Very complex processes take place within a plant, one process being photosynthesis. Believe it or not, at the site where photosynthesis takes place is sort of like a nuclear reactor. There are electrons zooming around inside the plant that changes sunlight into chemical energy, and this must be managed very carefully. (Nature is really amazing!!) If the electrons stray from their rightful places in the process, they may create free radicals which wreak havoc in the plant. So, the plant protects itself by putting up shields around potentially dangerous reactions that sponges up these highly reactive substances. This shield is made up of antioxidants that intercept and scavenge electrons that might otherwise stray from their course.
Antioxidants are usually colored because the same chemical property that sponges up excess electrons also creates visible colors. Some of these antioxidants are called carotenoids, of which there are hundreds. They vary in color from the yellow in squash, to the red color of lycopene in tomatoes, to the orange color of oranges. So how does all this help us?
We produce low levels of free radicals throughout our lifetime. By being exposed to the sun, to air pollution, to the imbalanced foods we eat, and all the toxins we ingest, we end up with unwanted free radicals. FREE RADICALS ARE NASTY. They cause our tissues to become rigid and limited in their function...to a great extent this is what aging is. This uncontrolled free radical damage is part of the processes that cause cataracts, hardening of the arteries, cancer, emphysema, arthritis and many, many other chronic diseases that become more common with age. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS!!
Here is the kicker...we do not naturally build shields to protect ourselves against free radicals. Because we are not plants, we don't carry out the process of photosynthesis and therefore we cannot produce any of our own antioxidants. Fortunately, the antioxidants in plants work in our bodies the same way they work in plants. The plants make the antioxidant shields, and at the same time make them look extremely appealing with color. Then, we eat the plants and borrow their antioxidant shields for our own health....the antioxidants STOP the free radicals from wreaking havoc in our bodies.
Vegetables and fruits are better than any medication you can buy. The more vegetables and fruits you eat, the more antioxidants you get to shield your body from these horrible free radicals running around. Some people, however, would rather take a supplement to get these antioxidants---research repeatedly shows YOU CANNOT GET THE SAME EFFECT FROM SUPPLEMENTS THAT YOU WOULD FROM EATING VEGETABLES AND FRUIT. There are actually countless other nutrients present within that fruit or vegetable that work in "concert" within our bodies. By isolating one particular nutrient, you will not get the same benefit. Save your money...reach for the produce and leave the bottle of pills on the shelf.
So, the lesson for today is, if you want vitamins and nutrients, don't reach for the pill bottle--reach for the colorful fruits and vegetables!
PESTO PASTA SALAD
1 pound fresh spinach
1 cup fresh basil leaves
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 c almond milk
1/2 c oil-free Italian dressing
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
3 T onion powder
2 T soy sauce
4 c cooked rotelli or other shaped pasta
1 c sliced mushrooms
1 c diced carrot
1 c diced cucumber
1 c cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 c diced yellow, red or green bell pepper, or a combination of all
- Trim and wash the spinach. Place it in a saucepan with some water clinging to the leaves. Cover and cook over medium heat until wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Drain off the water and set aside.
- Place the basil, garlic, almond milk, dressing, parsley, onion powder, and soy sauce in a blender or food processor. Add the spinach and process until smooth.
- Place the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add the blended dressing and toss to mix.