Antioxidants, baby

Our bodies are amazing. When I think how our hearts beat non-stop, how all our muscles keep us moving. It’s the least we can do to nourish it properly (and keep our abuse to a minimum). One of the simplest and most powerful ways to do that is to eat more fruit – those wonders of nature we often forget about.

What’s the berry we all think about this time of year? The gorgeous, crimson cranberry! Those who know me will attest to how I love food but that I personally … well, I am not a natural cook. But oh, how I can follow a recipe or in this case, make up my own! Just the other day I saw a barrel of fresh cranberries and couldn’t resist burying a couple bagfuls of our (MA) famous berry. I quickly looked online for the basic idea to make sauce and within minutes I had my own version. Like the apple, the key antioxidant is in the skin so I decided not to try to grind it off in a sieve of any type, which made it so much faster to make. I simply added a small amount of water, some turbinado sugar and waited for the berries to pop and the sauce to thicken. It was fun and when it cooled, I added agave and walnuts. If you have a good “real” recipe, please share it here.

This morning I made a smoothie of cranberries (I threw in a handful of whole berries, frozen blueberries and bananas and added some milk). Yum. As I type here I am drinking a little “Pink Juice” I learned about from Dr. Greger’s easy to read, incredibly informative book, How Not to Die. If you go to his website right now (, there is a new animated introduction. Meanwhile the juice couldn’t be easier to make. Throw in a handful of whole berries into a blender with 2 cups of water and blend away. I sweetened it with agave. Yes, it was delicious and I felt extra noble having a “cranberry” cocktail (without the vodka). But why all this fruit fuss?


Remember the old adage: an apple a day, keeps the doctor away? Turns out this is more true than I ever thought. Science now backs that up (that same Lancet study I mentioned in my last blog). Nearly 5 million lives could be saved just by eating fruit daily! We’ve all done much harder things. Keep reading for a few suggestions on how to add more fruit into your busy life.

But first a little science. Our body is composed of many types of cells and the cells are composed of molecules and the molecules consist of one or more atoms. You remember the atom with its center nucleus and floating electrons, right? When the atoms all play well together and form bonds with each other, all is well. Just like us, those bonds want stability (requiring them to match up with a free electron). But as in life, some electrons go off on their own, splitting from weaker bonds, to hook up with somebody they really shouldn’t. That’s when the trouble happens. In science they are called FREE RADICALS and they will hook onto anything to capture that needed electron.

Our bodies are attacked every day by environmental pollutants (that cause free radical damage) not to mention that free radicals are formed as part of daily metabolism. That’s not a problem when we consume a healthy diet to combat them. Our immune system even creates them on occasion to combat viruses and bacteria. But when these free radicals are out of wack, they are totally destructive, cause tissue damage, contribute to aging and at worse, attack our DNA, causing cancer.

Think of an apple that you’ve sliced open. It turns brown, right? If you put lemon juice on it, it stops changing color (stops oxidizing). That’s what ANTIOXIDANTS do: they provide those bad free radicals with an electron that neutralizes their destructive power.

This is where fruit (and vegetables) come in. They are antioxidant powerhouses! If you want to “love your numbers,” here are some for you. Outside of exotic berries found in the Arctic tundra, the berry with the most antioxidant power (650 units) is the blackberry. Blueberries are next with 380 units (and wild ones even twice that), raspberries at 350, cranberries at 330 and strawberries at 310 units per cup. Mangos weigh in at 110 units (think of that color inside. No oxidizing going on there). America’s favorite fruits, apples and bananas, come in at about 60 and 40 units, respectively. The healthiest fruit is, of course, the one you eat the most of.

Those smart French. That’s another thing they do right (besides drink red wine): they eat a piece of fruit at the end of a meal. I’m not talking about special occasions, just every day. How can you add fruit to your diet? Cut it up! Make it interesting. One of our favorite breakfasts this past summer was putting a half cup of fresh blueberries (frozen works, too) into a cup, adding a little whole grain cereal, a teaspoon of flaxseed on top (and maybe a few nuts)  and then pouring in some almond milk. It’s crunchy and delicious. If you have a ‘fridge at work and can keep milk there, you can easily put this together the night before and add the milk when you are ready to eat. But now that it’s turning cooler, I’m starting to think about hot cereal.

My recipe for you today actually comes straight off the Quaker Oats box (the old-fashioned, hearty healthy variety): Blueberry Banana Overnight Oats and even better, the Peanut Butter Overnight Oats! It couldn’t be simpler. I told you I like recipes – all kinds!

Blueberry Banana                          Add the oats to a container and pour in
1/2 cup oats                                    milk and vanilla. Add a layer of blue-
1/2 cup almond milk                       berries and a layer of bananas. Top with
1/2 cup blueberries                         chia seeds, cover, place in fridge over-
1/2 cup bananas, sliced                  night and enjoy in the morning. Serves
1 tsp vanilla extract                         one (unless you really want to share).

1 tsp chia seeds (optional)

Peanut Butter Overnight Oats      Same as above: add the oats and pour
1/2 cups oats                                   in milk and vanilla. Add a layer of peanut
1/2 cup sliced bananas                    butter and banana slices. Top with agave
1/4 cup peanut butter                       and chia seeds. Cover and place in the
1 cup almond milk                            fridge and enjoy in the morning … or a
1/2 tsp vanilla extract                       few hours later, if you can’t wait!
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp agave
1 tsp chia seeds (optional)

I’d also suggest adding apples, raisins or other fruit to your salads. It adds a nice flavor twist and a gift of antioxidant power. There are still lots of apples around. I highly recommend home-made apple sauce. I have a great recipe for that, if you’re interested. And finally there’s ice cream. Yes, fruit-based, easy to make, versatile ice cream.

I first heard of blending frozen bananas in a food processor from Gena Hamshaw in her wonderful blog, Choosing Raw. She said it couldn’t be easier to whip up a delicious and healthy dessert in minutes and she was right. We now keep sliced bananas in our freezer. Take out a couple bananas and blend away. They come out exactly like soft serve within minutes. I add coconut, raisins, blueberries, whatever I have on hand.

For you chocolate lovers out there, here’s a recipe from my new pal, Dr. Greger, using dark, sweet frozen cherries. Just throw into a blender or food processor a handful of frozen dark cherries and blend with a tablespoon of cocoa powder, a splash of milk, a capful of vanilla extract and some pitted dates. Spoon into a small container and enjoy. Fruit, antioxidants. And the taste? YUM!!