Cellular preservation and regeneration are key requirements when it comes to enjoying good health. When your body is functioning as it should you look and feel great and this is achieved, to a great extent, by your cells maintaining a molecular balance so that oxidative stress is minimised. Antioxidants are key and understanding the process is the first step to helping it happen.
What are Free Radicals?
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Often mentioned in the same breath as antioxidants, free radicals are unstable molecules. They are present wherever there is any form of air pollution such as smoke and fumes. Free radicals are also manufactured by sunlight, and by the natural processes where calories are burned to create energy for physical exercise.
What is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress happens when you don’t get enough antioxidants from your diet, so free radicals can get the upper hand. The process of oxidative stress can damage your DNA and can result in cell death. It can lead to serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It is also one of the causes of eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
Oxidative stress can cause skin to lose its bloom, leading to fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation patches. Fortunately, eating plenty of antioxidant foods can help protect not only your skin but the health of your hair and nails too.
Various stress and environmental situations can cause free-radical production and oxidative stress. Examples of these are:
- Air pollution
- Cigarette smoke
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- High levels of blood sugar
- Radiation, and this includes too much sun on the skin
- Excessive consumption of iron, magnesium, copper, or zinc
- Being starved of oxygen
- Over-intensive and prolonged exercise
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that offer defence against free radicals, and they are produced to some extent by your own body, but a serious percentage of your antioxidant needs are hopefully provided by the food that you choose to eat. Some examples of antioxidants are vitamins C and E, selenium, carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
The richest sources are to be gleaned from fresh vegetables and fruits, but some can also be taken from animal sources. This is because all living things, plant, and animal life, create their own molecular defences against free radical damage.
How do Antioxidants Work?
Antioxidants are naturally programmed to join up with, and thereby neutralise and stabilise, chemically reactive unpaired electrons known as free radicals. For this reason, antioxidants can help prevent various diseases caused by an imbalance where unpaired electrons enable free radicals to gain enough power to cause oxidative stress and damage.
To avoid oxidative stress, it is important to ensure you are getting a plentiful supply of antioxidants either through your everyday diet or from wholefood dietary supplements.
What are the Best Antioxidant Foods?
The foods richest in antioxidant properties are vegetables and fruit. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are both essential to good health and are found in various wholefoods. Governments and health organisations are aware of the importance and necessity for everyone to eat plenty of these types of food, and they put a benchmark recommendation of ‘five a day’ on the advice notifications. This is because five a day is the bare minimum requirement and more may seem an unrealistic quantity to many people. The truth is, five a day is good, but more would be very much better.
Other foods and drink that can help provide you with a boost of antioxidants are red wine and dark chocolate. Taken in moderation, both can help your body in its continual need to neutralise free radicals. Happily, you can feel pretty good about indulging, and when you consider that red wine is made from huge amounts of red grapes, and chocolate from the cacao berry, it is not so surprising that these carry antioxidant value.
When choosing your chocolate look for a cocoa content of 70% or higher to get the best concentration of antioxidants. An interesting laboratory study into fruits which have the highest antioxidant capacity showed dark chocolate to have a significantly higher concentration than any other fruits tested, including blueberries which have long been heralded as the stars of the antioxidant world.
Cacao(cocoa) is thought to come from beans but are in fact the seeds from the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. The pod is a berry-like fruit, and each pod has around 35-50 seeds.
Green tea and coffee also provide good antioxidant protection. In some studies, coffee has been found to be the biggest single source of antioxidant in the western world. This result is a somewhat troubling indication that many people fail to eat sufficient antioxidant-rich foods, but they drink copious amounts of coffee.
A good indication of which vegetables have been given the label of ‘super foods’ by scientists and nutritionists are mainly those which are dark green. Some examples of super foods are:
- Spring cabbage
- Globe artichoke
Here are a couple of ideas for using dark green leafy vegetables to make quick and easy dishes:
Blanched Greens – Blanch spring greens, chard leaves or kale by tearing them if too large or using whole if not and plunging into a pan of slightly salted boiling water for between 2-6 minutes, depending on their tenderness. Strain and then refresh them by placing them into a bowl of cold water to fix the bright green colour. Drain again and serve immediately dressed with a little butter, pepper, sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. They can be mixed into cooked pasta or folded into a risotto when the rice is almost cooked.
Spring Green Parcels – The de-stalked leaves of quickly blanched spring greens also make wonderful parcels to stuff with savoury brown rice. They look a bit like Greek stuffed vine leaves.
Spinach – Delicious added to a quiche or stirred through a pasta sauce, shepherd’s pie mix or chilli. It’s a great addition to a pan omelette with some grated cheese.
