Antioxidants have received a great deal of marketing and created confusion in the process. The truth is that these little, miracle molecules are very complex. Your diet of red wine, chocolate and green tea won’t necessarily prolong your lifespan. This week I give you an update on our free-radical fighting friends.
An antioxidant is a chemical compound that protects cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when the body breaks down unhealthy food or is exposed to pollutants like tobacco or radiation. These damage cells causing diseases like cancer or diabetes and accelerate ageing.
There are so many antioxidants. Just one class – such as flavonoids – has over four thousand compounds. In order to market antioxidants to the public, facts have been over simplified creating false and misleading information. Scientists haven’t established all the antioxidants out there or their full effects.
Food is complex and our knowledge is constantly evolving with research. One thing scientists have proved is that antioxidants produced synthetically as supplements do not have the same effect on the body as healthy food. Antioxidant supplements represent a $500 million-dollar industry, but these often contain large quantities of antioxidants which can produce more free radicals.
The supermarket shelves are littered with foods that make antioxidant claims. Breakfast cereals, sports bars and other processed foods may promote the addition of antioxidants, but science often doesn’t back the health claims. Antioxidants are always best consumed in their natural form as whole, unprocessed food.
Food is always your best source of antioxidants but no single food is going to create the antioxidant profile that will markedly change your health. The best way to ensure your diet is full of antioxidants is to eat fresh and focus on diversity. Avoid processed foods and consume a rainbow of fruit and vegetables alongside whole grains, pasta, legumes, garlic and herbs.
Include antioxidants like vitamin C. Eat strawberries, citrus fruit, raspberries and kiwifruit with yoghurt or make a smoothie. Add broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts and capsicum to salads and stir fries. This will aid tissue growth and repair; assist gland function to control your hormones and boost your immune system.
Heart disease and skin decline can benefit from the antioxidant vitamin E. It’s found in wheat germ and nuts so sprinkle these on your salads and cereal. It’s also found in avocado, monounsaturated oils such as sunflower oil and fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut and tuna. Lycopene found in red fruit and vegetables will also protect your heart.
Selenium is an antioxidant that has been shown to prevent cancer. Seafood, lean meats, eggs, nuts, poultry and whole grains are all rich in selenium. Make a bean salad, add beans to casseroles or soups and add seafood and boiled eggs to your salads. Whole foods are the best source of selenium as processing destroys its beneficial effects.
Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A. Vitamin A and beta carotene are both considered antioxidants that are excellent for vision. Eat plenty of yellow and orange fruit and vegetables to gain beta-carotene and also dark leafy greens. Vitamin A is found in eggs, meat and dairy. Both will assist the ageing of your eyes and skin.
Scientists may still be discovering a plenitude of antioxidants, but their consensus is clear about these molecules improving our health. Eating a wide variety of healthy food is going to help you age better on the inside and outside. So up the antioxidant anti in your diet and enjoy longer, healthier years.