Food for Thought: The lowdown on antioxidants, caffeine and cardoon

According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidants are chemicals that block the activity of other chemicals known as free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive and have the potential to cause damage to cells, including damage that may lead to cancer.

Antioxidants are made naturally by the body, and you can get more through food and other dietary supplements.

Pamela Ofstein, a registered dietitian who owns and operates a private nutrition practice in Florida, says by eating foods rich in antioxidants, it's possible to prevent some diseases, enhance our immune system and reduce the physical effects of aging.

"Incorporating low-fat, plant-based foods can be essential to wellness and disease prevention," Ofstein says. "Overall, there isn't one food that can help prevent disease, but healthy diets overall are important for general well-being and weight control."

Ofstein offers some ways to add antioxidants to your diet:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables — especially those rich in color and leafy greens. Make a smoothie, and add veggies to omelets, tomato sauces and whole-grain pasta dishes. Aim to eat at least five to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Go nuts. You can incorporate nuts and berries into oatmeal or whole-grain cereals, or make homemade trail mixes with seeds and dried fruit.
  • Drink green tea. According to Harvard Health Publications, tea's health benefits are largely due to its high content of flavonoids. Studies have found an association between consuming green tea and a reduced risk for several cancers, including skin, breast, lung and bladder.
  • Eat chocolate — but go for the dark side to potentially lower bad cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Number to Know

90 percent: Ninety percent of North American adults report using caffeine every day. Studies suggest that small doses of caffeine — whether a warm cup of tea or half cup of coffee — help you think more clearly and feel calm, enhancing mental performance.

Wise to the Word

Cardoon: A cardoon is a vegetable, also known as the artichoke thistle, that looks a bit like celery on a bad day and has a flavor reminiscent of artichoke hearts and salsify. Popular in Italy, Spain and France, the cardoon is related to the Globe artichoke.

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