In the beginning there were fruits and vegetables — but what they don’t tell us is that there were also antioxidants. That’s because fruits and vegetables are the number one source of antioxidants for humans and animals alike. Antioxidants are used in the body to attack and neutralize those potentially harmful substances called free radicals. Let’s take a little more in-depth look at these two molecules and how they play a role in our health.
Antioxidants can be found in almost all fruits and vegetables. As long as the food contains Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A (or beta-carotene), selenium, or carotenoids then you are getting a good dose of antioxidants. Free radicals, on the other hand, are molecules looking for an extra oxygen molecule to complete their molecular structure. They want this extra molecule so bad that they’ll steal it from anywhere they can get it, including but not limited to molecules found in the body’s cell walls, cell organelles, and even DNA.
By losing an oxygen molecule, the now incomplete cellular structures have a hard time functioning the way they should. In fact, this is exactly how cancer, heart disease and strokes may actually begin. So, you see, the fact that free radicals are roaming around in our body trying to steal oxygen molecules is not a good thing. Enter in the hero of the story — antioxidants.
Antioxidants wander through our bodies, looking for free radicals. When they find them, the antioxidants actually donate one of their oxygen molecules to the free radicals. Now the free radicals are happy and won’t cause trouble and the antioxidants go on their merry way. Fine and dandy, the relationship seems to work well and everyone is happy. However, the only way the whole process is going to work correctly is by having enough antioxidants to keep up with the demand of the free radicals. So, where do we get these ever so important molecules? In our diet, of course.
As mentioned earlier, antioxidants can be found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The produce that packs the greatest amount of these potent antioxidants are fruits and vegetables with bright, bold colors. Let’s name a few — carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, green, red, orange and yellow peppers, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, spinach, chard…Are you getting the picture? Reds, yellows, oranges, blues, purples, and greens. If they are fresh and bright – eat them, and eat them a lot.
It’s so easy to incorporate antioxidants into the diet. The benefits are too numerous to go into, but consider the impact a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables can make. In addition to aiding in the prevention of cancer, heart disease, strokes, cholesterol problems, and premature aging of the skin, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables will also help you to get enough fiber, vitamins, and minerals in your daily food intake.
A few tips to remind yourself throughout the day as you make choices concerning your food are:
- Push for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Don’t cook your produce too long – you may leach out valuable vitamins and minerals
- Attempt to incorporate different colored fruits and vegetables into every meal and even at snack time
- Center your meals around a particular vegetable and add meats and other carbohydrates as secondary items
- Enjoy every mouthful!
Drinking Tea – the Health Benefits of Tea
Within the past few years there has been a tremendous and confusing outpouring of new information on the latest and greatest tea trends. From Green Tea to White Tea and Black Tea to Oolong Tea – what’s all the hype about? Which one should you be drinking and why? Amazingly, all four of the above mentioned tea varieties come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The difference lies in the part of the Camellia sinensis plant that is used and how it is processed. Let’s take a look at each tea and how it’s made.
The upper leaves of this versatile plant are picked and processed in an assortment of methods to produce Black, Oolong and Green Tea. On the other hand, leaves from the branch tips, and most importantly, the leaf bud and usually the first two leaves under the bud are used in the processing of White Tea. Although the upper leaves can be picked multiple times throughout the year, the leaves used for White Tea can only be harvested in the spring – just one time per year, thus making White Tea trendier commodity – harder to buy and more expensive than the others.
The processing of the leaves is done differently for each tea type. For example, the Black Tea leaves, after being picked, are oxidized thoroughly via an enzymatic process that interacts with the surrounding air oxygen and results in leaves that are a bright copper color (think rust colored). The complete oxidation of the Black Tea leaves gives this tea a strong, full, and robust flavor. Oolong Tea is only partially oxidized and is then dried. The flavor of Oolong Tea is somewhere between the strong Black Tea flavor and more delicate taste of Green and White Teas. For the completion of White and Green Teas, there is no oxidation reactions that occur. Instead, Green Tea leaves are processed for consumption by steaming and/or pan firing. They are then rolled up and left to dry. White Tea leaves are similarly processed with light steaming and are then dried.
Another interesting fact about these four teas is that unless an extra process is added to cause the caffeine to be removed, they all contain approximately the same caffeine content ranging between 25 to 60 mg of caffeine per 6 ounce cup. Coffee usually contains around 100 mg per same serving size.
As for health benefits it has been touted these teas can cure everything from skin blemishes to cancers. But, which cures and treatments have actually been proven scientifically? Well, for starters, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these drinks provide a powerful punch of antioxidants. Science has shown that antioxidants are able to bind and neutralize free radicals in the body, molecules which have been implicated in causing damage to DNA and can therefore lead to premature aging (fine lines and wrinkles), strokes, cholesterol problems and even cancer.
Additionally, these four teas are full of great vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and Vitamins C and K. So, although it may not be the panacea for every malaise, drinking tea can really “do the body good”.