Trudy Pieper, ND
Fruits and veggies are packed with powerful antioxidants which can lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes-related damage and even slow down the body’s natural aging process caused by free radical damage.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that feed off healthy molecules in order to survive. Oxidation, caused by factors such as stress or chemicals, creates free radicals. Once formed, free radicals can start a chain of damaging chemical reactions. The biggest danger to the human body is their potential to react with cellular components like DNA or the cell membrane, causing cells to function poorly or die. Additionally, our body makes its own free radicals in order to destroy viruses or bacteria. They are also present in food we eat.
Fruits and vegetables turn brown as a result of enzyme-catalyzed oxidation. When one is cut or bumped, it is exposed to oxygen and enzymatic oxidation forms a brownish-colored staining. Oxidation also causes free radical damage.
Antioxidants are nature’s way of fighting off potentially dangerous molecules in the body. The sole purpose of antioxidants is to neutralize free radicals. The primary food source of all antioxidants is plant foods. Fruits and vegetables provide the body with antioxidants needed to properly wage war against free radicals.
The best way to get a variety of antioxidants in the diet is to eat foods that represent all the colors of the rainbow. Each color provides unique antioxidant effects.
Bright orange and deep yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and apricots provide one type of antioxidant. Red foods like tomatoes provide another. Green vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, and blue or purple foods like blueberries and eggplant, each have their own antioxidant packages.
According to registered dietician Beth Fonenot, the following are examples of five powerful antioxidants:
- Carotenoids: These neutralize free radicals, bolster cellular antioxidant defenses, and enhance the immune system. Food sources include deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach and tomatoes.
- Flavonoids: These strengthen cellular antioxidant defenses; they contribute to the maintenance of brain functions, to heart health and they boost immune defense. Food sources include apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, green tea and purple grapes.
- Isothiocyanates: These enhance detoxification and deactivate carcinogens. Food sources include cruciferous or cabbage family vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, turnips, collards, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and radishes.
- Resveratrol: These protect the lining of blood vessels in the heart and reduce inflammation. Food sources include red wine, red and purple grapes/juice, peanuts, blueberries and cranberries.
- Tannins: These are potent antivirals, antibacterials and have antiparasitic effects. Food sources include pomegranates, nuts, lentils, red and white wine, and green tea.
Eating fruits and vegetables may not prevent cancer or other diseases, but it can give your body the fighting chance that it needs. The benefits of getting your daily dose of fruits and vegetables are numerous. Keep in mind: the fresher your produce, the more valuable antioxidants there will be.
Trudy Pieper is a Naturopathic Doctor based in Johnstown. For more information, call 740-616-9949 or visit PhoenixWellness4U.com.