The humble tomato is a member of the nightshade family and is composed of more than 93 percent water. Lycopene is the pigment responsible for the red color of tomatoes and has demonstrated ‘antioxidant’ activity associated with a lowered risk of cancer. Did we use a buzz word?
Antioxidant – what does it mean?
What does antioxidant really mean? In brief: The process is triggered by factors such as bad food choices; bad habits, such as smoking and excessive alcohol; pollution; stress; and lack of exercise.
A molecule in the body loses its electron and it becomes a ‘free radical’ which grow uncontrollably and affects the DNA of cells ‘oxidative stress’ and contributes to the onset of cardiovascular disease and premature aging. The body can cope with some free radicals and needs them to function effectively. However, an overload of free radicals has been linked to certain diseases, including heart disease, liver disease and some cancers. Antioxidants scavenge the free radicals from the body cells, and prevent or reduce the damage caused by oxidation.
How to get antioxidants?
Eat a variety of richly coloured fruits and vegetables — the most colourful ones tend to pack the greatest antioxidant punch. Carotenoids: phytochemicals are the fat-soluble pigments abundant in yellow, orange, red and green fruits and vegetables.
Blokes – eat tomatoes which have the antioxidant lycopene, as research has shown it helps diminish development of prostate cancer. Lutein, found in spinach and corn, has been linked to a lower incidence of eye lens degeneration and associated blindness in the elderly.
Flavonoids, such as the tea catechins found in green tea, are believed to contribute to the low rates of heart disease in Japan. Red grapes and their products contain an additional antioxidant, anthocyanin, that gives them their intense red-purple color. The onion family–garlic, onions, shallots and leeks contain flavonoids, vitamin C, selenium and sulfur-containing substances. Vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts have antioxidant capabilities because of their high vitamin C and flavonoid content.
Cucumbers are members of the pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon and squash family, water based and a powerful antioxidant.
Why eat a variety?
So, taking advantage of a healthy lifestyle means putting some variety into your eating and literally the ‘spices’ in your life have been found to have the highest antioxidant content of all foods – clove, allspice, cumin, cinnamon and ginger (January 2010 edition of the Nutrition Journal) and the aromatic herbs sage, marjoram, rosemary, peppermint, oregano and thyme.