A recent assignment in my Antioxidants course offered me a great opportunity: To conduct a review of my diet for a week and then list and analyze the antioxidants.
I saw this as a win-win, as I will learn something AND I can share it with all of my customers who also enjoy HealthSavor meals!
I conducted a 7-day analysis of fruits and vegetables consumed. All meals were provided by HealthSavor and included 5-7 fresh vegetables per day, lean proteins, high polyunsaturated fat, as well as grain and sugar free options to choose from at any time. The 7-day analysis was performed on a random week at HealthSavor.
The fresh fruits and vegetables that myself and our customers consumed on this particular week, their antioxidants, and their function along with potential disease prevention and management properties of the antioxidants consumed are classified by color below.
The list represents but a fraction of antioxidants and phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Their functions and mechanisms are even more numerous. So, for the sake of brevity, here is an introduction to dietary antioxidants using real-time analysis and review. A brief discussion on intake and analysis of this particular week’s dietary habits concludes.
I hope it will peak your interest and general desire to know more!
First things first: A Crash Course
Antioxidants are substances found mostly in unprocessed foods that help slow down the process of oxidation by donating an electron to a free radical.
Free Radicals are atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons. Electrons normally exist in pairs in specific orbitals in atoms or molecules. Free radicals are usually unstable and will essentially steal an electron from a healthy cell in order to become “complete” again. This causes a domino effect of cell damage and inflammation, and has been implicated in numerous pathological chain-reactions.
Oxidation is the loss of electrons or an increase in oxidation state by a molecule, atom, or ion. It is the operating term for a cell who has lost an electron to the free radical thief. The antioxidant steps in and donates the electron to the free radical, so that it doesn’t need to steal one from a healthy cell. Pretty cool, eh?
Antioxidants are found in higher concentrations in certain foods, particularly richly colored fruits and vegetables. They are a very important factor in the power of fresh fruits and vegetables in disease prevention, recovery, and general health.
Once in the bloodstream, they circulate, awaiting contact with a free radical. Free radicals are molecules which are unstable and dangerous because they are missing an electron, and will steal one from any cell nearby, causing damage to your cells, tissues, and DNA.
Antioxidants are a crucial part of your diet because they donate their electron to the free radical, essentially stepping in front of the bullet for any surrounding cells.
Free radical damage, referred to as oxidation, happens when free radical accumulation exceeds available antioxidants. We must keep in mind that free radical formation is a constant and completely normal by-product of metabolism. That’s why they are called anti-oxidants. They keep each other in balance. Well… that is how nature intended it, anyway.
Consider the many contaminants, such as car exhaust, sunlight, unhealthy foods, STRESS and air pollution, that you’re exposed to during a typical day. These types of exposures can cause free radicals to gain speed in your body, leading to oxidative stress, which can damage anything in its path and leave you at greater risk of chronic conditions. Numerous studies show significant oxidative stress in patients with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more. We are exposed now more than ever, and extra care should be taken to ensure adequate dietary antioxidant intake.
Think about slicing an apple. Before you know it, the exposed flesh turns from white to brown. This browning occurs because of oxidation. But adding orange juice or lemon juice to the apple right after you slice it keeps it whiter longer because the antioxidant vitamin C in the juice protects the flesh. Vitamin C essentially does the same thing in the body and protects YOUR cells, too.
The following information is intended to educate anyone who happens to stop by, and also as a high five to our customers who enjoy this diet weekly! This is true health insurance.
Broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and green beans.
Green is a top priority for human nutrition. Green vegetables have to offer so much more than vitamin A and fiber. Indoles, flavonoids, carotenoids, and lutein are some phytonutrients with amazing functions, and each is an entry on their own. Many people would be surprised, however, to discover that broccoli and Brussels sprouts stand out among most commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables with a most concentrated source of vitamin C. It is a pillar in the antioxidant network.
The ability of Vitamin C to donate electrons to quench free radicals and also regenerate spent Vitamin E back to antioxidant form after quenching a free radical is how it can help prevent oxidative damage of pancreatic beta cells which can lead to diabetic symptoms, prevent formation of carcinogenic substances that trigger cancer, and support the whole antioxidant network in decreasing overall oxidative stress on cells.
