Antioxidants: Are You Eating Enough?

We all know what happens when we slice an apple and leave it out--it turns brown due to oxidation, or the interaction of the molecules in the apple with oxygen, which breaks the apple down. But savvy cooks know that a little lemon juice on the apple slices halts the oxidation process and stops the slices from discoloring, at least for awhile.

What does this have to do with antioxidants and our bodies? Plenty, says registered dietitian Katherine Tallmadge, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Tallmadge likens our aging bodies to browning apples. Our bodies are constantly exposed to unstable, destructive free radicals as a result of taking in oxygen, as well as through smoking, pollution, and the ingestion of certain foods. "These free radicals get into our bodies and attack our cells," Tallmadge says. "They cluster where there's heart disease and tumors." Our best defense? Antioxidants. Just as the antioxidants in a lemon preserve apple slices, antioxidants in fruits and other nutritious foods preserve us. In other words, they slow down the aging process.

That's right-you can potentially halt the appearance of wrinkles and gray hair and some diseases simply by eating the right foods. Here are some of the most important culinary tools to keep you looking and feeling young:

Produce. Consume as many fruits and vegetables as possible, particularly deeply colored ones. Broccoli, kale, spinach, berries, oranges-all will help your body counter the effects of oxidation.

Red wine. Scientists believe that an antioxidant called resveratrol, a substance found in red grapes and grape skins, can help prevent disease and extend life span.

Whole grains. Start your day off right by skipping that processed white bagel and enjoying whole-wheat toast, oatmeal or whole-grain cereal instead.

Tea. Green tea in particular is full of antioxidants. Drink a mug or two (or more!) every afternoon.

Cocoa. While no one's suggesting you start putting away vast quantities of candy, cocoa in small amounts can be beneficial. Look for dark chocolate with a high concentration of pure cocoa and eat it sparingly. One or two truffles as an after-dinner snack, or a mug of hot chocolate with lunch, is ideal. 


Sources: Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D.; Mayo Clinic,