I use the word antioxidants a lot. These little life savers protect your body from head to toe, and have been shown to fend off aging, as well as a wide range of diseases, from heart disease and type 2 diabetes, to cancer and even obesity. But every once in a while, someone stops me and asks, “OK, I know they’re good for you, but just what is an antioxidant anyway?” Great question!
In a nutshell, antioxidants are natural substances in plant foods, tied to the flavor, aroma, color, and even texture (like the crispness of a fresh apple). While fruits, veggies, whole grains and herbs are growing, antioxidants protect them against pests, such as insects, and help them withstand harsh weather conditions.
In our bodies, antioxidants protect healthy cells and keep them healthy by fighting nasty little substances called free radicals, which we all produce as a normal part of metabolism. Free radicals are essentially molecules that have become unstable (think of a chair with three legs). In an attempt to level out, they attack healthy cells (imagine them marching around trying to steal legs from other chairs to stabilize themselves). These attacks damage cells, causing them to not function properly, and leave them susceptible to aging and disease.
We generate more free radicals when we’re under stress, exposed to too much sun, pollution (like cigarette smoke or pesticides) and even when we exercise. By protecting your cells, antioxidants slash the risk of every chronic disease, from heart disease and diabetes to Alzheimer’s and obesity. One recent study found that people with higher antioxidant intakes weigh less and have less body fat, even though they eat the same number of calories.
There are 100 trillion cells in your body (can you believe it?!) and dozens of different types of antioxidants. To get the most head to toe protection, the #1 thing you can do is eat more plant foods. Gobbling up more antioxidants is one of the major strategies in S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Every meal is set up as a puzzle with 5 pieces: produce; a whole grain; lean protein; plant-based fat; and natural seasonings. In every single meal at least 4 of the 5 pieces come from plant foods, which are naturally overflowing with antioxidants. And the book contains many 5 out of 5 vegan meals, which include beans, lentils or tofu as the lean protein, such as Mediterranean Lentils Over CousCous or Black Bean Tacos with Cilantro Jalapeno Guacamole, which even meat lovers have raved about.
We’re constantly learning about nutrition, but right now antioxidants are one of the star players. Take advantage of them by powering up your plate today!
Fun fact: Did you know that 1 teaspoon of cinnamon packs as many antioxidants as a half-cup of blueberries? I sprinkle some into my coffee every morning.