“Vitamin C can provide longer-term support of oxygen metabolism in the body if it is accompanied by flavonoids which allow it to recycle. Broccoli, as well as Brussels sprouts, provide many of these flavonoids in significant amounts, including the flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin. The carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene are also concentrated in broccoli, as well as kale. These carotenoids function as key antioxidants in concert with vitamin C and on their own.
Vitamin E and the minerals manganese and zinc are other antioxidants provided by broccoli in beneficial amounts . . . The ability of these nutrients to support oxygen metabolism and to avoid excess formation of overly reactive, oxygen-containing molecules makes them equally helpful in lowering the risk of chronic inflammation and the risk of cancer” (Mandel, 2012).
Red bell peppers, chilies, beets, and tomatoes
Richly colored red vegetables not only add beautiful color contrast to foods, they contain vitamin C and also provide a mixture of carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols.
A direct link between polyphenols and tumorigenesis was documented in one study on polyphenols and inflammation. “A considerable amount of evidence indicates that tumorigenesis is associated with inflammation. Nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B), a master regulator of infection and inflammation, has been identified as a key modulator in which inflammation could develop into cancer. Dietary polyphenols have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer activity partially through inhibition of NF-kappa B activation” (W. Guo, 2009).
We can zoom out a bit and see direct antioxidant benefits in our cooking as well. Another study tested the antioxidant properties of 4 different colored peppers on cholesterol and DHA (pre-formed omega 3).
“All 4 colored peppers exhibited significant abilities in preventing the oxidation of cholesterol or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (C22:6) during heating. The green pepper showed slightly higher capability in preventing the oxidation of DHA compared to the other 3 peppers” (T. Sun, 2007).
This study is a reminder that antioxidants protect everything from the plant itself, to its digestion, and ultimately in our bloodstream. One study, in conclusion, offered a plea that couldn’t be more pertinent to current nutrition science by stating that it is “ . . . essential that compositional studies in plant food be carried out to take into account various factors such as cultivars, seasons, and pre/post harvest conditions that may affect the chemical composition of foods” (Muhammed Nadeem, 2011).
Lemons, yellow bell peppers, acorn squash
Since I tend to avoid foods that are high in sugars, I did not get any pineapple or papaya in my diet this week, but I used lemon juice heavily, as well as bell peppers, which takes us back once again to Vitamin C. What more is there to be said that I did not already cover, well, plenty!
Let’s not forget that vitamin C is protective in its interaction with vitamin E by regenerating its capacity, and that it acts as a free radical scavenger in the watery parts of cells, making it crucial to overall wellness and disease prevention. What else does it do?
“Vitamin C also acts as cofactor for enzymes involved in collagen hydroxylation, biosynthesis of carnitine and norepinephrine, tyrosine metabolism, and amidation of peptide hormones” (N. Kamodyova, 2013).
The same study also noted that plasma levels of vitamin C tend to be lowered in chronic or acute oxidant states.
“Our results have shown that vitamin C supplementation led to significantly decreased carbonyl stress and increased antioxidant status . . . Orally administered vitamin C led to decreased 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine, improved glutathione ratio, and decreased expression of IL1α and IL1β in experimental rat periodontitis model” (N. Kamodyova, 2013).
Purple cabbage, blueberries, red wine and Forbidden Rice
I’ve incorporated cabbage into my diet weekly after learning about its beneficial effects on digestive health, and its ability to improve glycogen stores (energy) in muscles. Of course, there is plenty of vitamin A, fiber, minerals, and a good amount of b-vitamins, which are harder to come by in the vegetable world.
A dietary rule of thumb is to strive to eat all colors of the rainbow every day, and purple is often overlooked. If the general public were aware of anthocyanins, and the amazing properties of phytonutrients in general, our plates would quickly become a lot more colorful.
… and rightfully so, as the beautiful, rich color of purple cabbage can be attributed to its rich concentration of anthocyanin polyphenols. “Over 300 structurally distinct anthocyanins have been identified in nature. Anthocyanins are one class of flavonoid compounds, which are widely distributed plant polyphenols. Interest in anthocyanin pigments continues to intensify because of their health benefits as dietary antioxidants, as an anti-inflammatory, and their potentially protective, preventative, and therapeutic roles in a number of human diseases. A recent study showed that a 100 gram (about 3 ounces) serving of raw red cabbage delivers 196.5 milligrams of polyphenols, of which 28.3 milligrams are anthocyanins” (Wrolstad, 2014).
