Cellular processes in the body include a natural reaction known as oxidation in which cells and their components react with oxygen as part of basic functioning. Oxidation can also be witnessed in nature – that brown colouring on exposed fruits, discolouring of metals, etc. This goes on in the body as old cells die and new cells form. While most oxidation reactions are carried out efficiently, a small percentage of those may also lead to cell damage, and produce free radicals.
A free radical is a modified molecule that looks to pair with another molecule and in the process produces more free radicals. Free radicals are dangerous – they injure cells and damage DNA, which causes proliferation of abnormal cells.
Over time, free radicals can lead to diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. In natural conditions, free radicals are produced in small quantities that can be dealt by the body, but external pollutants like pollution and smoking increase their number.
Antioxidants are substances found in body and food sources that can quench these free radicals and negate their effects. Different types of antioxidants include vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, lycopene, selenium, phytochemicals (flavonoids, polyphenols, anthocyanins, etc.), lutein, etc.
Here is a list of Indian antioxidant rich food items that can be included in the diet to boost health:
In the West, broccoli and kale are hailed as the super foods that fight diseases.
However, the Indian market supplies equally effective antioxidant choices in form of spinach, lettuce, cauliflower and cauliflower that are rich in antioxidants like lutein, quercetin, along with minerals and vitamins.
Tuberous sweet potatoes or shakarkand, onion and garlic are other rich sources of antioxidants. Orange vegetables like carrots are rich in vitamin A and phytochemicals, and can be consumed raw, included as salad or eaten as main dish.
Grapes, especially dark grapes, are loaded with antioxidants such as phytochemicals (flavonoids) like proanthocyanidin and anthocyanidin, along with selenium and vitamin C, helpful in protection against heart disease and cancer. Apple, another staple Indian fruit, is rich in vitamins and quercetin.
Bananas are the easy-to-eat fruits packed with vitamin B6 and C, potassium and manganese, and can be enjoyed as it is, be sprinkled with chaat or blended into a smoothie.
An Indian meal is never complete without the inclusion of spices.
Good news is that many of them also provide antioxidant benefits. Turmeric, a common food flavouring and colouring agent, carries an ingredient called curcumin, which has proven to interfere with the development and spread of cancer. Other spices rich in antioxidants are ginger, cinnamon, mustard seeds, chilli and black pepper.
Apart from the taste, the antioxidant properties of tea leaves are a boon for tea lovers, who can enjoy a dose of anthocyanin and proanthocyanin, which help the body fight inflammation, and quercetin and catechins, with the latter blocking cell damage that could cause cancer.
Green tea contains the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), known to have strong antioxidant properties.
Beans and dals
Black beans, red beans, pinto beans, soya beans – this food group is packed with the goodness of flavonoids, folate, vitamins and minerals. Lentils like the mung bean is rich in vitamin B1 and magnesium.
The biggest takeaway: boosting the daily diet with disease-fighting antioxidants is easy to do with everyday food items found in Indian homes and markets!
“Anti-Oxidants,” ClevelandClinic.org, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/nutrition/food-choices/anti-oxidants.aspx
“How Antioxidants Work,” WebMD.com, Jeanie Lerche Davis, http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/how-antioxidants-work1
“Phytochemicals,” Cancer.org, http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/herbsvitaminsandminerals/phytochemicals
“Turmeric,” Cancer.org, http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/herbsvitaminsandminerals/turmeric
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