Damaging Free Radicals and Super Hero Antioxidants

In cells, oxygen is constantly involved in chemical reactions in which electrons are shifted around. This is called oxidation. In an oxidation reaction, one atom or compound will steal electrons from another atom or compound. This process creates highly reactive, unstable, harmful particles known as free radicals.  Free radicals cause damage and many experts believe damage from free radicals is a factor in the development of  blood vessel disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and many chronic diseases. Free radicals can cause LDL cholesterol to oxidize, increasing cardiovascular risk. They can also damage genes in ways that contribute to the aging process. The damage to cells caused by free radicals, especially the damage to DNA, may play a role in the development of cancer and other health conditions.

We are exposed to free radicals through normal cellular processes, the effects of ultraviolet light and sun exposure, air pollution, trauma, excess heat, and smoking or when the body breaks down certain medicines. Our bodies also produce free radicals during exercise because we inhale more oxygen and use more energy and through by-products of normal processes that take place in your body (such as the burning of sugars for energy and the release of digestive enzymes to break down food). To generate energy, our cells remove electrons from sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids and add them to other molecules, especially oxygen. All this creates free radicals.

Antioxidants to the rescue. Antioxidants are the superheroes of the complex world of biochemistry because they provide an electron that the free radical is missing and neutralize it, ending the chain of destruction. Antioxidants thus protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants play a role in the management or prevention of some medical conditions and aging. 

It takes a variety of antioxidants and lots of them to help successfully deactivate the different kinds of free radicals. The body’s natural antioxidant defense system is partly fueled by the antioxidants we consume. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, lignan, lycopene, and other carotenoids, and selenium. In general, the best dietary sources of antioxidants are vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, seeds and other plant-derived foods.

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What Flour to Use When Baking

00332The flour you bake with will contribute to the texture of the finished product. Use the wrong flour and your baked item won’t turn out.

Gluten is the strong, stretchy protein that forms when flour and water mix. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it keep its shape and often gives the final product its texture.

Flours can be categorized as soft or hard. Whether the flour is soft (i.e., pastry or cake flour) or hard (i.e. bread flour) depends on the amount of protein contained.  A flour with a higher protein content will yield a chewier product and a flour with a lower protein content will yield a more tender product.

Hard flours have more protein and develop strong gluten bonds (chewy). Soft flours have less protein and develop weaker gluten bonds (tender).

The flour you use depends on what you are making. Muffins, pancakes, waffles, piecrust, cakes, cookies, biscuits, and pastries should be tender not chewy so a “soft” cake or pastry flour should be used. Cake flour has the least protein so will make the most tender product.

Bread flour and durum semolina (used for pasta) contain the most protein and form strong, high-quality gluten. These hard flours are perfect for yeast-raised breads, pizza dough and pasta, because the strong gluten gives the heavy dough structure and the finished product a chewy texture.

All purpose flour have a protein content less than bread flours and more than pastry flour.

Whole wheat flours include the whole grain; 100% of the original kernel, all of the bran, germ, and endosperm is present. While being the most nutritious choice, using all whole wheat flour may not produce a good product. Whole wheat flour, is very high in gluten-forming protein, but because the bran is present, the bran will get in the way of gluten bonds forming and the bran will tear the gluten strands inhibiting its development in breads. If softer protein pastry flour or used the bran gets in the way of gluten bonds forming. A solution is to use 50% white flour, a compromise so that there are still some nutritious grains present but the white flour allows for some gluten development.

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Fluffy Whole Grain Pancakes

BOB044_XlMy family loves pancakes. Being a dietitian, I feel badly serving them white flour pancakes devoid of nutrition. I’ve experimented with various whole grain recipes over the years but the end result were hard, compact pancakes. I’ve discovered Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Pancakes and they are light and fluffy, delicious and nutritious.

To get my complete step-by-step tutorial on how to make the most amazing fluffy pancakes see this blog on how to make perfect whole grain pancakes

One serving contains 45 grams of whole grains. 48 grams is the recommended amount to eat daily. So one serving satisfies a whole day’s requirement.

How do I know that there are 45 grams in one serving? Look at the front of the label at the top. See that yellow “stamp”? That’s a label that tells you how many grams of whole grains are in a product. For more on that see this blog post on how to spot real whole grain products.

These pancakes are high in sodium so I suggest not serving the pancakes with bacon or ham since those are high sodium foods. Better to serve with fruit since eating more fruit has been proven to help lower blood pressure because fruit is full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and potassium, which helps to balance out the negative effects of salt. This has a direct effect on your blood pressure, helping to lower it.

20150911_105010To increase the protein, I double the amount of eggs added to the mix. And to add fiber and antioxidants, I sprinkle frozen blueberries on top of the batter after I have ladled it into the pan. They miraculously thaw by the time the pancake is done. Top with a small amount of organic maple syrup, serve with some heart-healthy fruit and you have a delicious and nutritious breakfast.  20150911_105325

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