Rise of the “Super” Food
In our quest for healthy aging, it’s natural to seek out heroes. And we baby boomers and seniors are definitely indulging: blueberries–full of heart-healthy compounds; spinach and kale—brimming with vitamins A and C; and nuts—with their healthy fats, dietary fiber, and minerals.
These foods are examples of antioxidants, key to understanding the oxidative theory of aging.
Control the Internal Train Wreck
In the normal process of breaking down foods and producing energy, our bodies create free radicals—molecules that, if left unchecked, can start a chain reaction that damages cells and protein, altering DNA. Thus free radicals may play a role in chronic disease formation–heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. And this increasing cell damage may lead to aging.
While our bodies naturally fight the negative effects of free radicals, they can be overwhelmed by repeated assaults. This is where antioxidants come in—these compounds prevent the formation of free radicals or stop the oxidative reaction after it starts.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts contain an alphabet soup of antioxidants. From ascorbic acid in citrus fruits to zeaxanthin in broccoli and spinach, these natural all-stars interact in complex ways to protect us from the ravages of aging.
The Lowdown on Antioxidants
1. Scientists have identified thousands of antioxidants in various plants–and may discover even more.
2. Because antioxidants target different cells (for example, eyes vs heart) and interact in complex ways, it’s best to include a variety of seven-plus servings of produce per day, rather than to depend on one or two “super” foods.
3. And most nutritionists and scientists recommend using whole foods to satisfy your antioxidant needs, as opposed to supplements.
4. While antioxidant activities are found in foods representing all colors of the rainbow, even white-colored produce, including apples, cauliflower, and potatoes, are valuable sources.
5. Red wine, green and black teas, nuts, chocolates, and fatty fish such as salmon contain antioxidants.
Fulfilling your Antioxidant Requirement
• Include at least one fruit or vegetable at breakfast: berries with hot or cold cereal, spinach in an omelet, or ½ cup 100% juice.
• Consume a fruit with a small protein serving between breakfast and lunch: sliced apple with 2 Tb. peanut butter, small banana with low-fat Greek yogurt.
• Eat a small salad or handful of baby carrots with lunch; piece of fruit for dessert.
• Repeat snack pattern in the afternoon; other suggestions include fruit with a protein bar, raw veggies with an ounce of low- or non-fat cheese, small fruit with one ounce of nuts.
• Fill half your dinner plate with colorful fruits and vegetables, raw or cooked.
• Include fish (especially fatty fish such as salmon) in your diet at least twice a week.
• My favorite after dinner indulgence: small serving of dark chocolate with ½ cup berries!
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