Summer is almost here and it’s time to move on to some of Vermont’s red foods that are, or soon will be, available at farms, markets and co-ops. I’m thinking of strawberries, beets, rhubarb, and radishes – but I’m sure I’ll encounter some more to share with you over the next few weeks. Maybe there will even be a few tomatoes appearing before July.
You probably already know one of the major benefits of many red foods - lycopene. You probably also know that the tomato is pretty much synonymous with lycopene, and that a diet high in this antioxidant can help men lower their risk of prostate cancer. But lycopene is also found in two other Vermont grown foods – beets and watermelon. In slightly more tropical climates (though we’re getting there), grapefruit guava, and papaya are grown and also contain high amounts of lycopene. It’s what gives all of these foods their red and pink colors. We just hear so much about the benefits of tomatoes because of their prevalence.
In our bodies, lycopene has a tendency to gather in organs like the lungs and prostate. With its antioxidant properties, it makes sense that it can help prevent cancer in those areas, as well as heart disease and cataracts, for instance. For more on tomatoes and lycopene, check out this post from Jill.
But what is an antioxidant? It’s a substance – like vitamin E or C – that prevents oxidation and the breakdown of cells. Think of an apple. When it is cut and exposed to air, it quickly turns brown and starts to go bad. That’s oxidation. Something similar occurs in our bodies as we age and the number of free radicals (molecular bonds that have split) increases. Antioxidants help stop the damage caused by free radicals through neutralization.
That is a very basic explanation of what is a much more complex scientific process, and one that is coming from a guy who majored in English. I suggest doing your own research, as always.
As a refresher, if you’ve looked at this blog and wondered why I broke down topics into colors – it’s all about the phytochemicals (those antioxidants that give fruits and vegetables their colors).
While tomatoes are not going to be the focus this time around, since there is already an abundance of tomato info wherever you look over the summer months, and also that they’re (usually) not ready in June, I wanted to use lycopene as an example of one of many important antioxidants obtained through eating colorful foods.
If you have any red requests for me to cover, feel free to leave them in the comments, or send me an email, especially if I’m coming to your organization, business or event where I’ll be making these foods for you to taste. And don’t worry, red will be the theme again in November when apples and cranberries will be highlighted.
On a side note, I picked my first ripe strawberry out of the garden yesterday and have spent the morning thinking of all the interesting ways I will use them this year.