Follow The Rainbow

Hey, it has been a while since I have posted about cancer prevention and healthy living, so here goes…….

When eating for disease prevention, the best health tip that you can follow is to “follow the rainbow”, meaning that you should include as many colorful foods in your diet as possible.  No, I am not telling you to eat bag of Skittles a day, I am referring to nature’s treats, fruits and vegetables!

Nothing looks more appealing than a plateful of richly colored food.  The beautiful colors found in fruits and vegetables are the result of chemicals called anti-oxidants.  While there are tiny amounts of anti-oxidants found in meats and dairy (due to the fact that animals eat plants), by far the vast majority of anti-oxidants are found in plant based foods.  There are many classes of anti-oxidants, such as beta-carotene, which gives squash its yellow color; lypocene, which gives tomatoes their red color; and crytoxanthins, which lend oranges their orange color.  It is not important that you know all these fancy words, but it is important for you to know that you need to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in order to get the health benefits from an array of anti-oxidants.

So why are anti-oxidants important to good health?  Good question!  Throughout our lifetime, our bodies produce a nasty substance called free radicals.  Free radicals are the result of normal metabolism and energy production in the body, and are formed when we exercise.  They are also produced by exposure to the sun’s rays, pollution from the environment, and poor diet, among other things.  These free radicals wreak havoc on the body, causing our tissues to become stiff and rigid.  Eventually, these free radicals will lead to degenerative diseases in the body, such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer.   The good news is, we can help to protect our bodies from the damage of free radicals by building a shield around them so that they are unable to damage the cells in our body.  This protective shield is formed by anti-oxidants.

Our bodies can manufacture some types of antioxidants, but not others, and our natural antioxidant production tends to decline with age.  Fortunately for us, plants are able to produce these anti-oxidant shields which protect their cells from the harmful effects of free radicals, and by eating plants, we get the same protection.  It is impossible to stop our bodies from accumulating free radicals, after all, they are a bi-product of living and breathing.  In addition, pollutants and carcinogens are all around us: in our air, food, water and sunlight. However, we don’t have to do it alone.  By eating more fruits and vegetables we are able to borrow their anti-oxidant super powers, and thereby reduce the aging and disease effects that free radicals cause in our bodies.

So, some of you are thinking, “I am not a big fan of fruits and veggies, so I will just take an anti-oxidant supplement instead.”  Sorry, think again.  When you eat whole foods, you get more than the anti-oxidents. You also get essential vitamins, minerals, and energy in the form of protein, fat and carbohydrates.   Although you can get some types of nutrients through supplements, it is better to get them through food. The nutrients and other components in whole foods are more balanced, more biologically active, and are usually better absorbed by the body, according to a 2009 article by David R. Jacobs, Jr. published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.”  While taking a supplement can do no harm, it is wise not to depend on them as your main source of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.  See how many colors you can incorporate into your meals today!

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