What are antioxidants?Marisa van Welzen
We often hear this word buzzing around the nutrition world and it’s become some-what of an industry within itself. We are buying more and more products that provide us with the most antioxidants but do we really know what they are and how they benefit us?
The term itself is quite self-explanatory a molecule that prevents oxidation. Oxidation is created by “free radicals” – you have probably heard of them. They are unstable molecules (having one electron instead of two) and are generated within the body as part of a protection response upon exposure to toxins, germs, viruses, stress and even too much sun & exercise!
Although free radicals are initially produced as part of our natural defense mechanism, overproduction of them can lead to the body’s own cells coming under attack causing oxidative damage to healthy tissues, cells and our DNA. This cellular injury can eventually lead to chronic health problems such as heart disease and cancer and we become much more prone to wrinkles & premature aging. Anti-oxidants help us by donating electrons and mopping up the extra free radicals and thereby protecting our cells.
The best way to ensure we have enough protection is to reduce our environmental exposure to toxins, manage our stress levels, exercise responsibly and eat a varied diet that provides high levels of these important compounds.
Some very special functional foods such as turmeric and green tea help to boost our natural innate production of antioxidants via the NRF-2 pathway. Antioxidants also come in the form of vitamins & minerals such as Vitamin C & E, Selenium & Zinc, which are very helpful in preventing oxidation.
Plant magic also works its wonders by providing us with a special array of phytonutrients which act as powerful antioxidants, here are some of our favourites.
· Carotenoids – these are generally orange, yellow and red in colour and help to protect us from cancer and support the immune system. Foods such as squashes, papaya, carrots, tomatoes and watermelon are excellent sources.
· Polyphenols – often described as ‘lifespan essentials’. They are associated with cardiovascular protection & longevity. Green tea, coffee, dark berries, dark chocolate, raw cacao & olives are all great dietary sources.
· Flavonoids – this type offer great anti-inflammatory protection often located in the skins of foods. Onions, apples, citrus fruits, red wine, grapes & berries are all excellent sources.
· Phytoestrogens – these help to balance our endocrine system by binding out excess oestrogens that are either made in the body or taken in from environmental exposure. Tofu, soya, alfalfa, celery, fennel and pulses are all rich sources.
The “ORAC” or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity helps us to determine what are the highest food sources of antioxidants. Top scorers include Goji Berries, Prunes, Raw Cacao, Acai, Pomegranates, Kale, Spirulina, Blueberries and Forever Pomesteen Power.
Unfortunately, no one-food group will provide your body with enough protection and it can be tricky finding the right combination. We recommend eating a varied plant-based diet including the rainbow colour spectrum of fruits & vegetables boosted with organic superfoods such as high quality Spirulina, Acai … and of course the odd glass of Vino Tinto!
Verity is a certified Nutritional Therapist, Dietary Educator & the founder of Ibiza Superfoods. She offers tailored juice cleanses, liver detoxification and personal nutritional consultations. If you would like to kick-start the healthy way, please contact her below. Verity writes a monthly blog post for The Workout Club Ibiza.