A pretty plate: keeping things colourful

We all have heard that antioxidants are good for us, but what are they? Antioxidants are the entities in fruit and vegetables that are responsible for their sensory qualities (colour, smell) but also have medicinal value.

To know what antioxidants are all about, you need to know about free radicals. Free radicals are all around us, a natural product of our living. However, some factors (smoking, drinking, high-fat diets, too much sun, too much exercise, and too many pollutants in the air that we breathe) cause our bodies to produce more radicals than are needed. And when produced in excess, these free radicals can start to damage our cells and tissues. In fact, free radicals have been implicated as the cause of many diseases.

The good news is that antioxidants offer some means of protection for our bodies. Antioxidants are able to “mop up” the aggressive molecules before they cause the damage. Ideally, we should have enough antioxidants to deal with the free radical damage, but in cases when the body is “overwhelmed” – like in times of stress – we require extra antioxidants. Commonly known antioxidants are vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C and selenium.

Antioxidants and cancer:

Many cancer-inducing substances need to be oxidised before they can damage the cells of the body, yielding free radicals.

Antioxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamin E, selenium and lycopene can therefore be beneficial in preventing the oxidation of dangerous substances that induce cancer.

Making the most of fruit and veggies

  • Many nutrients found in fruit and vegetables are highly unstable and easily destroyed by heat or light exposure. It is therefore important to prepare fruit and veggies in a way that retains most of their nutritional value.
  • Always try to use produce while they are still fresh, or store in the refrigerator until needed.
  • Try eating veggies raw as often as possible.
  • Always avoid unnecessary peeling or slicing.
  • Do not cut fruit and veg into small pieces before cooking.
  • Do not leave chopped vegetables soaking in water for a long time.
  • When cooking vegetables, never add bicarbonate of soda – it will destroy the vitamin B content.
  • Try to steam vegetables instead of cooking in water.
  • If cooking in water, do not overcook: put a small amount of water in the pan, cover with a lid and soak until just tender.
  • If cooking veggies in water, re-use the water in soups, gravies and sauces (the water will be high in nutrients that have leached out of the vegetables.)
  • When baking veggies (potato, butternut, onions, tomatoes) always leave the skin on.