Taking Antioxidants to the Next Step
A couple decades ago, people could identify some specific foods as mysteriously better for us but they didn’t know why. We only knew that populations who ate certain foods lived longer or avoided certain illnesses. Scientists have devoted a lot of effort and dollars into researching this, and now we know to choose foods with antioxidants if we want to reap those same benefits. Now you’re going to learn why it’s so important to mix up the antioxidant-rich food choices you make.
When the Good Guys Go Bad
If you’ve been paying attention, you understand that antioxidants neutralize the free radicals in your body, the bad boys in town. What do you think happens when an antioxidant gives away one of its electrons? It is then defective, and it must be reclassified as a pro-oxidant. Too many of them can cause greater, not less, stress on your body’s cells. But eating a variety of antioxidants can remedy that problem.
Scientists discovered that it works like this: Antioxidant A becomes a pro-oxidant; it needs Antioxidant B to fix it. And then Antioxidant B is rescued by Antioxidant C, and so forth. Some of this information was the unexpected result of research evaluated by the National Cancer Institute.
Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom often pairs up antioxidants that will buttress one another. For example, we can get plenty of vitamin E from dark leafy vegetables. And one source of the selenium needed to boost vitamin E comes from the soil in which the vegetables are grown.
Here’s How It Works
Scientists are still studying the effects of antioxidants on one another, but here is a list of primary oxidants and the foods in which they’re found. You should try, throughout the week, to consume some from each antioxidant group.
Tocopherols and tocotrienols come from vitamin E and are found in cereal and bread grains, sunflower seeds, the afore-mentioned dark leafy vegetables, almonds, and fish liver oil.
Ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, abounds in all citrus fruits. Did you know you can also get it in sweet red peppers, strawberries, and kiwi?
Lipoic acids were recognized as antioxidants when it was discovered they help regenerate vitamin C and E deficiency. You’ll find it in broccoli and spinach as well as your basic organ meats and yeast extract. But they also help your body produce glutathione, which is not effective if taken as a supplement. The food catalysts for this include garlic, raw eggs, whey protein, and asparagus.
You’ve probably heard of CoQ10, which is actually called ubiquinol. In its natural state it is found only in the skin of fishes such as herring and mackerel. It is one of the antioxidants which do perform well when processed as a manufactured supplement.
Most people recognize carotene as present in carrots, widely known to be rich in vitamin A. It is also found in sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, apricots, and mangoes. And you can find it in spinach, broccoli, and collard greens.
Polyphenols is the broad category for the nutrients that give food its color and flavor, such as flavonoids, flavins, resveratrol, catechins, and anthocyanidins. They are abundant in foods such as berries or dark grapes and the wine made from them, tea, dark chocolate, and olive oil.
Mix ‘Em Up and Enjoy!
Scientists have discovered that more antioxidants survive the cooking process if the food is steamed rather than boiled. In fact, steamed vegetables are more antioxidant-rich than raw veggies. Antioxidants also do poorly when they are processed into supplements. So it’s best, if possible, to get your antioxidants fresh from the grocer’s.
All this research led scientists to develop a system for measuring the properties of antioxidants. The USDA has begun to rate them for their oxygen radical absorbance capacity, or ORAC. Because water-soluble nutrients react differently than fat-soluble nutrients, scientists are still exploring the ways that antioxidants help each other and give us the boosts we expect.
The ORAC values are given for 100-gram servings of various foods. In utilizing this chart, it’s important to remember that 100 grams can be a lot or a little depending on the food. For example, 100 grams of blueberries is a little less than a cupful, but to ingest 100 grams of cinnamon you have to eat more than 3.5 ounces. You’ll find the information in the chart more valuable if you keep your portion size in mind.
This post is part of the series: All About Antioxidants
What are antioxidants? How do they work? What are the health benefits of including antioxidants in your diet? What foods are high in antioxidants? This article series will answer these questions and more!