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Nutrition and Health – Are Antioxidants on Your Plate?

Prepared by Shelly Asplin, MA, RD, LMNT, 2010

Reprinted from Lifeline 2011, Volume XXXI, No. 2 

In June of 2011, the USDA replaced the MyPyramid icon with the MyPlate icon. The new icon is intended to encourage consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times. The consumer messages are designed to reinforce the newly released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.1 The key messages include the following:

Balancing Calories

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

 

As a dietitian, what captured my eye was the “foods to increase” section. When offering nutrition counseling it is great to be able to provide opportunities to increase foods to an eating regimen versus decreasing foods. The point to make half your plate fruits and vegetables is simple and straight forward. The question I would like to explore is “What are the benefits of filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables?”

The health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables have been studied for years. We are familiar with fruits and vegetables as significant sources of vitamins,minerals and fiber. It has also been suggested that fruits and vegetables reduce the risk for heart disease (including heart attack and stroke), diabetes, obesity,certain types of cancer and lowering blood pressure.2

Unfortunately, cancer is a frequently documented manifestation of celiac disease.3 One of the best ways to restore and maintain a healthy body, when living with celiac disease, is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Another step to consider is to include plenty of foods abundant in antioxidants. Antioxidants are described as substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals.4 Free radicals are a reactive atom, or group of atoms, produced in the body by natural biological processes or introduced from outside processes (as in tobacco smoke, toxins or pollutants) that can damage cells, proteins and DNA by altering their chemical structure). It has been suggested that antioxidants commonly found in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and spices may neutralize free radicals present in the body. 5

The USDA recently released their second list of Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of selected foods.6 An ORAC level is described as a measure of antioxidant activity of foods. Below is a table with selected ORAC levels for certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and grains. While one need not necessarily keep track of their daily ORAC level, it would be reasonable to follow the guideline to make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

Naturally Occurring ORAC Levels in Selected Foods 7 8

Antioxidants activity

A common objection to increasing produce intake is the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables. Cost-saving measures for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables could include any of the following:

  • Buy in season
  • Buy local
  • Visit farmers markets
  • Buy frozen
  • Watch for sales
  • Can and freeze produce
  • Plant a garden

Another barrier to increasing produce intake is establishing new habits. Below are some ideas from the Center of Disease Control9:

  • Top yogurt with sliced apples and nuts.
  • Include fruit as a mid-morning snack.
  • Top toasted gluten-free bread with peanut butter and sliced bananas.
  • Add vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms or tomatoes to your omelet.
  • Try one new fruit or vegetable per week. • Add red and black beans to soups and stews.
  • Add blueberries to cooked quinoa or cream of rice for breakfast.
  • Top your sandwich or wrap with spinach.
  • Stir rice bran into cereal or yogurt with fruit
  • Create a tasty porridge with sorghum topped with walnuts and blackberries

Research continues to suggest that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a great defense for disease prevention and management. Enjoy the abundant varieties of fruit, vegetables, gluten-free grains and beans with naturally occurring antioxidants available throughout the year. Consider making half your plate fruits and vegetables.

This information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

References:

  1. USDA Food Group Health Benefits: www.choosemy plate.gov/foodgroups/fruit_why.html. Accessed June 2011.
  2. Recognizing Celiac Disease Signs, Symptoms, Associated Disorders and Complications. Libonati. C 2007. Page 90.
  3. Merriam-Webster MedlinePlus: www.merriam-webster.com/medlineplus
  4. ibid
  5. Adapted from the USDA 2010 ORAC Report: www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=15866
  6. USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory:
  7. Adapted from CDC - Fruits and Veggies More Matters: www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/tips/index.html

 Reviewed 2/19/2013