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Not to date myself but I grew up hearing the phrase, “An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!” lt’s a phrase that dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. (No, l’m not that old but if I was then you would really pay attention to what I have to say about slowing down the aging process!)

Well, it looks like that old saying is right. An apple a day will do more than just keep the doctor away. Recent research shows that an apple a day could also reduce the risk of breast, lung and prostate cancer, significantly cut heart disease risk, protect against Alzheimer’s disease, prevent osteoporosis, improve memory and learning, fight the damaging effect of “bad” LDL cholesterol, improve lung function, aid digestion, and reduce the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in smokers.

Quite a list of health benefits from a piece of fruit that is readily available in most grocery stores. The key is not to peel off the skin. That is where most of the antioxidant benefits are found. But, as good as the apple is, there are more choices than ever in consuming a diet rich in even more powerful antioxidant rich foods. So, move over Mr. Apple to make way for these disease fighters!

What are antioxidants and what do they do?

Antioxidants protect living tissue from free radical damage. What antioxidants do is shuffle energy, or electrons. They keep energy flowing in a way that prevents damage to the cells and tissue. 

Think of them as participants in a game of hot potato. In the real game, the object is to pass the potato very quickly from person to person so that no one’s hands get burned. Everything works just fine as long as the hot potato keeps moving from person to person. It’s the same with antioxidants. The circle of antioxidants must be large and unbroken, so that no single antioxidant is called on to touch the potato too often. Of course, the potato must also be kept moving at all times. 

What are free radicals?

Oxygen free radicals (or free radicals) are highly reactive and unstable molecular fragments with unpaired electrons that interact rapidly and aggressively with other molecules in the body to create abnormal cells. Although free radicals are normal by-products of cellular metabolism, if allowed to accumulate, they can have devastating effects on cells. They can penetrate into the DNA of a cell and change its “blueprint” so that it now produces maverick cells. This is known as oxidative damage.

How does the body make free radicals?

Free radicals are released in the body from the breaking down or detoxification of many chemical compounds, such as petrochemicals (in drugs, artificial food colouring, smog, etc.) preservatives in process meats (eg. nitrates, nitrites), exhaust fumes, cleaning fluids, unsaturated and rancid fats, alcohol, tobacco smoke, chlorinated drinking water, heavy metals and radiation. One free radical hazard is generated internally: during constipation, renegade chemicals are released into the colon and bloodstream.

How does the body react to the presence of free radicals?

White blood cells use free radicals in a controlled way, to kill invading bacteria and virus-infected cells. The liver also uses free radicals to detoxify harmful chemicals. Others are involved in producing energy, hormones and activating enzymes. 

Outside this regulated environment, however, free radicals destroy cellular membranes, enzymes and genetic material. 

They are believed to accelerate aging and contribute to the development of arterial and heart disease, brain-related disease, diabetes, cancer and cataracts. They can damage collagen (in skin and connective tissue) and cause loss of elasticity. Wrinkled skin, stiff joints and high blood pressure are the result of this process of deterioration.

Antioxidant Nutrients and Herbs

Vitamin C – citrus fruits, papaya, cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, asparagus, parsley, dark leafy greens, cabbage, sprouted gains, beans, seeds

Vitamin E – whole grains, nuts, seeds

NADH (a bioactive form of vitamin B3, or niacin) – liver and organ meats, poultry, fish, peanuts, tuna, salmon, halibut, dried beans and peas, wheat germ, whole grains, avocados, milk, eggs (because of tryptophan. Niacin also made by conversion of the amino acid tryptophan).

Selenium – Brazil nuts, Brewer’s yeast, broccoli, brown rice, chicken, dairy, dulse, garlic, kelp, liver molasses, onions, salmon, seafood, tuna, vegetables, whole grains, some herbs

Sulfur – Brussels sprouts, dried beans, cabbage, eggs, fish, garlic, kale, meats, onion, soybeans, turnips, wheat germ

Carotenoids – group of phytochemicals – there are more than 600 fully identified carotenoids – the six best-researched are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin

Found in yellow, red, green and orange vegetables and fruits (eg. tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, corn, sweet potatoes, kale)

About 50 carotenoids can be converted to vitamin A in the body. Body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A as needed. Any leftover beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant.

