You may have heard how important it is to take antioxidants to help you stay youthful and healthy AND to keep free radicals roaming around our bodies in check — but do you really understand why? I can assure you this is a dynamic and interesting subject!
Check out my list below of ’12 -Antioxidant-Rich Foods’ and ‘Antioxidant Supplements’ for optimal health.
Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons that can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction, like dominoes — that can be responsible for damaging important our cellular components like DNA, or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs.
Free radicals have also been shown to be responsible for the onset of many diseases including the two biggest affecting mortality — heart disease and cancer.
What is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress occurs when the body’s mechanism for neutralizing highly toxic chemicals known as free radicals is overtaxed.
The human body is not without its own defenses against this damage. It creates many different types of molecules — antioxidants — to combat these free radicals and protect the cells from attack by oxygen.
Imagine this — oxidation, the same chemical reaction that causes iron to rust, plays a similarly corrosive role in our bodies. So, oxidation can damage DNA, mitochondria, cell membranes and other mechanisms and structures essential to our cells.
What are Antioxidants
Antioxidants are intimately involved in the prevention of cellular damage — the common pathway for cancer, aging, and a variety of diseases.
Antioxidants are molecules that can safely interact with free radicals and stop the chain reaction of problems they create before vital molecules are damaged. Although there are several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals, the principle antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Selenium, a trace metal that is required for proper function of one of the body’s antioxidant enzyme systems, is also sometimes included in this category. These have been shown to help protect the body against basically all chronic degenerative diseases.
Studies show that it is a combination of antioxidants which provide greater protection rather than large dosages of any single antioxidant. And getting optimal protection requires plant-based antioxidants, which work in conjunction with nutrient antioxidants.
The body cannot manufacture these micronutrients, so they must be supplied in the diet or with supplementation.
Benefits of Antioxidants
Many foods contain antioxidants that the body can use to help quench free radicals. Eating things like dark berries, leafy greens, and superfoods like acai and goji can all make a difference.
It is also important to add in some form of plant-based antioxidant which contains flavonoids.
Flavonoids are plant pigments that are more potent and effective against a broader range of free radicals than just antioxidant nutrients. Besides lending color to fruits and flowers, flavonoids are responsible for their anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, antiviral, and anticancer properties.
Here are some important antioxidant-rich foods to include in your diet whenever possible to fight free radical damage.
Broccoli is often listed as a superfood and it’s no wonder since it has plenty of cancer-fighting antioxidants, such as carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene plus a broad assortment of vitamins and minerals and a good amount of fiber.
Apricots are a fruit that often goes overlooked in the produce section, but it’s time to start adding it to your grocery cart more often for not only a nice dose of both vitamin A and vitamin C but also lycopene.
All berries such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in antioxidants like phytochemicals and vitamins, especially vitamin C. As little as one cup of berries can provide you with half your daily recommended allowance of vitamin C. Berries make a great substitute for sugar too – helping to reduce free radicals even more!
Blueberries are often credited as a fruit with one of the highest levels of antioxidants per ounce. But cherries rank nearly as high in containing phytonutrients in a form that makes it, so the body can more easily absorb it.
Summer is known as watermelon season, and this is one treat that contains sizable amounts of antioxidant protection. You’ll boost your glutathione levels which is a vital and potent antioxidant used by your liver. You’ll also get vitamins and minerals in each serving but be sure to keep your portion sizes in check because the sugar may spike blood glucose levels.
Spinach contains excellent amounts of fiber and protein as well as plenty of antioxidants, including beta-Carotene to help not only your eyesight but prevent macular degeneration by fending off free radical damage.
Kale has great fiber, mineral and protein levels but also shines when it comes to vitamin A and vitamin C. Kale is also high in two other powerful antioxidants known, as lutein and zeaxanthin.
Apples are often considered a quintessential health food, and as it turns out they contain the antioxidants to back up their reputation. So, go ahead and get your organic apple a day in to fight those free radicals.
