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Seven easy ways to pack in the antioxidants

The deeper the natural pigment, the more antioxidants there are in fruits and vegetables

Last week I was writing this column surrounded by big baskets of chicken wings in the good old US of A.

I was in a JFK sports bar, midway to Orlando. Given that Orlando was the home of the Institute for Functional Medicine conference, I thought my environment was about to get significantly healthier. It did, in many ways but on my first night we went to a Mexican restaurant where the margarita glasses were the size of my face and where “guacamole for two” really could feed 5,000. There was just so much food. Everything was supersized to a degree I’d never seen before. Even the hotel itself was mammoth. It was completely bananas.

Through the doors of the conference, everything was different. Omelettes for breakfast, berries for snacks, trail mix on demand, a steady stream of water. Probiotic freebies, CBD gummies, superfood smoothies, yoghurt massaged by Tibetan monks … OK the latter was not a real thing but I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was optimum nutrition on steroids and it was amazing!

After three days of lectures I had learnt so much. I had also learnt how much I didn’t know. That’s the problem with these things. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know … which is mighty humbling. The trick is not to let that fill you with self-doubt. Just stay open to all the self-improvement.

There were some very reassuring moments though too. Several of the sessions focused on supporting cancer patients during their journey – before, during and after treatment.

While I gained tons of helpful insights, it was nice to know that we are already implementing an integrative/preventive model here in Bermuda that echoes the recommendations for best practice. One of my takeaways though, was a way of describing the role that functional medicine has within cancer care: “Think of cancer as a weed. Modern medicine kills the weed. Functional medicine looks at the soil and makes it inhospitable for the cancer to grow.” I thought that was such a great way of putting it.

When it comes to cancer prevention, one of the most important ways we improve someone’s “soil”, is to pack it full of antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralise oxidative damage in the body – damage triggered by exposure to oxygen over time (that can be accelerated by a number of lifestyle factors such as poor diet and exposure to stress).

The great thing here, is that increasing antioxidants has benefits for everyone. Many cancer patients have trouble with fatigue, so they don’t want to be making separate food for themselves and others in their care. Or they don’t want people caring for them to have to make them something different – and they don’t have to! The same antioxidants that help to prevent cell mutations, invasion or proliferation, are also the antioxidants that help prevent premature ageing, boost skin health, look after your heart and reduce inflammation.

So, while the tips below are certainly tips I pass along to people in the work I do with the Integrative Oncology Programme at Pals, they are helpful for everyone. See how many you can incorporate into your diet over the next few weeks!

Pack your diet full of antioxidants

1, Choose deeply pigmented fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are the most widely recognised source of antioxidants, but some are better than others! Generally speaking, the deeper the natural pigment, the more antioxidants there are. Dark green leaves and veggies, as well as all red/purple berries, are especially antioxidant-rich. However as different colours of antioxidants do different things, it’s a good idea to eat across the colour spectrum!

2, Replace white carbs with colourful carbs

One of the simplest ways to increase your antioxidant intake is to replace a white/brown carb with a naturally colourful one. Instead of crackers with hummus, have carrots. Instead of mashed white potatoes, have sweet potatoes. And who says you have to serve chilli with rice? Try it with roasted butternut squash! Another idea – instead of toast with your scrambled eggs, have a bowl of berries on the side instead.

3, Frozen is fine

Frozen isn’t inferior. In fact, when it comes to nutrient density, frozen is sometimes better than fresh. Frozen berries are easy to add into smoothies, or defrost them overnight and add them to oatmeal. Don’t boil frozen vegetables though, otherwise you risk nutrient loss – instead, steam them in a steamer basket. Using frozen produce often makes the price point more accessible.

4, Add nuts and seed to your diet

Many of us forget (or were never taught) that nuts and seeds can be a good source of antioxidants, especially if they are raw or only very gently roasted. My favourites are almonds for their vitamin E, Brazils for their selenium and pumpkin seeds for their zinc. Add to oatmeal or cereal, use as a snack, or throw them (chopped perhaps!) on a salad for crunch.

5, Use up fresh herbs

How often have you bought cilantro for a Thai dish or guacamole, only to throw away the rest of the bunch a week later? Fresh herbs are an amazing source of antioxidants and are great simply torn into salads, or used as a garnish on top of all sorts of dishes. Don’t let them go to waste! I love fresh basil torn into salads, chopped chives on top of chilli and parsley thrown into pasta salads.

6, Don’t forget dried herbs and spices

Things like paprika, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric are also packed with antioxidants so do use them liberally in your cooking. Turmeric is rich in curcumin, an active ingredient that’s getting lots of attention for its anticancer as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Note that curcumin is best absorbed when heated, alongside fats and in conjunction with black pepper. So you would absorb more curcumin in a curry than you would a juice!

7, Drink your tea (but ditch the milk!)

Green, white, red and even black teas are full of antioxidants. However, some research indicates that dairy-based milks may inhibit the absorption of these valuable nutrients. So your best bet is to drink them without milk. Brew them well and preferably buy loose leaf teas to get the full benefits. Enjoy!

Catherine Burns is a fully qualified clinical nutritionist. She can be contacted at 291-4725, clinicalnutrition@gmail.com, Facebook or Instagram

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Published June 09, 2023 at 7:58 am (Updated June 09, 2023 at 7:08 am)

Seven easy ways to pack in the antioxidants

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