Antioxidants are a vital part of our body’s defense system against cell damaging free radicals that increase our risk of disease and premature ageing. Including a variety of antioxidant rich foods in our diet is one of the best ways we can prevent cell damage and optimize our health and longevity.
To understand why antioxidants are so crucial for good health we first need look how free radicals affect our us.
CELL DAMAGING FREE RADICALS
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that travel around the body attaching and binding to other molecules. This starts a destructive chain reaction turning any molecule they come in contact with into an unstable free radical. Free radicals cause damage to proteins, DNA and other cells throughout the body.
When free radicals accumulate oxidative stress occurs which is associated with the development of many chronic diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, heart disease, inflammatory conditions, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Free radicals building up in the body over time is also one of the major causes of ageing. Free radicals break down collagen and decreases the skin’s suppleness and elasticity, which leads to wrinkles and premature skin ageing.
WHAT CAUSES FREE RADICALS
Various environmental and dietary factors can increase the presence of destructive free radicals. These include over exposure to sunlight, environmental pollutants like exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, stress, and eating a typical Western diet rich in processed, sugary foods, and deep fried foods. Free radicals are also a natural by-product of chemical processes in the body such as metabolism.
You can help reduce your free radical load by choosing to buy organic produce and skin products, avoid using chemical household cleaning products, and look at ways to reduce and manage your stress through regular exercise, yoga and meditation. The best way however to fight free radicals is by eating a wholesome diet rich in colourful fresh fruits and vegetables that are abundant in a variety of protective antioxidant compounds.
HOW ANTIOXIDANTS OFFER PROTECTION
It’s the job of antioxidants to neutralise free radicals before they cause any damage to cells. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from reacting with other molecules, which breaks that destructive free radical chain reaction.
Antioxidants protect healthy cells while stoping the growth of malignant cells. They help strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, support liver detoxification and promote cardiovascular health. Antioxidants also help slow down the ageing process, helping to keep skin more youthful looking.
Our body makes a number of our important antioxidants such as glutathione, however we need larger amounts of antioxidants to keep free radicals under control. This is why we need a constant supply of antioxidants obtained through the diet from wholefoods such as berries, dark green leafy vegetables, avocadoes, tomatoes and green tea to keep free radicals in check. As we age our body’s natural production of antioxidants also start to decline, making an antioxidant rich diet even more vital for older people.
Some of our most potent antioxidant nutrients supplied through the diet include carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin), resveratrol, vitamin A, C and E, lycopene, selenium, flavanoids, querceitn, and astaxanthin. Other key antioxidants include alpha-lipoic acid, coQ10, and glutathione.
The more antioxidant rich foods we consume each day from high quality organic wholefoods the better our health will be and the lower our risk of disease. Here are some of the top antioxidant rich foods mother nature has to offer.
Broccoli sprouts are little nutritional powerhouses, full of cell protective antioxidants including vitamins C and A. Broccoli sprouts also contain high levels of sulforaphane, a powerful antioxidant compound that helps fight cancer, reduce inflammation, and supports healthy liver detoxification. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts are one of the best SOD (Superoxide dismutase) boosters, which is a super antioxidant and one of our most important anti-ageing compounds produced in the body. SOD helps fight damaging superoxide free radicals that lead to cell death and aging.
Adding raw broccoli sprouts to meals is an easy way to give your body an antioxidant boost. They can be easily and cheaply grown at home, or you can buy broccoli sprout powder to add to smoothies and fresh juices.
Berries contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of all fruits and vegetables, especially those with dark-coloured skins such as blueberries, black berries, black current, elderberries and super ‘purple berries’ maquai and acai. Their vibrant red, blue and purple colour signifies the presence of an important group of antioxidants called anthocyanins. Berries are also excellent sources of Vitamin C. Berries are best enjoyed with muesli, Bircher or porridge, mixed through yoghurt, smoothies, salads, and raw desserts.
Astaxanthin is a type of super marine carotenoid that is found naturally in wild salmon. Astaxanthin is responsible for giving salmon their characteristic reddish-pink colour. Astaxanthin is one of the most powerful antioxidants around, said to have 54 times the antioxidant powers of beta-carotene and 65 times that of vitamin C, which are both some of our most potent free radical fighting nutrients. Astaxanthin can cross the blood brain barrier and has been found to help offer protection from cataracts, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Chocolate, when in its raw cacao form, has many wonderful health benefits including promoting heart and cardiovascular health. Polyphenols, which are antioxidants found in cacao, can prevent bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol from clogging up arteries, and lower total cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. Good quality dark chocolate contains higher levels of these polyphenols compared to milk varieties. Raw cacao powder can be used to make delicious healthy chocolate raw desserts, cakes, protein balls, and chocolate smoothies.
