Antioxidants. Oxidative damage. Phytochemicals. Photosynthesis. Polyphenols. Tocopherols. Glutathione. Enzymes with antioxidant activity. Yada, yada, yada.
What does all that mean?
If you focus on real food – fresh and simple food, it really doesn’t matter. Food is much more than all these nutritional constituents that sound so impressive. Plus, it’s rather daunting when food is reduced to natural chemical components that are sometimes hard to distinguish from the unnatural ones. All the words get confusing, whether it’s the good stuff or the bad stuff.
As a nutrition therapist, all these geeky words appeal to me. But food is more than science. Or less, depending on how you want to look at it. We’ve made it all incredibly complicated when in reality, it should be easy and fun. Food is fun, don’t you think? Otherwise there wouldn’t be an entire TV Food Network dedicated to creating elaborate chocolate desserts, 30 minute meals, grilled foods, comfort foods, and down-home cooking (among others). And who hasn’t rolled their eyes at another Rachael Ray book, magazine, or product? Geez, when does that girl sleep? It’s a good thing she sticks to 30 minute meals.
You wouldn’t be reading food blogs if you didn’t think bringing good food to your table wasn’t important, but sometimes we get so focused on the individual nutrients being delivered from a piece of food that we forget about the whole. The benefit of these individual ingredients might not be the same without consuming the whole food and letting them work their magic together. What I mean by that is – go to the source. Eat a whole apple, a piece of salmon, some broccoli, a tomato, or a handful of walnuts. Whole, fresh foods are gluten-free by default and each has its own assortment of healthy nutrients that work as a team.
The Standard American Diet is rather dreadful in many ways, and we know it, so we’ve accessorized our diets with all kinds of trendy and novel substitutes for the real thing. There are so many supplements on the market, who knows what is what. Nutrients are being added to packaged foods as a marketing tool. Food that is reengineered to come in a box isn’t natural, but to make it more appealing to the consumer, manufacturers add something special like vitamin D, fiber, iron, or omega-3s and boldly announce it on the package. Something to catch your eye and make you think it is somehow better than the original food. For example, even the most fortified baby formula doesn’t compare nutritionally to mother’s milk, which is whole food in its finest form.
Okay, I’m not totally against packaged or processed food, but it’s important to limit your intake and stick with whole, fresh, real food choices. And contrary to what it might sound like from the first few paragraphs of this post, I’m actually quite fond of the science behind the food and I do take supplements, but we don’t need to get neurotic about it. We simply need to eat a variety of whole foods and pick from a range of colors, which ends up providing us with an assortment of vitamins and minerals.
Now back to the first word in this post – a science word – antioxidants.
Antioxidants are molecules, or substances in foods, that are protective to normal physiological functions in the human body. They slow or prevent oxidation, which is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals. To make a long and rather complicated story short, free radicals can cause cell damage. We don’t want that. Foods high in antioxidants protect us from cell damage and boost immune function. Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants, as are selenium, lycopene, lutein, glutathione, and beta-carotene. But don’t worry about that, just eat your fruits, veggies, and nuts.
The following is a list of the top 15 foods with the highest antioxidant content per serving size. The complete study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Okay, so this doesn’t mean 4 cups of coffee in the morning, a bar of dark chocolate at lunch, and a bottle of wine at dinner. But it does mean those foods are rich in antioxidants and can be included in a healthy diet if eaten in moderation.
Add these foods to your shopping cart and enjoy a daily dose of antioxidant protection! See below for one of my favorite treats. Redwood Hill Farm goat yogurt topped with mixed berries. Yum!
In good health,