Anthocyanins have also been shown to prevent neurological diseases, as oxidative stress from normal functions of mitochondria, if not countered, factor into the pathology of many neurodegenerative diseases. One study investigated anthocyanins for their neuroprotective effects. The anthocyanins callistephin and kuromanin were used.
“The anthocyanins demonstrated significant protection from MOS-induced apoptosis . . . Inhibition of Bcl-2 caused a significant reduction of mitochondrial GSH which was prevented by the anthocyanins . . . inhibited iron-induced lipid peroxidation in rat brain homogenates and prevented cardiolipin oxidation. These data show that anthocyanins suppress MOS-induced apoptosis by preserving mitochondrial GSH and inhibiting cardiolipin oxidation and mitochondrial fragmentation. These nutraceutical antioxidants warrant further study as potential therapeutic agents for neurodegenerative diseases caused by MOS” (Kelsey, 2011).
Onions, zucchini, cauliflower, garlic
There is plenty to love about onions, zucchini, cauliflower, and garlic. Cauliflower is cruciferous, and offers many of the same powerful benefits of broccoli, zucchini is a great source of fiber and minerals, while onions and particularly garlic have been extensively studied for antibiotic, antiparasitic, and antithrombotic properties. When speaking specifically of antioxidants, however, the darker and richer colored fruits and vegetables win the day. They are, however, a great source of flavonoids worth mentioning.
The skin and peeling of many fruits and vegetables are understandably discarded, but one study showed that we should be conservative during prep and avoid over-peeling. “Even a small amount of over-peeling can result in unwanted loss of flavonoids. For example, a red onion can lose about 20% of its quercetin and almost 75% of its anthocyanins if it is over-peeled.
The total polyphenol content of onion is not only higher than its fellow allium vegetables, garlic and leeks, but also higher than tomatoes, carrots, and red bell pepper. On an ounce-for-ounce basis, onions rank in the top 10 of commonly eaten vegetables in their quercetin content.
When onions are simmered to make soup, their quercetin does not get degraded. It simply gets transferred into the water part of the soup. By using a low-heat method for preparing onion soup, you can preserve the health benefits of onion that are associated with this key flavonoid.
When we get quercetin by eating an onion-rather than consuming the quercetin in purified, supplement form-we may end up getting better protection from oxidative stress. That’s exactly what happened in an animal study where some animals had yellow onion added to their diet in a way that would provide the same amount of quercetin provided to other animals in the form of purified quercetin extracts. The best protection came from the onion version of this flavonoid, rather than the supplement form” (Slimestad, 2007).
“Diabetic nephropathy is one of the major causes of end-stage renal disease in diabetic patients. Increasing evidence from studies in the rodents has suggested that this disease is associated with increased oxidative stress due to hyperglycemia. In one study, the renoprotective, anti-oxidative and anti-apoptotic effects of the flavonoid quercetin was investigated. Quercetin treatment caused a reduction in polyuria (~45%) and glycemia (~35%), abolished the hypertriglyceridemia and had significant effects on renal function including, decreased proteinuria and high plasma levels of uric acid, urea and creatinine, which were accompanied by beneficial effects on the structural changes of the kidney including glomerulosclerosis. Flow cytometry showed a decrease in oxidative stress and apoptosis in DN mice” (Gomes, 2014).
Even though white colored vegetables have less variety of antioxidants, we can still see remarkable benefits.
Butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and orange bell peppers
When one picks out orange vegetables, they can almost universal guarantee a healthy dose of Vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and other carotenoids such as lycopene.
People who eat very-low-fat diets and who limit their consumption of dark green and deep orange vegetables, and those who experience fat malabsorption from conditions like celiac disease or infectious hepatitis can also become deficient in vitamin A. A zinc deficiency can also trigger a vitamin A deficiency by making it difficult to use the body’s own stores of the vitamin.
