Do you ever wonder why freshly cut apples turn brown if you leave them sitting on the counter too long, or why spritsing lemon juice on avocado helps it stay green longer, or why some people, as they grow older, maintain a look of youth and vitality? These things are all related to a magical little molecule called the antioxidant.
I once had a professor describe antioxidant in terms of a playground full of kids holding toys, each kid representing a molecule in the body. Now imagine the happy kids enjoying their toys, when along comes a bully (oxygen) who steals the toy away from a kid leaving him crying and alone. The antioxidant is the friendly girl who sees what happened and gives up her own toy to make the crying child happy again. In this way, antioxidants are a precious and altruistic ally to the molecules of our bodies. They have the ability to protect us from the ever-present oxidants that we encounter from day to day.
Antioxidants are also delicate. For example, olive oil is known for its antioxidant and phenolic properties; however, some olive oils have more antioxidants than others based on how the olives are handled. Starting from when the olives are picked, those that are carefully plucked from the trees and gently transported to the press are more likely to retain their antioxidant qualities than the ones that are dropped and bruised along the way. Keeping the oil out of sunlight also prevents it from oxidizing. Thus, producers who understand and appreciate this fragile process will create an antioxidant rich oil. The antioxidant content will also be apparent in the oil’s peppery taste and fruity or grassy aroma. Pasolivo from Paso Robles, California, is a great example of an antioxidant rich olive oil.
It is no coincidence that many of the most flavorful foods are those richest in antioxidants. They are the ones that titillate our taste buds and leave us feeling revitalized. Eat enough of them and these qualities will carry with you through life.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the other vitamins and minerals too. I care for the fat, the protein, even the ever looked-down-upon simple sugars in food. It’s just that, the antioxidant laden foods makes my heart skip a beat; the midnight blue of a sweet, supple blueberry, the texture of a crunchy crumbly pecan, the deep dark brown of a chocolate bar- its silky smooth softness at room temperature that slowly, lavishly coats the tongue as it dissolves along the sides of the mouth. These are just a few of the foods rich in antioxidants (and rich in flavor) that happen to make me swoon. They are also my food saviors. I turn to them when I am confused about what to eat or feel like my diet has gone off the deep end. I gather a plate of them, each individually placed- no need to mix them up or mash them together-, and enjoy each sensational bite.
Here is a list of some antioxidant rich foods. If you know of other good ones feel free to add them below as a comment!
Antioxidant Rich Foods
Apples (with the skin on)
Sweet and Sour Cherries (from Michigan are the best)