Eat the Rainbow: Antioxidants to the Rescue!
The vibrant colors of vegetables and fruits indicate antioxidants. “Eat the Rainbow” literally means to take inspiration from the rainbow and consume as many colorful fruits and vegetables as possible because each color group provides different kinds of phytonutrients. There are literally thousands of phytonutrients in these foods that contain powerful antioxidant properties. A single fruit or vegetable usually contains many different phytonutrients, while some even boast dozens of compounds. Consuming fresh vibrant veggies and fruits is the easiest and most bioavailable way to get these amazing body-loving nutrients!
Notice how processed, refined, packaged, and fast foods are commonly bland in color and lack the vibrant rainbow colors that abound in fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and herbs and spices? Veggies and fruits are the most common sources of antioxidants and extremely important for our health, but there are other sources, such as herbs and spices, that are also potent sources of antioxidants, which is why they have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Adding them to our cooking not only adds depth, but also added nutrients! Did you know that simple dried oregano ranks in the top 4 of foods on the ORAC scale (a scale that measures antioxidants in food)? I’ve even read that 1 teaspoon of dried oregano has the nutrient value of a plate of raw spinach. I haven’t confirmed this source, but given oregano’s high ORAC values, this could very well be true! Even if it’s exaggerated, there is no doubt how powerful dried oregano is (but also rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, turmeric, and cloves!).
Additionally, superfoods, such as gojis and acai, are yet another easy and fantastic way to get heaps of benefits in just small doses (usually a tablespoon), which is why they are growing so quickly in popularity! See my page on Superfoods for more information.
ANTIOXIDANTS & FREE RADICALS 101
We hear so much about antioxidants, but what are they and how do they work in the body? "Antioxidants are a special class of micronutrients (the term "micronutrient" means that only miniscule amounts are required to provide essential support for vital metabolic functions). Some antioxidants react directly with oxidized molecules in the cell, while others protect cells by binding to free radicals looking for a partner electron to hook up with." (source: Dr. Andrew Weil)
In the 1950s, Dr. Denham Harman proposed his revolutionary free radical theory of aging and how our body defends itself against these free radicals. Fortunately, our bodies have a unique defense system powered by antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent free radical damage by giving these wild molecules the electron partners they seek. Once the antioxidant joins the free radical, the free radical is neutralized and no longer attempts to join with other cells, thereby lessening overall cellular damage and minimizing oxidative stress. Exposure to sunlight, ingestion of and exposure to toxins, and cigarette smoke all contribute to more oxidative stress, so upping our intake of antioxidants can really keep the balance—in our favor.
“Oxidation" refers to the process in which an atom or molecule loses electrons and while it is an essential part of the conversion of food into energy, it is one of the ways by which free radicals are created—free radicals that ultimately damage or kill cells and cause disease and aging. You know when you cut an apple and it turns brown? That is oxidation. So, anti-oxidants means just that: against oxidation.
Not worried about diseases such as cancer? Perhaps I can appeal to your vanity. You've heard of collagen that gives our skin its youthful suppleness and tone? With respect to skin damage, according to the expert anti-aging dermatologist Dr. Perricone, collagen is especially susceptible to damage from free radicals because it stays in our skin for years and free radicals attack it mercilessly, changing its molecular structure and resulting in skin that looks aged.
NUTRIENTS TRUMP TIME (or at least slow it way down!)
I’ve experienced that the better my daily nutrition is (as well as my skincare products which are simple, natural, and chemical free), the healthier my skin looks. Cell regeneration slows down with age and we will all grow older, but skincare experts like Dr. Perricone have more than thirty years of research behind them that proves a healthy antioxidant rich diet can slow down the aging process and we can grow older not only healthfully, but gracefully. Mature skin can still glow with good health and have a beautiful smooth texture, even with some expression lines that tell the world how many times we’ve laughed or cried!
ANTIOXIDANTS & DETOXING
In addition to fresh food and exercise, a regular practice of detoxification (this will vary for each individual) can help replenish depleted antioxidant stores.
You’ve probably heard of many antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, E, selenium, lutein, lycopene, anthocyanins, resveratrol, catechins, carotenoids, and polyphenols which are all antioxidants found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, but also wine, cacao, and green tea. However, there are some antioxidants, such as coenzyme Q10 and the super important mother of all antioxidants glutathione (GSH), also called the Master Antioxidant, that are made by the body. Unfortunately, modern life's fill of toxins, medications, pollution, infections, and a poor diet all contribute to dramatically depleting our natural GSH stores, leaving the liver—the body’s main detox organ—overworked and weakened.
For critics of detoxing for optimal health, it might be worth considering how rapidly our environment and food have changed in just a couple of generations, while our physiology takes generations to make just one genetic change! According to Dr. Mark Hyman, "We humans evolved in a time before the 80,000 toxic industrial chemicals found in our environment today were introduced into our world, before electromagnetic radiation was everywhere and before we polluted our skies, lakes, rivers, oceans and teeth with mercury and lead.”
So, not only do I eat as many rainbow colored fruits and vegetables that I can each day, I like to reboot my body with a full 21 day detox cleanse every 1 - 2 years, as well as a few shorter one week cleanses in between to help reset and replenish my body. My detox method of choice? The champion of all detoxes is the CLEAN Program developed by Dr. Alejandro Junger. Please visit my Detox Page for more information about my Certified Detox Coaching using this doctor designed method.
Not ready for a detox? No need to go all or nothing! In the meantime, every time you shop at the market, order your food at a restaurant, and cook your food at home, let yourself be inspired by the vibrant colors of the rainbow! Eat better. Feel better.
Here’s to your health and happiness!
Note: As regards supplements, when it comes to antioxidant supplements, more is not necessarily better. I recommend you consult your doctor first and preferably base your supplements on bloodwork. I personally prefer to take in most of my nutrition by eating whole food. I do, however, take doctor recommended supplements: 1500mg Amla (Indian Gooseberry) recommended to me by my Ayurvedic doctor; 5 mg Biotin and 1000mg Omega 3 recommended by my Functional Medicine doctor; and a bilberry & lutein capsule when my eyes tire from too much computer usage.