9. Dark Chocolate
This is a real treat for chocolate lovers! Amazingly, dark chocolate is high in antioxidants, especially flavanols and polyphenols. This bean is known to improve heart and brain health, lower blood pressure and reduce food cravings. However, moderation is key!
Cranberries contain one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants than any other fruit and vegetable. It offers a high source of vitamins, including vitamin C which is helpful in preventing infections from adhering to the urinary tract walls. Cranberries make an ideal sugar substitute in recipes or snack food.
All nuts have huge amounts of antioxidants and offer unique free radical protect due to their high phytochemicals such as resveratrol and plant sterols, omega-3s, vitamins, and minerals. Again, due to their high-fat content, a little goes a long way!
There are a variety of spices right in your kitchen cabinet that provides the best sources of available antioxidants and spice up your meals at the same time. Spices such as cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, sage, cilantro, parsley, and cinnamon can help ward off infections, viruses, and bacteria, helping to reduce free radical damage. Amazingly, you can easily add them to your recipes or herbal tea infusions.
It is important to up your antioxidant diet from food sources on a regular basis rather than taking a lot of supplements alone to counter free radical effects. Instead, I like to recommend antioxidant supplements to fill the gap where people may have health challenges and need more support.
Glutathione – The Super Antioxidant
I highly recommend glutathione to my patients to stay extra healthy in times of stress, toxins, poor diet, trauma, infections and if they are taking medications. All of these deplete our glutathione stores, leaving us susceptible to developing all kinds of diseases.
Without enough glutathione, your liver becomes overworked, and it makes it hard for it to properly detox chemicals and toxins from your environment and food.
Even aging depletes our glutathione levels. By the age of 45, our glutathione levels begin to drop, and they can drop as much as 50% below optimal as we get older.
On the bright side, glutathione helps prevent aging, cancer, heart disease, dementia, and can be used to treat things from autism to Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, individuals with the least amount of glutathione in their blood are 30% more likely to suffer from a heart attack and stroke than individuals with high glutathione levels.
My favorite glutathione is an exciting product formulated with liposomal technology for enhanced delivery and absorption in lemon-peppermint flavor.
Here are some other important extracts that offer antioxidant protection:
Bilberry extract – protects the eyes and along with some other important nutrients like those found in OcuForce™ can help you ward off eye issues that often come with the aging process.
Hawthorn extract – offers numerous health benefits including lowering anxiety, regulating blood pressure, promoting good digestion, preventing heart disease and promoting respiratory health. I see many clients with blood pressure issues and often recommend HTN Complex™ which contains Hawthorn extract and other nutrients for healthy blood pressure, cardioprotective properties and normal vascular tone.
Ginkgo biloba extract – Protects the brain and vascular lining, especially for those over 50 years old. A good brain formula can be found in Brain Vitale™ which supports cognitive function as well as repairing physically damaged neurons and helping to prevent age-related memory decline.
Grape seed extract – A systemic antioxidant and best choice for most people under age 50. Also specific for the lungs, diabetes, varicose veins, and protection against heart disease. I recommend Grape Seed Supreme™ which is derived from grape skin and seed extracts.
Green tea extract – This is one of my favorite supplements. It is researched to provide good protection against cancer and is a great choice if there is a family history of cancer. Also helps protect against cholesterol damage. EGCg (epigallocatechin gallate) is a key active component of green tea (Camellia sinensis) leaves is valued for its antioxidant properties and has been studied extensively for weight loss through promoting fat metabolism.
Milk thistle extract – Good for additional antioxidant protection by detoxifying the liver by promoting the flow of bile and protecting hepatocytes. I recommend milk thistle that is standardized to 80% silymarin.
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If you are still wondering about your optimal antioxidant protection and the harm free radicals can do to your body, contact me today and let me help you get fully informed. We all have to deal with free radicals but there are also so many ways to minimize them to keep us healthier.