Rainbow Warriors

The other day a story in the NY Times reported that despite 20 years of effort by public institutions and media, only a small percentage of Americans are eating the recommended daily dietary allowance of fruits and vegetables. That's too bad for all of us - for ourselves, family, friends, and the U.S. economy.

I used to be one of the majority, preferring pizza over kale or apples. Now I prefer kale or apples. My conversion wasn't an easy one at first. It took study to get this TOJ's brain to grasp how important these foods are, and experimentation to discover how good they can taste.

Our bodies are things of wonder, but, like all biological systems, vulnerable and imperfect. Case in point, the process of oxidation which can cause free radicals (aka reactive oxygen species). Oxidation results from several internal and external causes. The primary one is when the billions of cells in your body convert oxygen and calories into energy. A waste product of this process is damaged molecules lacking electrons which then go on the hunt throughout your body to steal electrons from other molecules. The molecules being robbed might be DNA or a fat membrane that protects every cell in your body.

Medical researchers suspect that free radicals are the root cause of several serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart and vascular disease, and Alzheimer's. They also think they are behind a range of vague complaints like fatigue and sore joints.

Your body constantly produces antioxidants, like glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase, to neutralize free radicals. However, the body-produced antioxidants can be overwhelmed by free radicals, especially when oxidation is too prevalent in your body.

Free radicals are not produced just by energy conversion, but also result from environmental toxins (air and water pollution), too much sun exposure, and -- note this -- over-eating, especially poor foods with sugar and hydrogenated fats, and drinking too much alcohol. And double note this: you can also cause a rapid rise in free radicals by over-exercising. Much oxidation is self-inflicted.

Years ago, researchers noticed that primitive societies where people eat more fruits and vegetables have fewer diseases of civilization, i.e., diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This discovery, coupled with the profit motive, soon lead to the rise of the supplement industry. Vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene are anti-oxidants, as are minerals like copper, zinc, and selenium. All of us aware of the problems caused by free radicals have gobbled them up.

However, when it comes to manufactured supplements recent studies have show disappointing results. Supplements have not been proven to lower morbidity, prevent heart disease, or reverse many other disease states as claimed on labels. Increasingly, medical professionals and nutritionists suspect that the reason the supplements are not as effective as real food is because real food has thousands of compounds, not just single vitamins or minerals, and it is the compounds that provide the variety to neutralize the equally wide variety of free radicals. These compounds are known as phytonutrients, including flavonoids, phenols, lignans, carotenoids, phytates, isoflavones, sulfides, terpenes, and phytoestrogens. They are found in veggies and fruits of all colors and shapes.

The best defense against free radical damage isn't to buy tons of supplements, but to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables of different colors. Try these Rainbow Warriors against free radicals:
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Green tea
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Cantaloupe
  • Yams
  • Tomatoes
  • Dark Chocolate (70% or more cocoa, not sugary milk chocolate)
To see a more complete listing of antioxidant foods, go here.

A recent study showed that almost all the wage increases in the past decade have gone directly to health care. As the costs of health care have gone up, so have rates of diabetes and heart disease. These diseases are caused by oxidation and inflammation, both of which would decline if people would eat the Rainbow Warriors. The cost of our health care would go down, leaving a few bucks to buy iPads, go to college, or take a vacation.

This ain't rocket science. Even a TOJ can get it. Pass the spinach.

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