For many years there has been a lot of hype about antioxidants. Thanks to the media and health discussion, a lot of awareness has been generated about these important compounds and their role in our health. Antioxidants are touted as having multiple health benefits ranging from disease prevention to fighting off premature aging.
What Are Antioxidants?
“Antioxidants,” as the name suggests, act against the process of oxidation in our bodies. Normal tasks such as breathing, digestion, exercise, and so forth generate byproducts called free radicals. These free radicals have an important job; they scavenge for dead cells and eliminate them from our bodies. However, there is the possibility that free radicals will take on healthy cells and damage them. This is called free radical damage, or oxidative damage. Free radical damage is implicated in many disease conditions such as heart problems, cancer, diabetes, premature aging and many more. Our bodies have their own antioxidant defense system to combat the excess free radicals, but it also takes the help of dietary antioxidants to effectively neutralize free radical damage.
The generation of free radicals increases by:
• Excess consumption of processed or refined foods
• Increased consumption of meat and other animal products
• Decreased consumption of natural foods
• Strenuous exercise
Sources of Dietary Antioxidants
Antioxidants are not exclusive to exotic fruits and expensive dietary supplements, you can find these compounds in most of the natural and wholesome foods that you stock in the kitchen. There is no better way to include antioxidants everyday in our diet than through simple recipes. Here are some surprising nutrient-dense foods sitting right in your pantry that are super-rich in a spectrum of antioxidants:
Oats: Oats are often praised for their soluble fiber content, but their antioxidant profile is barely ever mentioned. They are good source of more than 20 unique polyphenols, avenanthramides that show strong antioxidant effect. They are also well-known for their beta-glucan content which show heart protective benefits. These polyphenolic compounds are anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, exhibit anti-itching effects, and are suggested to have protective effect against skin irritation, colon cancer and heart diseases.
Nuts: Nuts are unique in that they pack in all the major nutrients as well as micronutrients, including beneficial antioxidants, inside their crunchy structure. Nuts are considered one of the best plant sources with a high content of total antioxidants. Walnuts, for instance, contain more than 20 mmol antioxidants per 100 grams, and they rank first among all other nuts for their antioxidant components.
Cinnamon: The compound cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon is a potent antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. Laboratory animal studies have shown that cinnamon aids in increasing the activity of the body's own antioxidant enzyme system.
Beans and lentils: Chick peas, fava beans, black beans, kidney beans and lentils are known to be power houses of antioxidants. A study published by the Journal of Food Science, it was found that lentils and black beans are among the top antioxidant containing legumes. They are rich sources of anthocyanin which is a powerful flavonoid compound commonly found in blueberries. When choosing lentils, avoid canned lentils as the processing of canned foods destroys important phytonutrients.
Seeds: Seeds are densely packed with many beneficial compounds. A handful of sunflower seeds provides an excellent antioxidant punch comprising of chlorogenic compounds, tocohpehrols, caffeic acd, ferulic, myricetin and rutin compounds. Sesame seeds contain the antioxidants sesamolinol and sesamino that bolster our body's antioxidant defense. Chia seeds provide quercetin, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acids that exhibit anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effect in many studies.
Herbs: Herbs are another excellent way to add antioxidants to our every day meals. In a study that analyzed the antioxidant capacity of 425 spices and herbs, the following culinary herbs topped the antioxidant list: about a gram (approximately ½ teaspoon) of cloves will provide more antioxidants than consuming ½ cup of blueberries or cranberries; about ½ teaspoon of oregano contains the same amount of antioxidants as ½ cup of sweet potatoes. The authors of the study suggested that spices such as cloves, oregano, allspice, sage, thyme etc added in fresh and dried form to dishes contribute to significant antioxidant activity.
Nature provides a bounty of life protecting antioxidants, and there is incresing evidence that while on a plant-based diet, it is easier to boost our antioxidant content in our meals. However, the effect can be augmented only when we consume a diverse range of plant foods. A heart warming lentil soup, a simple brown rice pilaf cooked with spices and herbs, a quick breakfast with oats topped with a variety of nuts and seeds, or a calming herbal tea can do the trick of including a spectrum of antioxidants. It is encouraging to see that we have all our antioxidant tools right in our kitchens to help us combat diseases, fight off premature aging, and boost our immune systems.
So next time you decide to pick that expensive, hyped antioxidant supplement, take a moment to peek into your pantry. It will certainly save you money and is also the best place to get your antioxidants, instead of from your medicine cabinet or a pharmacy shelf.
Basic Lentil Soup
4 Tbsp. Love Raw Foods™ red lentils
a pinch of dried oregano
a pinch of dried rosemary
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 tomato, chopped
water, as needed
1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped spinach/kale, optional
¼ tsp. turmeric powder, optional (the curcumin in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agent.)
*There are no hard and fast rules, this is just a basic recipe you can scale up more antioxidant ingredients, the key is to include a variety and a spectrum of antioxidants for maximum benefits.
In a medium saucepan, cook the lentils with enough water, cover and cook for 10 minutes while still boiling.
In another saucepan saute the onions, garlic, tomatoes and carrot until softened.
Add in the vegetable mixture and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
Once the soup thickens, add the herbs, salt and pepper, if need be add more water if the soup turns too thick.