Looking for the perfect food? The one that meets all your nutritional needs, protects you against serious disease, is readily available and tastes great, too?
Sorry, it doesn’t exist. “There’s no one perfect food or diet that will guarantee 100 percent we won’t develop disease,” says Lynda McIntyre, a Johns Hopkins nutritionist. “But there is overwhelming research showing that the quality of foods we eat dramatically decreases our risks for disease.” Particularly if those foods are high in antioxidants.
You’ve probably heard that term. It refers to a natural process, oxidation, which occurs when a substance or a chemical combines with air to form a free radical. This is a highly unstable molecule that, like a thief in the night, bumps into healthy cells and robs a molecule from those cells. “When that damage occurs, our bodies start a process that creates inflammation at the cellular level,” McIntyre says, “and that leads to disease.”
Antioxidants fight back against those free radicals so that they can’t do harm to our healthy cells. You can find them in brightly colored fruits and vegetables. “Color is not just there for decorative purpose,” McIntyre says. “It’s an indicator of its antioxidation potency.”
Choose at least three colorful fruits and at least four servings of colorful vegetables in your diet every day. The deeper, the darker in color, the better: dark, leafy greens and berries, broccoli and carrots, bright oranges, red peppers, kale.
If that sounds like you need to spend half your life in the produce section, think again. McIntyre says these antioxidant-rich foods can be incorporated into your diet quite easily. “Start out with one fruit or vegetable every time you eat,” she says. So, for example, you could include a half-cup of blueberries on your cereal or low-fat yogurt for breakfast, and a dark, leafy green and a half-cup of broccoli as part of your dinner.
Some argue that it would be easier to get all this from a pill. They’re wrong. “Supplements do not provide the same benefits as those derived through food,” McIntyre says. Nor do they taste as good.
Granted, eating like this involves a little planning. But consider the benefits: “You can decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes,” she says. “We also see that people who follow this kind of diet have clearer skin and less wrinkles and potentially more energy, and an improved immune system.”
In other words, although you may not achieve perfection, you’ll feel better and you’ll look better, thanks to the power of healthy eating.