Don’t Underestimate the Antioxidant Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables

An anti-what? Antioxidants are substances that can help prevent or slow what’s called oxidative stress to your cells. “They are the antidote to free radicals from the environment that can cause damage to cells – and accelerate the aging process- which raises the risk of various diseases,” explains David Katz, M.D. author of the The Truth About Food. Find out the top sources of antioxidants and the best way to consume them.

Know Your Antioxidants – Three Main Categories

Polyphenols

  • Find them in all types of berries, black currants, nuts, and purple-hue fruits including plums, cherries and black grapes. In addition, whole oats found in oatmeal and some breads, as well as chocolate, are a good source. Dark chocolate that has a higher amount of cocoa has more antioxidants than milk chocolate.
  • The polyphenols may help protect against cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and systemic inflammation.

Flavonoids

  • Find them in strawberries, apples, asparagus, green leafy vegetables, onions, apricots, blueberries, green tea, red grapes, and citrus fruits.
  • The flavonoids may help protect against cardiovascular disease, viruses, diabetes, and neurological diseases.

Carotenoids

  • Find them in orange produce like carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. These have the carotenoid beta-carotene, which gives them their color.
  • The carotenoid lycopene (another type of carotenoid) gives tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya, and apricots their hues.
  • The carotenoid zeaxanthin (another type of carotenoid) and lycopene are found in spinach, kale, turnip greens, peas, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and corn.
  • The carotenoids may help protect against cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and age-related cognitive decline. Research suggests that diets rich in lycopene and zeaxanthin may prevent or slow the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in older people.

Beverages to Your Surprise

Coffee, tea, and red wine are all rich sources of antioxidants – with expresso coming in first place. Kombucha also is a good soured of flavonoids and polyphenols. Although, moderation is always a good guideline to follow.

PEEL Appeal

Do you often discard many parts of produce?  Don’t do it! You miss out on crucial nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are in the peels, skins, and stalks.

  • Carrots: Though it accounts for 11% of the fresh carrot’s weight, the peels provide 54% of its phenolic compounds- which include polyphenols.
  • Apples: Rome and Idared Beauty apples were found to be highest in flavonoids.
  • Potatoes: Their skins are good sources of polyphenols.
  • Broccoli: The leaves and stems have higher levels of antioxidants than the florets.
  • Citrus: Zest from the peel of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes contains antioxidants.

 Maximize the Antioxidant Effect

The simplest way to get plenty of antioxidants in your diet is to eat lots of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based foods. The American Dietetic Association recommends 5 servings (½ c) of fruits/vegetables per day; having a minimum of one per meal and one at snacks will get you there. Beyond that, here are 3 ways to reap the most benefits from your food:

EAT PRODUCE WITHIN A FEW DAYS

As food sits, they lose their nutritional value. When storing fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh, refrigerated at 40°F. And don’t overlook frozen produce as an option.  Frozen fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants because they are picked when ripe and then frozen quickly so the nutrients stay stable for a long time.

CONSIDER HOW YOU COOK

To preserve the antioxidants in vegetables, “Cook them for the least amount of time in the least amount of water,” advises Joan Salge Blake, Ed.D., R.D.N., clinical professor of nutrition at Boston University. Steaming, stir-frying, and grilling are all better than boiling.

PAIR THEM RIGHT

Combining certain antioxidant-rich foods increases their healing power. Here are two to note.  Adding healthy fat to dishes helps with absorption.  For example: Using olive oil or avocado in a spinach salad, combining olive oil with cooked tomatoes (sauce), or sautéing kale in grape-seed oil will increase the availability of some of their fat-soluble antioxidants.

Also, herbs and spices – especially ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, oregano, rosemary, and sage- pack an antioxidant punch in every teaspoon.

Summer is just around the corner, so look for many new varieties of fresh produce from local farmers at Fresh & Natural.  Enjoy!

Author: Michelle Hanson

Michelle Hanson, MA, RD, LD is Fresh & Natural Food’s Registered Dietitian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics with a minor in Community Health from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a registered dietitian and current member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Michelle has been a nutrition consultant for numerous years as well as a nutrition research director at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

Michelle is passionate about food and nutrition and believes in helping people find simple, realistic ways to make healthy eating a part of their everyday lifestyle.
If you are interested in meeting Michelle or have questions for her, you can email her at: michelle@fnfoods.com. She will look forward to meeting you!