Here I am harping on about eating your fruit and veg again! Keeps you young and beautiful of course, but did you know how?
You may have heard the term ‘free radicals’ and possibly know already we need lots of antioxidants to help us stay pert and bouncy.
The chemistry students amongst us will likely recognise…yup…we’re talking about molecules. A quick definition for those who bunked off science at school… a molecule is defined as an electrically neutral group of at least 2 atoms held together by a strong chemical bond.
Ok that’s quite enough of the technical stuff. What is important to know is that some molecules are more stable than others, that is, some may be a can or 2 short of a 6 pack if you know what I mean! Free radicals are unstable and desperate to steal a proton from a stable molecule to make themselves happy and complete, and by doing this, they’re one of the causes of aging and damage to our tissues. Free radicals roam our bodies looking for poor unsuspecting molecules to get together with. Free radicals destroy the vitality of healthy molecules, damage cellular structures including DNA and contribute to clogged arteries, heart disease and strokes. Oh, and they give us wrinkles! Either way, they accumulate with age, so basically speaking, we could all do with a lot less of them.
This is where our superheroes the antioxidants come in. Literally, they are the free radical police and they help neutralize overly reactive unstable molecules and prevent them from damaging parts of cells. Antioxidants are found as flavonoids in fruit and vegetables and especially in the form of carotenoids, anthocyanins, lycopene and a whole host of others – over 6,000 different types have been discovered so far! These defenders are also responsible for many of the plant colours that dazzle us with their brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red.
Particularly in oriental medicine, plant flavonoids have been used for centuries in conjunction with their antioxidant, protective properties. Green tea and the powerful catechins it contains is a prime example.
For the most part, to reap the most benefits from antioxidant- rich foods and to absorb their nutrients, consume them in their raw natural state.
Surprisingly though, it’s also worth noting that the antioxidant content increased in the following foods when they were cooked: carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, red cabbage, green and red peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Steaming emerged as the preferred method of cooking since it clearly resulted in the biggest increase in antioxidant content in studies.
Try if you can to eat both raw and cooked to get the best of both worlds.
Here’s a quick rundown of what you can find where!
Red fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, cranberries, red cabbage, red peppers, beetroot, red apples, watermelon, cherries and pomegranates all may help reduce, reverse and prevent diseases including diabetes, heart disease, strokes, hypertension and high cholesterol. They’ve also been shown to reduce the risk of a variety of cancers including those of the lung, prostate, ovaries and the cervix. Red fruit and vegetables are full of minerals and vitamins including magnesium, calcium, zinc and potassium and are also a source of fibre, folic acid and vitamins A and C.
Many red fruit and vegetables are coloured by natural plant pigments such as lycopene – especially rich in tomatoes by the way. Lycopene is effective at quenching a free radical called singlet oxygen which is a highly reactive free radical formed during normal metabolic processes that reacts with major constituents of cell membranes. Cell membranes being the gatekeepers of the cell allow nutrients in, prevent toxins from entering and facilitate the removal of cellular junk. Maintaining the integrity of cell membranes is a therefore key factor in the prevention of disease and due to the fact that lycopene is commonly located in cell membranes, it plays an important role in preventing damage.
Lycopene is also believed to play a role in the prevention of heart disease by inhibiting free radical damage to LDL cholesterol (that’s the healthy type). Before cholesterol can be deposited in the plaques that harden and narrow arteries, it must be ‘oxidized’ by free radicals. With its powerful antioxidant activity, lycopene can actually prevent LDL cholesterol from being oxidized.
Furthermore, recent research has suggested that lycopene can boost sperm concentrations in infertile men. In one study, a lycopene-supplemented diet resulted in a significant improvement in sperm concentration and motility amongst the 30 infertile men being studied with 6 pregnancies following as a result of the trial!
By the way vine-ripened tomatoes have a higher lycopene content than tomatoes ripened off the vine.
Orange & Yellow
Orange and yellow fruit and vegetables are loaded with carotenoids and are high in vitamin C.
Beta-carotene, an important member of the carotenoid family is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and squash and is converted to vitamin A which helps skin and vision (hence carrots supposedly making you see in the dark!) In addition to its’ antioxidant and immune-enhancing activity, beta-carotene has been shown to stimulate cell to cell communication. Researchers believe poor communication between cells may be one of the causes of the overgrowth of cells, a condition precedes cancer. By promoting proper communication between cells, carotenoids may play a role in cancer prevention.
It is also believed that beta-carotene may participate in female reproduction. It’s known that the corpus luteum has the highest concentration of beta-carotene of any organ in the body, suggesting that this nutrient plays an important role in the reproductive process.
As well as pumpkins, carrots, apricots, oranges, peaches, yellow apples, mangoes, papaya, pears and pineapple, carotenoids are found in some leafy veg and also spices including cayenne and chilli pepper.
An interesting fact – whilst the fleshy sections of oranges contain virtually all of its vitamin C, it’s the white pulpy inside bits that contain the most flavonoids.
Blue & Purple
The deep colour is thanks to natural a flavonoid pigment called anthocyanin – blackberries, blueberries, plums, purple cabbage and figs are all jam packed full of it. These help prevent heart disease, promote healthy aging and strong eyes and regulate digestion as well as protecting the urinary tract from infection. They also have been shown to help reverse age-related brain decline. That’s quite a list.
On top of that, red grapes are a especially good source of resveratrol, and yes it’s found in red wine too! Some researchers also believe that resveratrol may be responsible for what is known as the“French Paradox”. The “French Paradox” is a term coined by researchers to describe the low rates of cardiovascular disease among French people, despite a national diet that contains lots of saturated fat and cholesterol. Researchers now believe that the relatively high intake of red wine, which contains resveratrol, may be the explanation.
And finally, last but not least…..
the dark green stuff!
The green leafys get their colour from chlorophyll and are full of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. They’re true superfoods in every sense. Kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, coriander, parsley, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, cucumbers, peas, green peppers, courgettes, watercress and spinach all contain worthy amounts of vitamins B and C. They’re also chocca full of fibre, folic acid and lutein which is another member of the carotenoid family.
Greens aid in digestion and can boost immunity and are a valuable source of iron and calcium. Another important compound found in the green stuff is indole-3-carbinol which in studies has been shown to balance hormones, detoxify the intestines and liver and be cancer preventative.
Choose any greens for a daily salad or juice and you cant go wrong!
I hope this has inspired you to eat a rainbow and next time you reach for one of the above mentioned foods, remember that it is not only bursting with color and flavour, but that it also contains components that may significantly improve your health.
+44 (0)7974 572 089