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Today's blog post is written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Michael O'halloran!

What if I told you that in your home, at this very moment, you likely have several antioxidant-dense foods hidden away? If you are thinking about your latest trip to the grocery store, the truth is that high antioxidant foods are right now hiding away in your spice cabinet; utilizing it more often can do wonders for your health and for your taste buds.

Antioxidants are a general term for the components in many fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, and whole grains that protect your cells from damage that contribute to many chronic diseases. Much of the damage done to your cells stem from oxygen-containing "free radical" particles. Antioxidants get their name because they cancel out (anti-) the damage caused by the oxygen in free radical particles (-oxidant).

Most antioxidants in the diet are derived from plants; hence, plant-based diets will provide the greatest antioxidant content and is associated with lower risks of many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Even if you struggle to include a fruit or vegetable at every meal, incorporating a high-antioxidant spice can still provide health benefits. Try adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to your oatmeal or bagel in the morning. Add basil leaves to your pasta dishes. Season meat dishes with rosemary, mint, or sage. Clove, thyme, and oregano are widely available, very high in antioxidant content, and go great with sauces, salads, and side dishes.

March is National Nutrition Month, which encourages all of us to "go further with food." Getting the most nutritional "bang for your buck" can be difficult. Herbs and spices are no replacement for a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, but they are a wonderful tool for enhancing a dish's flavor and antioxidant content.

Blueberry Banana Oatmeal (Printable PDF)

½ cup dry rolled oats

¾-1 cup skim or almond milk

1 teaspoon peanut butter

⅓ cup blueberries, washed

½ medium banana

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Place dry rolled oats in a microwave-safe bowl. Add skim or almond milk to the oats. Microwave the oat and milk mixture on high for 2-2½ minutes. Let it sit in the microwave for 1 minute. Mix the peanut butter into the mixture so that it lightly coats the oats. Next add the banana and blueberries into the oats, using a fork to gently mash the banana into the oats. Add cinnamon to the mixture and mix so it is evenly distributed. Serve immediately.

Yield: 1 Serving

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 360 calories, 6 grams fat, 130 milligrams sodium, 62 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fiber, 16 grams protein