Health & Fitness

The antioxidant diet

Norbert Mayer Author: Elle Canada Credits: Norbert Mayer

Health & Fitness

The antioxidant diet

The diagnosis
You're over takeout binges and macrobiotic purges; it's time to create a realistic, long-term plan for health and wellness. All the better if it includes bonuses like youthful skin, glossy hair and the odd glass of shiraz. "Antioxidant-rich foods help protect our cells from free-radical damage," explains Dr. John Berardi, president of Precision Nutrition Inc. and co-author of Gourmet Nutrition. "This leads to protection against diseases like cancer and heart disease."

The prescription

Hit your farmers' market with a Louis Vuitton trunk: You're going to need a lot of produce. According to Berardi, eight to 10 servings (1/2 to one cup) of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies a day is "just the right dose." But don't be intimidated: Berardi says that a smart breakfast consists of a lean protein (egg whites) topped with pesto (made from spinach or kale, basil, pistachios, Parmesan cheese and olive oil). "You've covered two servings right there!" A cup of green tea and an apricot - a low-sugar fruit - bring the tally to three.

Keep it up by eating veggies at each meal. Yellow and orange vegetables (like sweet potatoes and carrots) contain beta carotene, which boosts the immune system, while purple veggies (like purple cauliflower) contain powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which are great for heart health. Dark-green veggies (such as kale, broccoli and spinach) contain antioxidants that help vision and inhibit tumour growth, says Berardi.

Berardi also stresses the importance of tipping the produce balance in favour of veggies. (He suggests limiting fruit to two to four servings a day.) "Fruit has more sugar and calories," he explains. Challenge yourself to buy a new fruit or vegetable every week. "Do an Internet recipe search," he says. "You need to go beyond eating them raw or you'll lose interest."

Antioxidant eating also has its perks. Red wine and cocoa (dark chocolate, cocoa powder and cacao nibs) are high in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, which have been proven to help reduce cancer risk. But don't pull a Lindsay Lohan - one glass of wine at dinner is sufficient. Berardi suggests indulging in one or two ounces of dark chocolate - he prefers bars that have 90 percent cocoa because they are low in sugar and contain more fibre.

What to avoid
Pro-inflammatory foods, such as omega-6 fats (found in eggs and sunflower oil). "Pro-inflammatory foods lead to inflammation in our cells, which leads to plaque buildup in our arteries," says Berardi. Instead, choose foods that are antioxidant-rich to fight inflammation all over-from joints to skin cells.

Extra credit

Unleash the power of antioxidants on your skin. Skin-care products that contain retinol - a form of vitamin A - help combat sun damage and aging, says Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist based in Toronto. "It helps speed up the healthy turnover of skin cells and increase collagen production."

Shopping list essentials

• sweet potatoes
• purple cauliflower
• oranges
• basil
• dark chocolate

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Health & Fitness

The antioxidant diet