An early warning sign of vitamin A deficiency is the inability to see well in the dark, a condition called night blindness. If the deficiency is not corrected, the outer layers of the eyes become dry, thickened, and cloudy, eventually leading to blindness if left untreated.
Vitamin A deficiency also causes dry and rough skin, making it take on a kind of “goose flesh” appearance. In addition, one can become more susceptible to infectious diseases. That’s because a lack of vitamin A damages the lining of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, so they can’t act as effective barriers against bacteria. Infections of the vagina and the urinary tract are also more likely. Lycopene is a carotenoid well documented in its ability to protect against prostate cancer.
Overall intake balance and frequency is in good standing with recommendations for 5-7 servings of vegetables per day. Diet exceeds American Diabetic Association standards. There is an opportunity for improvement with low-glycemic fruits, particularly berries, to provide additional dietary antioxidant support.
The color yellow appears to be slightly under-represented as well, and vegetables such as yellow beets, yellow kiwi, and moderate portion of pineapple could improve overall color balance ratio, although no authoritative guideline exists on quantity of specifically yellow foods to consume.
I will be including more berries, yellow fruits and vegetables such as yellow beets, and a white root vegetable such as parsnip or rutabaga in future HealthSavor recipes.
The berries will be used as a snack in between meals only, as fruit digests much more quickly and at a significantly different pH than other foods. My goal will be one serving (handful) of berries daily.
Yellow beets and root vegetables will easily be added to soups and roasted veggie side dishes I use often.
This exercise articulates and reflects my commitment to creating the most well-rounded, micronutrient dense recipes possible. By discovering opportunities for improvement, no matter how small, we serve to improve knowledge and overall health, which knows no boundaries.
One of the most exciting aspects of nutrition science is that we will most likely never know everything. As we look for smaller things, we always find them. First it was vitamins and minerals, then pH levels, then enzymes and antioxidants, of which there are thousands of each, and now we are only beginning to realize the potential of the thousands of phytonutrients. And THEN we get into genetics. But that’s a topic for a later date
Gomes, e. a. (2014, 12). Renoprotective, anti-oxidative and anti-apoptotic effects of oral low-dose quercetin in the C57BL/6J model of diabetic nephropathy. Lipids Health Dis.
Guo, E. K. (2009). Dietary polyphenols, inflammation, and cancer. Nutrition and Cancer .
Kelsey, H. W. (2011). Neuroprotective effects of anthocyanins on apoptosis induced by mitochondrial oxidative stress. Nutritional Neuroscience , 249-259.
Mandel, H. (2012, 1 2). Broccoli has great antioxidant benefits. Retrieved 12 13, 2014, from The Examiner: http://www.examiner.com/article/broccoli-has-great-antioxidant-benefits
Muhammed Nadeem, F. M. (2011). Antioxidant Potential of Bell Pepper (Capsicum annum L.)-A review. Pakistan Journal of Food Sciences .
Kamodyova, L. T. (2013). Salivary Markers of Oxidative Stress and Antioxidant Status: Influence of external factors. Disease Markers , 313-321.
Slimestad, F. V. (2007, Nov 13). Onions: a source of unique dietary flavonoids. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry .
Sun, Z. X. (2007). Antioxidant activities of different colored sweet bell peppers (Capsicum annuum L.). Louisiana State University, Agricultural Center, Department of Food Science. Baton Rouge: Journal of Food Science.
Wrolstad, R. (2014). Winter foods to boost antioxidants. Retrieved 2014, from Eating Well: http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information /winter_foods_to_boost_antioxidants
About Chef Brandon
Chef Brandon Schlunt is co-owner of HealthSavor, a Cincinnati Ohio based healthy, organic, gluten-free meal delivery service, created to help busy families, individuals and children eat nutritious meals easily and affordably. Chef Brandon focuses on helping his customers lose weight, lower their blood sugar and feels very honored to have earned the trust of many doctors, students, parents, athletes, and on-the-go businessmen and women all over the city. Knowing the importance of balance, Chef B makes time to enjoy music, hanging out with his daughter, fiance, and two rescue dogs, and continuing his education in nutrition science/culinary chemistry.Join The HealthSavor Newsletter Here ORDER TODAY!