Flavonoids – chemical compounds found in plants and used by plant to protect from parasites, bacteria and cell injury (quercetin, herperidin, rutin, etc. most well known, but there are more than 4,000 chemically unique ones known). Found in fruits, vegetables, spices, seeds, nuts, flowers and bark. Almonds, apples, broccoli, citrus fruits, tea, tomatoes, onion, soybeans, red wine.

Glutathione (produced in the liver) and N-acetylcysteine (NAC)-tripeptide made from 3 amino acids

Lipoic acid (or alpha lipoic acid) – spinach, broccoli, potatoes, brewer’s yeast, organ meats 

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) – controversial – used as a preservative and is on FDA’s Generally Regarded as Safe list

Coenzyme Q10(CoQ10) – made by body and obtained in foods (mainly mackeral, salmon, sardines, organ meats, and to a lesser extent in germs of whole grains 

Carnosine (dietary sources : beef, chicken)

Catalase – metabolic enzyme made by the body

Glutathione peroxidase (enzyme, needs selenium and B3)

Superoxide dismutase (SOD) – metabolic enzyme made by the body

A Checklist of Antioxidant Rich Foods

Bilberry – British pilots during World War ll ate bilberries before night flights to support their vision. Plus, it promotes healthy cholesterol levels and can be an anti-inflammatory agent.

Bing Cherries – According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a cup of Bing cherries has more antioxidants than 3 ounces of almonds. At only 90 calories a cup, they may also prevent the risk of inflammatory diseases like arthritis, as well as reduce the risk for heart disease and cancer.

Blueberry – The USDA Human Nutrition Center ranked blueberries as the No. 1 antioxidant over 40 fruits and vegetables tested. It can slow age-related mental loss, promote cardiovascular health, and improve eyesight and memory. Packed with phytoflavinoids and antioxidants, blueberries are also high in potassium and vitamin C.

Brazilian Agai – This blueberry sized berry grows in the Amazon basin and is infused with almost ten times the antioxidants of red grapes. lt contains ten to thirty times the anthocyanins of red wine which may help lower artery-clogging LDL cholesterol levels. Plus, it is an almost perfect essential amino acid complex with valuable trace minerals that are vital to muscular health and repair. This fruit is high in phytosterols which block cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream, help reduce inflammation in arthritis and help control blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Cranberry – Cranberry contains a wide variety of compounds, but proanthocyanidins may be responsible for their beneficial effects on the urinary tract. Born and bred ‘in America, this berry is among the top 10 antioxidant rich foods making it a potent cancer protector. Plus, several studies have shown that regular use of cranberries in the diet improved the health of blood vessels and assisted the body in keeping ecoli from triggering an infection.

Elderberry – Elderberry may stimulate the production of cytokines, compounds that play a role in the immune response system. Plus, it contains a considerable amount of vitamins A, B and C, as well as flavonoids, carotenoids and amino acids.

Guava – This South American fruit ranges in color from yellow to purple black. It is an excellent source of vitamin C with 250% of your RDA per serving. lt also has 26 times more lycopene than a tomato which may help lower your risk for heart disease.

Green Tea – Green tea has the same overall antioxidant power of black tea. However, green tea has an antioxidant not found in black tea. lt is ECGC, a powerful antioxidant that may help reduce cholesterol levels. ln a recent Japanese study, men who drank green tea regularly had lower cholesterol levels than those who didn’t. Researchers in Spain and the United Kingdom have also shown that ECGC can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Kiwifruit – One cup of kiwifruit will provide 20% of your daily fiber needs plus heart-healthy polyphenols and vitamin C. According to Rutgers University, when compared to the 27 most popular fruits, kiwifruit was the most nutritionally dense. Kiwifruit has substantial amounts of vitamin E and more vision saving lutein than any other fruit or vegetable, except for corn.

Lycium  – Also called wolfberry, the Chinese have used lycium for centuries to help strengthen muscles and bone, enhance liver function and help the eyes. It contains a high content of Beta-carotene, vitamins C, A, B1, B2, B6 and E.

