The deeper the color of fruits and vegetables, the higher the antioxidant activity. Oxygen renegades are the target of antioxidants. When an oxygen molecule loses an electron, it becomes what is called a free radical and begins searching for a replacement. In trying to steal an electron from other healthy cells, free radicals cause damage to healthy cells and create scores of new free radicals. Free radicals cause mutations in DNA, the genetic material in the cells, and not only destroy healthy cells but turn the fats in many cells rancid, which disrupts cell metabolism. After years of these silent assaults in the body, individuals can develop a chronic disease or illnesses ranging from atherosclerosis to cancer, and experience an acceleration in the aging process.
Environmental pollutants and chemicals, drugs, cigarette smoke, pesticides, and radiation are some of the sources that cause cells to oxidate, and antioxidants are the antidote. They can kill, deter, and hinder the destructive elements and even repair cellular damage. Fresh fruits and vegetables have abundant amounts of antioxidants as well as other health-protecting phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits are better than canned or processed in nutritive value; onions and garlic are best eaten raw although onions can also be cooked. The cruciferous family of vegetables are rich in phytochemicals that have anticancer and pathogenic activity but should be lightly cooked as they contain compounds that can be toxic when eaten raw on a regular basis. They include cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, mustard greens, kohlrabi, daikon, radish, turnip, and rutabaga. Raw beet greens, spinach, and chard contain oxalic acid which removes iron and calcium from the body and so should be lightly cooked as should mushrooms which contain carcinogenic compounds that are destroyed by heat. Green skins on potatoes are poisonous and should be removed before cooking; and celery that has brown spots indicating a fungus should not be consumed.
Some less familiar leafy vegetables that are very nutritious are Swiss chard, a large, crinkly or flat leafy vegetable, red or white in color. Sauté or lightly steam both the stems and leaf. Kale, a good source of calcium, is green and tightly curled and can be lightly steamed or cooked longer if the leaves are older. Collards have large blue-green leaves and can be prepared in the same way as kale. Arugula is a peppery bitter green and is astringent in quality, which is good for digestion. Young leaves or blossoms can be mixed in salads, larger leaves added to stir fries or soups. Beet greens contain calcium, magnesium, and iron, and vitamins A, B complex, and C. Because they contain oxalic acid, they should be lightly steamed or sautéed. Eat raw beet greens sparingly. Dandelion greens are high in vitamins A and C and contain more calcium than broccoli. They can be used raw in salads or lightly steamed. Sauté the roots. Both leaves and roots, fresh or dried, can be made into a tea. Mustard greens have a curly shape and are best sautéed and also can be added to soups and stews.
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