While many of us focus on our kids return to school at this time of year – how to keep their diet healthy and their immune system working optimally – this is also an important time to look at our own health.
You may have been hearing for a long time now how important it is to get enough antioxidants into your diet to stay healthy. If you haven’t been heeding the good advice, you may want to take a closer look at why you should. One way to understand what antioxidants are and why we need them is to think of the human aging process as being similar to an aging car. Without regular maintenance over the life of that car, it will likely start to rust as a result of a process called oxidation. So too does oxidation happen in the aging and stressed human body. Simply put, oxygen molecules that are missing an electron otherwise known as “free radicals” move around the body looking for something to fill in the gap and end up creating molecular sparks that wreak havoc and cause the aging human body to rust. Oxidative stress has been linked to a myriad of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, dementia and autoimmune disorders.
Enter here the power of antioxidants. They act like scavengers in the body to find, neutralize and get rid of free radicals. Research shows that along with getting a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they can they can prevent and treat a whole array of health problems, and also may extend your life. What’s the best way to get antioxidants? Eat fruits, vegetables and other antioxidant-rich foods every day and your body will have more molecules that can react with free radicals to ward off chronic disease and premature aging.
Vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene (the plant form of vitamin A) and the mineral selenium are well-known. Others, phytochemicals, or plant chemicals, may not be as familiar. Among them:
- Lycopene (found in tomatoes)
- Lutein (green leafy vegetables)
- Ellagic acid (berries)
- Resveratrol (grapes)
- Anthocyanins (blueberries and pomegranate)
Here are some good ways to start thinking about fruits and veggies long before dinner to get the recommended daily 4-1/2 cups – equal to nine servings in each day:
- Having a green juice that includes leafy greens with fruit is a perfect energizing way to start your day.
- Slice peaches, bananas, strawberries, or other fresh fruit onto your cereal.
- Add extra vegetables to soups.
- Use spaghetti squash in place of pasta.
- Perk up a dull green salad with nuts, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, pomegranate seeds, apple slices, red beans or jarred artichokes.
- One to two days a week, wash, chop and separate raw veggies into plastic bags. You’ll have carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, bell peppers, celery, zucchini and more antioxidant-packed foods handy to toss into salads or add to casseroles.
- Mix apples, grapes and walnuts in your chicken salad. Try white beans and diced carrots in tuna salad.
- Learn to cook with the most antioxidant-rich herbs and spices: ground clove, dried oregano, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, turmeric powder, dried basil, ground mustard seed, curry powder, paprika and chili powder.
- In restaurants, start your meal with a vegetable or bean soup or a colorful mixed salad.
- Swap French fries for a side salad or steamed vegetables.
- Drink brewed black or green tea. Tea is our best source of a class of compounds called catechins, which are potent antioxidants. Green tea contains three times the catechins in black tea. Be sure to brew it fresh as bottled tea doesn’t offer the same health benefits.
- Indulge in small amounts of dark chocolate or cocoa without guilt. Like tea, chocolate and cocoa contain catechins. Research suggests they may help prevent oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, thus lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease.
So get started today on coming into the fall season ahead by paying attention to getting enough antioxidants to help empower your immune system. It can keep you healthier through the holiday season and ward off the dreaded cold and flu season just after it.