Mangosteen – This is a purplish fruit from Southeast Asia and is an excellent source of xanthenes; compounds that have the potential to reduce inflammation which can be a risk factor for heart disease.

Oranges – The old standby makes the list because it has the most readily available source of vitamin C. Plus, it is rich in folic acid and fiber.

Passion Fruit – Grown in the United States, Brazil, and New Zealand, this purplish brown fruit is a terrific source of lycopene for heart health.  lt also contains more cancer-fighting polyphenols than mango and grapefruit.

Pomegranate – The total antioxidant activity of pomegranate juice polyphenols was measured three times higher than red wine and green tea. Pomegranates help the body regulate high cholesterol and heart health to support the cardiovascular system as well as neutralize free radicals. Researchers at Pace University discovered that the polyphenol-packed juice of pomegranates can kill the S. mutant’s bacteria, a main cause of cavities. At Loma Linda University mice that drank pomegranate juice experienced 50% less brain degeneration than animals that consumed only sugar water. Israeli researchers found that diabetics who drank approximately 2 ounces of pomegranate juice a day for 3 months kept their bodies from absorbing bad cholesterol into the immune systems cells.

Pumpkin – Pumpkin is loaded with phytonutrients to help keep your skin young and prevent damage from sunlight.

Red Grape & Concord Grape – Together these two fruits bring a spectrum of antioxidant power with high flavonoid content, fiber, vitamin C, anthocyanins, polyphenols, and potassium to promote cardiovascular and eye health, healthy cholesterol levels, displays anti-viral properties, supports proper brain function, and shows promise in reducing the growth of cancer cells.

Red Raspberry – Research has linked the anthocyanins in red raspberries to enhanced vision, circulation, and to slowing the effects of aging. Most of the above foods are fruits. When you look at the potential foods from the vegetable world the list gets even longer with additional nutritional benefits. Foods that are powerful enough to help lower cholesterol, reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer, and positively affect your mood, plus, unlike most drugs, there are no side effects!  

Conclusion

lf you want to positively impact all areas of health and slow down that aging process, then getting to know your produce department is essential. The more colorful your diet of fruits and vegetables, the more antioxidants you will get. Every hue signifies a different class of nutrients.

Here is a general guideline to help you:

Yellow/orange foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, mango, corn, and melon all contain carotenoids which may reduce the risk of cancer.

Green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are high in lutein to help keep your vision sharp. Plus, they all contain chlorophyll which has powerful detoxification properties to assist your liver in cleansing your body.

Blue/Purple foods like Brazilian agai, blueberries and blackberries are full of anthocyanins which prevent tumors from forming and aid in suppressing their growth.

Red foods like tomatoes and watermelon are loaded with lycopene to protect against cancer and heart disease.

White foods like cauliflower, onions, and garlic demonstrate cancer fighting benefits.


So, apples are a good start to keeping the doctor away. But be sure to mix and match the colors of other fruits and vegetables to help create an age-defying eating plan.

ORAC (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity) in foods

Many common foods are good sources of antioxidants. In the list of foods given below, “’rich in antioxidants” usually means at least an ORAC rating of 1000 per 100 g. 

Spices, herbs, essential oils and cocoa are rich in antioxidant properties in the plant itself, and offer us health protective benefits as well as some of our favourite flavours.

Typical spices high in antioxidants are clove, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cumin, parsley, basil, curry powder, mustard seed, ginger, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic, coriander, onion and cardamom. 

Typical herbs are sage, thyme, marjoram, tarragon, peppermint, oregano, savory, basil and dill weed.

Dried fruits are a good source of antioxidants by weight/serving size as the water has been removed making the ratio of antioxidants higher. Typical dried fruits are pears, apples, plums, peaches, raisins, figs and dates. Dried raisins are high in polyphenol count. 


References:

Essential of Human Anatomy & Physiology by Elaine N. Marieb.

Young at any Age, by David Rowland

Staying Healthy with Nutrition, by Elson M. Haas

You Staying Young, by Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen

Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis Balch

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