The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants, which are a key component of many plant foods that help slow down the process of oxidation (when your body’s cells burn oxygen). This slowing decreases the amount of free radicals, or unstable molecules, that cause damage to your cells, tissues, and DNA. Antioxidants are a crucial part of your diet because you can’t avoid oxidation all together.
Consider the many contaminants, such as car exhaust, sunlight, unhealthy foods, and air pollution, that you’re exposed to during a typical day. These types of exposures can cause free radicals to gain speed in your body, damaging everything in their path and leaving you at greater risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Think about slicing an apple. Before you know it, the exposed flesh turns from white to brown. This browning occurs because of oxidation. But adding orange juice or lemon juice to the apple right after you slice it keeps it whiter longer because the antioxidant vitamin C in the juice protects the flesh.
Eating a diet high in antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene means better protection for your body and overall health (no, the benefits of antioxidants aren’t just for apples).
The ATTICA study in the September 2005 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition measured the total antioxidant capacity of men and women in Greece. It found that the participants who followed a traditional Mediterranean diet had an 11 percent higher antioxidant capacity than those who didn’t adhere to a traditional diet.
The findings also showed that the participants who followed the traditional diet the most had 19 percent lower oxidized LDL (bad cholesterol) concentrations showing a benefit in reducing heart disease.
You don’t have to look far or even cook that much to get antioxidants into your diet. You can find plenty of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables. If you’re only eating one to three servings of fruits and vegetables per day, you need to increase your intake to take advantage of the produce’s antioxidants. Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables to five to eight servings daily!
|Green and red bell peppers
|Spinach, kale, and collard greens
|Mustard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, and turnip and collard greens
|Kale, spinach, and turnip and collard greens