Alright students, you’ve made it through biology 101, mastered the life and times of antioxidants and free radicals (and perhaps learned a little about the latest hip hop rivalry), but now its time to talk math, or specifically, how to measure the value of antioxidant-rich foods.
One method of measuring antioxidant capacity is the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). Developed by the Baltimore-based National Institute of Aging, the calculation specifically measures the oxidative degradation of fluorescein (the stuff that the hotties on C.S.I. spray to detect the presence of blood, though not in this case) as it reacts with an agent called peroxyl radical (a free radical). Seem easy enough? Nice try. The reaction between the antioxidant and the free radical is then measured at 35 minute intervals to create a graphic curve that is then used as the basis for trolox equivalents (TE), or, in non-geek terms, the measure of a compounds potential for absorbing free radicals.
While the body’s internal battle between antioxidants and free radicals certainly gets less press coverage than the Kanye vs 50 Cent feud, the war is vital for healthy living (although admittedly, it’s not yet clear how it influences the sale of Cristal!)
In the red corner are free radicals, or molecules with unpaired electrons. Like Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire, this little lady is an unstable molecule just looking for someone special—or, in this case, another electron—to complete her. So rather than signing up for an online dating service like all the other lonely 30-somethings, this molecule barges in on other molecules, altering their chemical structure and causing damage to otherwise healthy cells. These free radicals, which in our bodies most frequently appear in the form of oxygen, are a natural by-product of various cell activities, but can also be created through exposure to tobacco smoke, chemicals, UV radiation and other environmental factors.
Raw food has gotten a lot of press lately because a number of studies have suggested cooking depletes vegetables’ key nutrients. As those of you who frequent the MDA community know, we’ve tried to stay out of the fray. In short, we support vegetables—in a pot or not.
Now it’s time for an update—and a little validation. A recent study out of Italy suggests that certain cooking methods may be just fine for our beloved veggies, thank you very much, and may even increase the power of some healthy compounds:
My sister sautéed up some garlic, onions, shallots and chopped Brussels sprouts over the holidays. They were so tasty I had to give this oft-deplored mini-cabbage its moment in the spotlight. Enjoy!
While the effects of Brussels sprouts aren’t likely to win you any friends—unless you’re interested in hanging with the lads at the local fraternity—these cruciferous little devils pack a serious health punch.
Once considered a delicacy in Belgium—and since named Britain’s least favorite food, according to one recent poll—Brussels sprouts are loaded with compounds that disarm cell-damaging free radicals and help detoxify the body. In fact, less than a cup a day of the little critters is thought to reduce the risk of cancer—particularly those affecting the breast, liver, colon and bladder—and reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 71% in men and 59% in women, according to one recent study. In addition, Brussels sprouts’ off-the-charts vitamin C content—which clocks in at 4 times that of an orange—can help shore up the body’s immune response and give your skin a healthy glow (but not in a freaky Paris Hilton-esque fake-and-bake way!)
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