10 Ways To “Anti-Up” Your Plant-Based Diet

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“Let’s Beat Breast Cancer Together” was the theme of my Food for Life classes during October. Throughout the month, I touted the benefits of antioxidants for their anti-inflammatory and anticancer protection. Packed with phytonutrients (protective plant chemicals), antioxidants can help prevent cancer, reverse or slow aging, enhance your immune system, increase your energy, improve your heart and protect other organs.

Given all we know about these amazing antioxidants and their beneficial properties, it’s unbelievable that more people don’t get enough fruits and vegetables in their diets. Yes, fruits and vegetables are the primary sources of antioxidants, which can be quite powerful. According to Dr. Michael Greger (www.NutritionFacts.org), “…the antioxidants in fruits and veggies reduce inflammation, which may lead to higher levels of eudaemonic well-being.” In his video, Which Foods Increase Happiness, Dr. Greger explained the relationships between feelings of well-being and consumption of daily intake of fruits and vegetables.

Here are 10 easy steps for getting more antioxidants into your diet:

  1. Breakfast: Forget the toaster tarts on the way out the door; let’s plan for a wholesome breakfast to go. Why not try Overnight Oats for a change? Prepare them in12-ounce Mason jars on Sunday, and they will be good for the week. Use frozen strawberries, blueberries or raspberries for some added vitamin C and fiber to keep you full throughout the morning. To get a good dose of beta-carotene, try Carrot Cake Overnight Oats. One more alternative is to add a half of cup of canned pumpkin (not canned pumpkin pie filling) to your oatmeal for a delicious twist. Top with cinnamon and raisins and you have a nutritious, fabulous breakfast treat.
  2. Snacks: Here’s an easy way to get more antioxidants in your diet. How about a handful of raisins for a snack, or some fresh red grapes? Try dipping raspberries or strawberries in non-dairy soy yogurt. You’ll feel decadent, but the berries provide the color you’re looking for. Need crunch? How about some sliced apple or baby carrots dipped in hummus? Consider a handful of walnuts for crunch and a nice antioxidant boost.
  3. Lunch and dinner: It might sound trite, but adding a salad to each of your main daily meals can enhance your overall health and well-being. They don’t have to be boring, and they don’t have to be just salad greens. If you’re going classic, add some red tomatoes and orange pepper slices to your green salad. Try some carrots and beet roots in your chopped salad; or add tart cranberries to your field greens. Whip-up a shredded broccoli salad for lunch or be adventurous and try an Ancient Grain Salad with farro or quinoa, edamame, red peppers, pineapple, red onions, raisins and lime juice. Top your salads off with your favorite flavored balsamic vinegars.
  4. Dessert: Crushed frozen berries also topped with a splash of flavor-infused balsamic vinegar (i.e., chocolate or coconut balsamic vinegars) make a delicious dessert. If you are looking for something more traditional, try dairy free Strawberry Nice Cream or Cherry Pomegranate Nice Cream for a creamy delight without the guilt. All are an excellent way to end your day with a healthy, antioxidant-rich dessert.
  5. Beverages: Replace your soda with green tea or coffee, both of which boast antioxidant compounds. To maximize nutrients, try a nice green smoothie. Begin with water or a plant-based milk, add greens, an apple or pear, chopped mango, raspberries, blueberries…the list could be endless for a green smoothie. (See Rainbow Smoothie recipe below.) Blend well in your blender and enjoy! For those chocolate lovers, try a Chocolate Cherry Smoothie.
  6. Think outside the box: We know we can get our antioxidant fix from berries, salads and the like, but researchers say powerful antioxidants can also be found in a variety of unexpected foods, like sweet potatoes, artichokes, and beans. The beans, in fact, may have more antioxidant power than fruits, according to researchers at Michigan State University. The darker the color, such as black or red beans, the more antioxidant properties. When preparing your brown rice salad packed with fresh chopped vegetables, add some beans for even more antioxidants.
  7. Cook lightly: You think you’re being good by preparing vegetables each night for your family’s dinner. But if you’re overcooking vegetables, you’re destroying many of the beneficial antioxidants. Enjoy vegetables raw whenever possible or cook them on very low heat without water. Stop cooking them while they still have all of their bright color and most of their crunch.
  8. Plant a garden: Studies have shown that people who plant and harvest vegetables from their own gardens are far more likely to eat more vegetables and fruits than people who buy their produce from the store. Plant a garden, watch it grow and eat the fruits (literally) of your labor. (By the way, this provides needed exercise as well.)
  9. Take your healthy diet on vacation: Too many of us consider going on vacation an opportunity to take a vacation from everything, including healthy eating. Think of vacation as a way to be introduced to new foods. Order an interesting vegetable dish in a restaurant and then pay attention to how the chef prepares the dish. Avoid all added sauces as they usually contain unwanted fat, sodium and dairy.
  10. Learn to cook: If you’re cooking, you’re not opening bags and boxes and are avoiding processed foods. Cooking involves washing, scrubbing and peeling vegetables; preparing whole foods; and paying attention to how things are cooked. If you’re ordering out every night, you’re far less likely to be eating the whole foods, natural fruits and vegetables that provide the base for our antioxidant intake.

These are just a few ways that you can “anti-up” your diet with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anticancer foods. Foods with the most vibrant colors profess to contain the most beneficial antioxidants. Go for the goal, get your 7-10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and put a rainbow on your plant at every meal!