Serving up antioxidant food for thought

Berries are rich in antioxidants. Many local Yolo County farms offer you-pick opportunities. (Express File Photo)

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Believe it or not, antioxidants are more than a buzzword used in ads to sell health products. They’re actual health-bolstering compounds in food, and Dr. James Stirton of Winters Family Chiropractic breaks down why they’re important elements of a healthy, balanced diet.

Essentially, antioxidants are food compounds that neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that can cause an imbalance within the body and potentially lead to a plethora of devastating health issues.

As not all antioxidants are the same, Stirton has broken them down into three categories which include Carotenoids, Polyphenols and Flavonoids.

“Carotenoids are the ones that produce the vibrant colors in carrots, pumpkins and squashes. Polyphenols are found in the darker red, black and blue berries and also nuts, like walnuts. They’re an awesome source of antioxidants too,” Stirton said. “The third category is Flavonoids. They’re found in vegetables that create a lot of odors like onions and asparagus. You also get a lot of intense flavors from them. Believe it or not there’s a lot in apples and that’s why they’re really tasty. Flavonoids make us want to eat the fruit, so the seeds get liberated.”

When it comes to getting the most antioxidants out of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, Stirton maintains that the rawer, the better. Although sautéing and cooking up vegetables may be tastier, it cooks the nutrients right out of the food.

“It’s a tradeoff to have the (vegetables) easier to eat. The more you cook the less nutritious it is, but the easier it is for you to eat and digest it,” said Stirton. “People get this beautiful, raw thing and screw it up by cutting the skin off, then cooking the heck out of it with heat, and the end result of processing and cooking the food, you’ve decimated the nutrition.”

Although convenient, simply taking multi-vitamins pales in comparison to the nutrients and antioxidants one gets from eating fruits and veggies directly. In fact, consuming a variety of living fruits and veggies is best according to Stirton. He calls it ‘eating the rainbow.’

“People think that they can just take a multi-vitamin to replace all these vegetables and fruits. There’s no supplementation that will replace all the Phytonutrients in the raw fruits and vegetables,” said Stirton “You can’t just take all these macronutrients in pill form they’ve developed in a lab and get these enzymes and nutrients that are really only present in the living parts of the fruit or vegetable. The skin primarily.”

Stirton also praised citrus fruits for their richness in antioxidants. More specifically, their zest in the skin opposed to the innards. To get the most out of the skin, Stirton recommends using a fine cheese grater to shower citrus zest into one’s soup, salad or any other culinary creation.

This — to Stirton — is a great way to increase the umami factor in one’s food. Umami being one of the five major tastes on our palate.

“Umami is the majority of your tongue and your taste buds! They’re meant for this, the coverings of these foods,” said Stirton. “We eat the insides all the time that have the salty, sweet and bitterness. But the skins have the umami, the antioxidants and phytonutrients we need. That’s where the zesting comes in where you grate the outside of a fruit or vegetable and umami your food up.”

Beyond the foods, Stirton also mentioned that coffee, tea, espresso, kombucha and red wine are also sources of liquid antioxidants. Moderation, of course, should always be kept in mind.

If one has any more questions about antioxidants, or anything other questions related to physical wellness, one can reach out to Stirton directly at It’s like the good doctor always says, “If you’re not certain, ask Dr. Stirton.”

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