Not only is today Valentine’s Day, but February is American Heart Month. Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, despite being preventable (CDC). Today, some of my culinary nutrition students presented current research on cardiovascular disease prevention with a focus on increasing antioxidants in the diet. Antioxidants, such as flavonoids and carotenoids, are naturally occurring nutrients in plant foods that prevent damage to the body’s cells; this damage, called oxidation, is a primary cause of most chronic illnesses, including heart disease.
To protect your heart and the hearts of those you love, the recipe for success is simple: Eat more fruits and vegetables! Brightly colored fruits and vegetables offer the strongest oxidation fighters, and also contain heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Want to make your valentine’s day and still indulge? Pair dark chocolate (flavonoids) and red wine (polyphenols) with sliced pears and strawberries for a sinful dose of antioxidants and love. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I’m working in a coffee shop today for a change of scenery and am astounded at the sheer number of coffee and tea beverages available, many bursting with excessive caffeine, sugar, and fat. According to the American Chemical Society, coffee is the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet.¹ This is not because coffee supplies so many antioxidants, but rather, because Americans drink so much of this caffeinated beverage. Although coffee does have nutritional benefits, this information suggests to me that Americans simply don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables! MyPyramid, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food guidance system² recommends most adults consume 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables each day to achieve optimal health; however, in 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only 32.6% of U.S. adults consume fruit 2 or more times per day and 27.2% consume vegetables 3 or more times per day. Indeed, we are falling far short of meeting our needs for these nutritious sources of antioxidants and essential nutrients!
The USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest that fruits and vegetables fill half of your plate.³ This is an easy visual to make sure that you are filling up on nutrient-rich foods. It isn’t difficult to add fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks; try adding a delicious pear to cereal or with breakfast, a colorful variety of vegetables with lunch and dinner, and add another fruit for a snack. Not only will this provide important antioxidants to help fend off chronic illness, but these food groups are full of essential nutrients and will keep you feeling full throughout the day. Start right now!
¹Vinson JA et al. Polyphenols: total amounts in foods and beverages and U.S. per capital consumption. Abstract number AGFD 10. Presented at the American Chemical Society 230th National Meeting in Washington, D.C. August 28, 2005. http://www.acs.org