Antioxidants, I am sure by now most of us would have seen the word slashed across products at supermarkets, health food shops and even restaurants… But is ‘antioxidant’ just another buzz word like ‘superfood’ or does it really have benefits for your health? And while we are on the topic, will antioxidants really make me age slower? Also what foods are they in?
Antioxidants help prevent cell damage…
In a nutshell, antioxidants help to neutralise and mop up free radicals in the body to reduce the risk of them damaging our precious DNA and cells. Free radicals are little scavengers that are produced by the body as a result of oxygen metabolism and whilst they are unavoidable, too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants is a recipe for disaster. When this balance between free radicals and antioxidants becomes unstable it leads to what we call “oxidative stress”. Oxidative stress can result in premature ageing, damage to your DNA, inflammation, and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
What causes oxidative stress?
There are many different process and substances that can contribute to oxidative stress including:
- Lack of antioxidants in the diet
- Emotional and psychological stress
- Environmental pollution
- Microwave use
- Eat charred foods
- Cigarette smoke (direct or second hand)
- Too much sugar
- Too much animal protein in the diet
- Imbalance of gut bacteria/ bacterial overgrowth
- Plastics and phthalates
- Chemical cleaning supplies
- Oils that have been heated to very high temperatures
- Pesticide exposure- environmentally/ in your food (more information here)
- Artificial colours and flavouring
What foods are antioxidants in?
You would be reading until tomorrow if I was to list ALL the antioxidants, so I thought I would just make note of a few of big guys that you might see in your everyday food…
Beta-Carotene: Is the antioxidant that gives carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins their bright, vibrant colour! In the body beta-carotene is converted to another powerful antioxidant, vitamin A, which has been found to improve night blindness, improve immune system function and defend against cancer mutations. Good sources of beta-carotene include orange vegetables, as well as dark leafy greens and tomatoes.
Vitamin C: Also know as ascorbic acid, plays a major role in protecting the body against those free radicals we spoke of before by boosting your immune function and supporting your liver! Additionally, it also helps to maintain adequate levels of vitamin E in the body in states of oxidative stress therefore elongating the antioxidant effect of vitamin E (winning!). To get your daily dose of vitamin C ditch the store brought orange juice for richer sources including kiwi fruit, strawberries, capsicums, kale and broccoli.
Vitamin E: Is your go to for glowing skin and an amazing complexion… see you later premature ageing. Add almonds, sunflower seeds, avocado, spinach and sweet potato to your diet to bump up your vitamin E levels!
Glutathione: Is like the master antioxidant! It is produced naturally in the body as a result of three amino acids- cysteine, glycine and glutamine- and its main role is to recycle all of the other antioxidants.
You see, dealing with free radicals is like playing pass the parcel, except glutathione is always the winner when the music stops, until it gets OVER-LOADED with presents (or free radicals) and says I have had enough. As the free radicals (or parcel) gets passes from vitamin C to vitamin E to lipoic acid and finally to glutathione (where the music stops), it is glutathione’s job to remove the free radicals (or take the wrapping paper off) in order to regenerate another glutathione molecule (or another present) so that it can do its round of the body again (or circle if your still following with the analogy ;)). But when glutathione gets overloaded with oxidative stress/ toxins (or presents), glutathione becomes depleted and can no longer protect the body against free radicals, mutations, infections or remove toxins from the body.
Therefore, to maintain adequate levels of glutathione in the body and make sure it keeps getting all the presents (greedy bastard), minimising oxidative stress is your first port of call. Additionally, including sulphur rich foods such as onion, garlic and brassica vegetables such as kale, broccoli and cauliflower in the diet can be beneficial- as well as speaking with your Nutritionist about getting a good quality nutritional supplement!
Selenium: Is glutathione’s best friend… it naturally helps the body recycle and produce more glutathione! Selenium also plays a big role in your immune system and thyroid metabolism. Best of all, you only need 2 brazil nuts a day to reach your daily selenium intake!
Turmeric: The active component of turmeric- curcumin- is a potent antioxidant that has been found to reduce oxidative damage to DNA in the body, as well as act as powerful anti-inflammatory agent! These two factors contribute to the role curcumin can play in reducing the body’s inflammatory response and risk of developing chronic conditions such as cancer, atherosclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases. Curcumin has also been found to act as a great anti-inflammatory agent in the gut, reducing inflammation that may be created from food intolerances, mucosal damage and/ or conditions such as IBS and IBD.
Zinc: Ohhhh zinc, with a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions its no wonder that also helps reduce oxidative stress! With powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, zinc has been shown to support healthy cell division, prevent cancerous cell mutation and also helps to reduce acne! The best sources of zinc include spinach, pumpkin seeds, oysters and cashews.
My rule of thumb for working what foods are rich in antioxidants?
If it stains your hands or clothes your on the right track 😉 Beetroot- yep! Turmeric- STAINS EVERYTHING! Berries- hello purple hands! You get the point…
Eating a wholesome, balanced diet with an ABUNDANCE of fruit, vegetables and fresh herbs is a sure way to get those essential antioxidants into your diet so you can say goodbye to premature ageing and hello to glowing skin! Try out my Antioxidant Smoothie to get you started 😉