Avocadoes are a super fruit loaded with important antioxidants nutrients needed for disease prevention. Avocadoes contains high levels of carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin which are required for healthy eyes and vision and for prevention of degenerative eye conditions such as macular degeneration. The dark green parts of the avocado nearest the skin contains the highest levels of carotenoids. Avocadoes are particularly rich in vitamin E. We need this beneficial nutrient to prevent heart disease and cancer and to boost immune function. Avocadoes are also one of the best natural sources of glutathione, considered the body’s master antioxidant, which plays a key role in liver detoxification and immune health. The majority of our glutathione is produced in the body from amino acids glutamine, glycine and cysteine, however it is also necessary that we increase our levels through dietary sources. Avocadoes are the perfect addition to salads, grainy toast, green smoothies, salad dressings, raw desserts, and to make nutritious dips like guacamole.
Green tea is rich in polyphenols, namely catechins and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which are powerful antioxidants. Drinking green tea regularly is associated with a reduced risk of high cholesterol, stroke, and cancer. EGCG slows down collagen and elastin breakdown and can help regenerate aging surface skin cells. These are two important proteins in the skin that gives the skin strength, tone and elasticity. Aim to drink at least 3 cups of a good quality organic green tea to reap this beneficial teas full health benefits. Try Bodhi Organic ViridiTEA.
This popular citrus fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which are powerful free radical scavengers that help promote a strong functioning immune system and radiant youthful looking skin. Vitamin C is needed for collagen production and helps reduce premature skin ageing and skin damage caused from UV sun exposure.
Grapefruits like other citrus fruits are high in flavonoids called limonoid which has been found to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Fresh pink or red grapefruits contain higher levels of antioxidants compared to other varieties. Pink and red grapefruits contains anthyocyanins and the antioxidant lycopene which is known for its ability to lower the risk of prostate cancer. Choose fully ripe grapefruit as they have the highest levels of antioxidants.
Some delicious ways to enjoy grapefruit is sliced and tossed through salads and fruit salads, and blended into veggie juices. The rind is abundant in antioxidants particularly flavonoids so use grapefruit zest to decorate cakes, desserts or salads for extra antioxidant goodness.
Pomegranates contain many powerful antioxidant nutrients. Including pomegranates in the diet regularly can boost collagen production and help support healthy eyes and vision due to their high vitamin C and A content. This beautiful red fruit is abundant in the polyphenols, anthyocycanins and ellagic acid, which are all potent antioxidants that help protect skin cells from free radical damage caused from sun exposure, which is a major skin age accelerator. Try tossing pomegranate through salads or muesli, or mix them through yoghurt for a healthy snack. Try our antioxidant rich Rose hip and Hibiscus, Pomegranate Iced Tea.
Red tomatoes are the richest source of Lycopene around. Lycopene is a type of carotenoid found in red fruits that have powerful antioxidant and anti-cancerous properties. This extremely efficient antioxidant is effective for warding off heart disease and several types of cancers, in particular prostate cancer.
Fresh tomatoes are the best source, however cooked tomato products such as pastes, sauces, and soups are more concentrated. 1 cup of tomato soup contains 7 times more of the antioxidant lycopene than one fresh tomato.
Brazil nuts are different from other nuts as they have exceptionally high levels of selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential for good health but required only in small amounts. Selenium has strong antioxidant properties that can help prevent cellular damage from free radicals that contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Just one Brazil nut a day can supply you with more than the daily requirement of selenium, having around 95 mcg of selenium per nut. Eating Brazil nuts are also a good source of the antioxidant glutathione and vitamin E.
The super spice turmeric contains an active compound called curcumin which has been studied extensively for its powerful antioxidant properties. Turmeric has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Some delicious ways to enjoy turmeric is added to a mango smoothie or turmeric latte, as a tea with some ginger and lemon, or added to steamed rice, curries, lentil dahls, salad dressings or scrambled eggs. Try Bodhi Organic ZesTEA and CognitiviTEA.
Kale is a brassica green leafy vegetable that is packed with phytochemicals that help combat free radicals and reduce the risk of cancers and other chronic diseases. Green leafy vegetables like kale provide two important carotenoid antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants are beneficial for protecting the eyes from age related diseases like macular degeneration and vision loss. Kale and other brassica vegetables are also excellent sources of sulphur-compounds that the body needs to make glutathione. Kale is also abundant in vitamin C, beta-carotene and selenium.
The best way to enjoy kale is chopped and massaged with a little olive oil and lemon juice then tossed through a salad. Try adding kale to green juices, frittatas, soups, stews or stir-fries. Make pesto using half kale and half basil or try oven baked kale chips as a snack.
PURPLE AND RED GRAPES:
Purple and red grapes contain resveratrol which has been studied extensively for its health promoting and anti-ageing properties. Resveratrol, known as the ‘fountain of youth’ is a potent antioxidant that occurs naturally in several plants in response to stress, attack by bacteria or fungi, or ultraviolet radiation.
Scientists at Harvard University have found that resveratrol has the ability to turn on a particular gene (SIRT1) that has been proven to extend life, mimicking that of calorie restriction. Resveratrol can also help reduce the risk of cancer, improve heart health and lower inflammation. Red wine also contains high levels of resveratrol.
Written by Lisa Guy, naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.