Heart-Smart Food Moves

Foods rich in antioxidants may protect the health of your heart. Try these delicious ways to add them to your diet.
My Heart Loves Healthy Foods
Antioxidants. Free radicals. If it sounds like a revolution, well, it is, and it's going on right now inside your body. But it's a revolution for a good cause — your health — and one you are destined to win by tweaking your dietary food choices. Research suggests that adding antioxidants — found in fruits, vegetables and grains — to your diet may help stave off heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Some studies also indicate that antioxidants may delay the onset of many age-related diseases.

Good, and Good For You

How do antioxidants work? In short, they stop free radicals, or oxidants, from traveling through your body and ravaging your cells. Free radicals are molecules created when molecules are oxidized, or lose electorons.

To visualize how an antioxidant protects your cells from the negative effects of free radicals within your body, just think of how certain foods "oxidize" when they hit the air, such as when you peel an apple and it starts to turn brown. Or, how an avocado darkens and changes to an unappetizing color once it's skinned. In the body, oxidation can produce free radicals which can in turn cause the same damage to your cells. Antioxidants protect your cells from this damage.

The main antioxidants are Vitamins E and C, beta-carotene and the trace metal selenium. Your body does not manufacture these nutrients, so they must be added through diet, from foods such as fresh vegetables like kale and spinach; fruits such as blueberries and blackberries; and whole grains including barley, rye and oats.

Increasing your antioxidant intake can be as easy as adding a tomato to your morning omelet, a sweet potato to your dinner or tossing broccoli into your lunchtime salad. Try these nine tasty tips:

1. Add fruit to your morning cereal. Blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries are packed with antioxidants. Not a cereal eater? Whip up a yogurt and milk smoothie and toss in some berries.

2. Follow the rainbow. Rather than use chips to dip into your salsa or hummus, try cherry tomatoes or sliced yellow, red or green peppers.

3. Eat "an apple a day." There's some truth to this old axiom. Apples contain vitamin C and other antioxidants, but be sure to eat the peel, as that's where most of the nutrients are found.

4. Bring on the tomato sauce. Cooking tomatoes slowly releases their antioxidant power, so go ahead and make a sauce. But don't limit your options. Tomato sauce goes well over more than just pasta. It adds a twist to cooked vegetables, vegetarian or meat "burgers", and potatoes.

5. Sip green tea. Tea contains catechins, which are antioxidants. Research shows that green tea has the highest amount of catechins, possibly because it is less processed than black tea. That said, one study showed that steeping either green or black tea for about 5 minutes released over 80 percent of its catechins.

6. Pour some cereal. Fortified cereals and whole grains, especially wheat germ, are rich in Vitamin E. Toss some sliced apricots on top and you're good to go.

7. Say yes to nuts. Vitamin E is also found in nuts and seeds. Reach for a handful of almonds or walnuts rather than a candy bar when your energy dips.

8. Juice it. Squeeze fresh orange juice for a real treat in the morning. Kiwi and strawberries are also rich in Vitamin C, and are easy to snack on.

9. Eat your broccoli. If broccoli isn't your thing, add spinach or green peppers to your salad. Kale and cabbage also pack a punch of Vitamin C.

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