Antioxidants and the Role They Play in Your Health
by Dawn M. Oakley
Ms. Oakley is Guam's 5 A Day Coordinator and a nutritionist with the Department of Public Health and Social Services. She is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and has a master's degree in public health nutrition
Antioxidants are an unique group of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that help protect against cellular damage caused by free-radicals. Free radicals are created by natural by-products of normal metabolic processes in the body as well as external sources such as; ultraviolet light, alcohol, smog, and metals. Free radicals are compounds that can alter our DNA, protein molecules, enzymes and cells. As a result, the damage may lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and aging. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, and carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein, help protect our healthy cells from damage. Where can antioxidants be found? Simply in the food that we eat. Mangoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cantaloupe, green leafy vegetables, and carrots are an excellent source of B-carotene. Papaya, star fruit, guavas, peppers, sour sop, kiwi fruit, spinach, tomato, and citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, etc) are high in vitamin C. You can find vitamin E in green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, whole grains, seeds, and vegetable oils.
We all have heard that eating fruits and vegetables daily is important to our health, however, the majority of us are not even consuming the minimum amount of 5 servings every day. Therefore, the majority of people are not getting enough nutrients in their everyday diet! Research continues to support that fruits and vegetables are protective against cancer and other chronic diseases - although knowledge is good, ACTION is best.
It may be easier than you think to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. A serving can be as little as half a cup of cut fruit, half a cup of chopped vegetables (cooked or raw) , one cup of raw leafy vegetables, one fourth cup of dried fruit, three quarters cup of vegetable or fruit juice (100%) or a single piece of fruit.
This recipe is an official "5 A Day Recipe" and is a great source of antioxidants.
Sweet Potatoes and Carrots with Orange Sauce
2 cups thinly sliced sweet potatoes (1 large)
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup orange juice
1 tsp orange peel, grated
tsp lemon juice
1 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbs water
2 Tbs slivered almonds or pecan pieces
Boil or steam sweet potatoes and carrots until tender throughout. When they are almost finished cooking remove from heat and set aside. Heat orange juice to boiling in a separate small heavy saucepan. Add the orange peel and lemon juice. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 Tbs water and add to orange mixture stirring constantly until thickened. Remove vegetables from pan and place in serving dish. Drizzle orange sauce over and sprinkle nuts on top. Makes 4 dinner servings.
The best defense is to eat 5 to 9 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables everyday. Remember, the more color on your plate, the more antioxidants and nutrients you are eating! For more information, call Public Health General Nutrition Services at 475-0284.