Pictured recipe: Purple Fruit Salad
We all overindulge sometimes. And while that extra slice of cheesecake (or two) may have sounded like a good idea at the time, eating too many calories forces your body into overdrive as it tries to undo the damage done by the harmful free radicals produced as you digest food. (Free radicals attack cells and can promote the development of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.)
"Just metabolizing food—especially fatty and carbohydrate-rich fare—causes the body to produce free radicals, which attack cells and can promote the development of chronic conditions including heart disease, diabetes and cancer," says Ronald L. Prior, Ph.D., research chemist and nutritionist with the USDA at Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center. And, of course, the more we eat the more free radicals we produce.
Here's the good news: research suggests that there's a delicious way to rebound from the damage of a rich meal and reduce free radicals by eating these nutrient-rich foods. The other way to help your body and reduce the effects of free radicals is to eat fewer calories. Try one of our calorie-controlled meal plans to help you cut back.
Pictured recipe: Pistachio & Peach Toast
If you've indulged in a decadent meal, follow up by eating fruit. Eating antioxidant-rich fruits—including berries, grapes, kiwi and cherries—helps minimize the harmful free-radical damage that occurs after a meal. Make a fruit plate for dessert or if it's the day after, aim to eat fruit throughout the day. Try a fruit smoothie or whole-grain toast topped with fruit at breakfast, fruit mixed into salad or served on the side at lunch and chia pudding or yogurt with fruit for a snack.
Pictured recipe: Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic
Having a tablespoon of vinegar with your meal, perhaps drizzled on your salad, may temper the spike in blood sugar that occurs after eating a big, carbohydrate-rich meal.
For most of us, a steep rise in blood sugar triggers an equally rapid drop—which stokes appetite. This sugar surge is particularly a problem for people with diabetes, who can't clear glucose effectively (over time, excess glucose in the blood damages tissues).
Read more: Is Apple Cider Vinegar Good for Weight Loss?
It may seem counterintuitive to pour yourself a glass but the antioxidants in red wine actually help. A glass of red may reduce the negative impact of high-fat foods by lowering levels of a compound—produced in the body after eating fat—that's linked with heart disease. Cook with red wine or enjoy a glass with dinner. But remember, moderation is key! And don't force yourself to have a drink in the name of health—especially if you overdid it on food and drink. There are other foods that deliver antioxidants like fruits and vegetables.
Pictured recipe: Paprika Chicken Thighs with Brussels Sprouts
Adding spices to your meal may help to lessen the negative effects of overeating. In a small 2011 study in The Journal of Nutrition, participants who ate a meal that included about 2 tablespoons of spices (a blend of rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika) had lower triglyceride and insulin levels and higher antioxidant levels after eating a high-fat, high-calorie meal compared to when they ate a nearly identical meal that lacked spices. Researchers think the spice blend may help slow fat absorption—and the antioxidants help mop up harmful free radicals produced when you overeat.
Must Read: 8 of the Healthiest Spices to Cook With
One indulgent meal or one day of overeating won't make or break your diet and health. The important thing is to not dwell in the past and give yourself grace rather than beating yourself up about any food decisions. Aim to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water and move your body a little bit—think a walk or yoga class. Plus, armed with these free radical-fighting strategies will help you physically getting back to feeling your best.