When choosing fruits for their antioxidant value, look for berries of a vivid or dark colour, such as blueberries, red and black grapes, cherries, blackberries, acai berries, currants, cranberries, raspberries, pomegranates and logan berries. These are all superb sources of antioxidant foods.
If you are wondering about ideas for ensuring you are getting enough of the right kind of fruit you could make a few adjustments to meal choices. For instance, you could add lots of mixed berries to your cereal or muesli, along with some natural live yogurt. Try toast topped with mashed banana and blueberries, or if you prefer something quick and easy then pop a handful of berries into the blender with frozen yogurt and fruit juice and whizz up a delicious, chilled smoothie.
The processed food industry commonly uses antioxidants as additives in various products. The inclusion of vitamin C, for instance, with its preservative properties, can greatly increase the shelf-life of various factory-produced foods.
Meat and fish also contain a certain amount of antioxidant value but not nearly as much as that found in fruit and vegetables. Lean meat, poultry and fatty fish contain selenium which is an antioxidant.
Walnuts are also a good choice of antioxidant food. Ensure they are fresh and use quickly if you are buying them already shelled and packaged.
Types of Dietary Antioxidants
There are two categories of antioxidant. These are either water or fat- soluble. Water-soluble antioxidants function within the fluid in and around cells and fat-soluble antioxidants function within the cell membranes.
The essential antioxidant vitamins are:
- Vitamin C – a water-soluble antioxidant and a dietary nutrient
- Vitamin E – a fat-soluble antioxidant. Essential to protecting cell membranes against oxidative damage
- Flavonoids – Plant antioxidants with numerous health benefits
There are certain substances that work as antioxidants but also have powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. The most well-documented of these are curcuminoids found in turmeric and oleocanthal found in extra virgin olive oil.
Taking Antioxidants as Dietary Supplements
Getting enough antioxidants from your diet is the best strategy for keeping healthy so eating a good variety of antioxidant-rich wholefoods is what you should be aiming for. Studies have shown that it is the digestion of a wide variety of such foods that is most effective in reducing oxidative damage. These findings indicate that the foods’ compounds work synergistically, therefore simply taking one or two isolate nutrients may fail to have the same benefits.
If you are unable to manage a daily wholefood diet or if you know yourself to be deficient in certain nutrients, you may wish to take a dietary supplement to boost your antioxidant intake. It is important when choosing antioxidant supplements to source them from a trusted and reliable supplier who understands the need for a blend of the varied forms of antioxidant compounds.
Choosing a high quality, wholefood supplement or vitamin over a synthetic or chemical supplement can make all the difference. Not only is the absorption rate of a wholefood supplement likely to be drastically higher, the synthetically produced products can possibly result in an excessive intake of isolated antioxidants, producing a toxic effect that could even cause rather than avoid oxidative damage. This effect is called ‘antioxidant paradox’.
Our Fruit and Vegetable Powder is made from whole, freeze-dried fruit and vegetables so the broad range of nutrients are preserved. The powder is from whole fruits, not from extracts, so gives the same benefits as fresh, raw vegetables and fruits but in a more concentrated form. We have combined a range of berries, greens, and root vegetables to give a powerful and gluten-free blend of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. The recommended intake is one to two tablespoons per day which can be added to yogurt, smoothies, ice cream, or to water and juice.
Some plant extracts contain compounds with antioxidant properties that can also provide additional health and wellbeing benefits.
- Resveratrol exists as two forms, cis and trans. Trans-Resveratrol is thought to provide the most benefits, which is why the best Resveratrol supplements will be made from Polygonum or Japanese Knotweed.
- As well as providing powerful antioxidant benefits, Resveratrol also has anti-inflammatory benefits which can protect against heart-related diseases.
- Resveratrol can also cross the blood-brain barrier to increase blood flow to the brain contributing to healthy brain function and reducing cognitive decline.
- Pine Bark contains a flavonoid known as oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC), a highly effective antioxidant.
- One of the main functions of Pine Bark is to keep the blood flowing efficiently. It can strengthen blood vessels, increase blood flow and improve delivery of oxygen to cells.
- Pine bark has also been shown to give highly effective improvement in dealing with skin issues.
Co Enzyme Q10
- This antioxidant is produced naturally by the body, but levels reduce with age.
- Low levels of COQ10 are linked with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and other age-related health complaints.
- COQ10 is also vital for energy production.
It is important to note that high-dose supplements of isolated antioxidants may be linked to certain health concerns in some cases. For instance, for smokers or anyone at risk of lung cancer, high doses of beta-carotene may increase that risk. High doses of vitamin E could increase risks of prostate cancer. It could be safer to take a broader spectrum supplement. Always discuss any concerns with your GP.
When it comes to keeping you informed on health and nutrition, we’re here for you and aim to always be a source of science-backed information.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of using natural supplements, or would find advice helpful, please feel free to contact us on 01297 553932.