by Eleni Tzotzis
Antioxidants are in the foods we adore. They naturally make us feel good. Have you held a pint of fresh, perfectly ripe, in-season black raspberries close to your nose to take in their sweet fragrance? Do it once and its’ perfume is indelibly etched in your memory.
Summer is the best time to create new food experiences by indulging in fresh and healthy foods. Foods are at their peak, packed with flavour and bursting with antioxidants.
Why all the hype about antioxidants? Foods rich in antioxidants boost wellness. Meghan Telpner, a certified nutritionist in Toronto explains that ‘antioxidants work to neutralize atoms or groups of atoms known as ‘free radicals’ before they can wreak havoc in areas such as our DNA or cell membranes. In this way, antioxidants are protective against serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Free radicals are constantly being formed from exposure to environmental toxins, physical activity, and even as by products of digestion. We simply cannot help this and this is why antioxidants are so significant for our health and well being.’ But, how do we know which foods are antioxidant-rich? The ORAC Scale (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), developed by the National Institute of Aging (the National Institutes of Health), is a scientific measurement revealing antioxidant capacity in foods. ORAC values can take the guess work out of knowing which foods we should be consuming for maximum antioxidant power.
That’s all good, but most of us aren’t thinking of science when we’re hungry. A simpler approach is to let colour be our guide. Next time you go to the market, why not try to choose a variety of fresh whole foods, preferably organic, from these colour groups?
Black or purple: Blueberries (especially the ‘wild’ variety), black raspberries, blackberries, black currants, black plums, black cherries, purple cabbage and eggplants all contain anthocyanins, known to fight cancer, inflammation and diabetes.
Deep or Bright Red: Tomatoes and watermelon are abundant in lycopene, an antioxidant known to fight heart disease and some cancers. Beets are full of anthocyanins, one of the most powerful antioxidants. The humble strawberry is also rich in a variety of flavonoids, while red raspberries contain significant amounts of polyphenols.
Orange and Yellow: Summer squash such as yellow crookneck and zucchini are both good sources or lutein and zeaxathin, carotenoids that prevent vision loss. The simple orange carrot contains both beta-carotene and alpha-carotene (the deeper the orange, the more beta-carotene). In the fall, try pumpkin for your dose of alpha and beta carotenes along with lutein, and sweet potatoes for carotenes and anthocyanins.
Green: Artichokes, asparagus, and broccoli along with most leafy greens are great sources of glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant naturally made in the liver and is responsible for removing toxins in the liver and ensuring correct antioxidant function. Spinach, collard greens, and kale have antioxidant properties that keep our eyes healthy.
Okay, so now we how to combat the bad guy ‘free radicals and how to choose antioxidant rich foods. But how do we create indulgent food experiences bursting with antioxidants?
Why not give these yummy ideas a try?
• If you’re craving something refreshing, how about a mouth-watering watermelon salad? Simply cube or slice red (seedless) watermelon and top it with crumbled feta, shreds of fresh basil and toasted pine nuts. Finish it with a very light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Delightful!
• For a starter or as part of a light lunch, indulge in a beautiful tomato salad. Start by slicing or if you prefer, half or quarter tomatoes of various sizes and colours (heirloom tomatoes wonderful and come in bright pink-red, dark red, orange, yellow); next, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, add a dash of good quality balsamic vinegar, fresh sea salt and a crack of black pepper; finally top with fresh mozzarella (buffalo is good), and garnish with torn fresh basil leaves. Irresistible!
• As a summer side dish, or as a flavour boost in sandwiches or whole-grain pasta, halve or quarter sweet peppers (red shepherds are nice, but if unavailable, use bell peppers, red, orange and yellow varieties), grill until caramelized or very browned. Dress simply with very good, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Enjoy!
• For your next lazy Sunday morning indulgence, try this luscious blueberry topping for whole-grain French toast: in a medium to large skillet, gently heat 2 cups of fresh blueberries with 2-3 TBSP’s of water over medium heat. As berries become warm, they release their natural flavour and juices. Bring to a boil and sweeten with 1-2 TBSP’s of raw agave or maple syrup, if desired. Amazingly good!
So what are you waiting for? Run to your market. Get your hands on some beautiful in-season antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, and create your own colourful food experience!
Eleni Tzotzis is a writer and consultant whose love affair with food was passed on to her at a very young age by her father, a former chef at a Toronto hotel. Watch for her stories in future issues of Travel to Wellness and connect with her at email@example.com