By Daphne Baldwin Kornrich MS, RD, CDN
Antioxidants are chemical compounds that protect our body’s cells from free radical damage that can occur from pollution, intense sun exposure, smoking and unhealthy foods. These free radicals can cause havoc to our cells, which may lead to heart disease and cancer. Many foods contain antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, some meat, poultry, fish, red wine and tea.
Phytochemicals, also called phytonutrients, are natural compounds found in plant substances. They have been found to very beneficial in fighting a variety of diseases. Fruits and vegetables provide a variety of phytochemicals. The deeper their color the more abundant the phytochemical content.
The red color in food is a potential cancer fighter. Tomatoes and watermelon are high in the antioxidant lycopene. Berries and pomegranates contain ellagic acid, a phytochemical, which may decrease cancer risk by countering the harmful effects of smoking, processed foods and barbequed meats. We have all heard “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and it’s true that apples, along with, cherries, strawberries and raspberries are loaded with anthocyanins. Red and purples grapes are loaded with resveratrol, which can decrease heart disease, dementia, and stroke risk. Don’t forget the beets – these contain betalins a group of phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties.
The yellow and orange fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamin A, a precursor to carotenoids which helps support healthy vision. Oranges and yellow peppers are full of lutein and zeoxanthin, helping protect the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration. Keep your eye on the prize and also eat apricots, mangos, butternut squash, papaya, pineapple, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and yellow apples.
Green vegetables such as cabbage and brussel sprouts contain indoles. These phytochemicals may be beneficial in fighting cancer. Glutathione, an antioxidant found in asparagus, spinach and broccoli helps improve our immune system. Green is a go for choosing edamame, collard greens, kale, green pears, green apples lettuce, and zucchini.
Blueberries have the highest concentration of phytochemicals called anthocyanins. Blue, purple and black fruits and vegetables such as blackberries, black currants, eggplant, plums, purple cabbage, prunes and raisins may be beneficial in age-related memory loss, decrease cancer risk, maintaining heart health, and decreasing the incidence of urinary tract infections.
Even garlic and onions contain the phytochemical allicin, which studies have shown helps with enhancing our immune system and help lower cholesterol levels.
All of the above benefits of antioxidants and phytochemicals are plentiful, and we just touched on some of the most researched ones. The best way to increase antioxidants and phytochemicals in our diet is to eat more fruits and vegetables and color your plate!
References: Today’s Dietitian Vol. 13 No. 5 P. 32
Today’s Dietitian Vol. 10 No. 9 P. 50
Daphne Baldwin Kornrich has been a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for the past 30 years, working in a wide variety of clinical and outpatient settings. Daphne currently specializes in Bariatrics and Weight Management.