Antioxidants are the buzz words of the health world but what exactly are these mystical ingredients and what do they do? Put simply, antioxidants help fight some of the destructive by-products of our body’s normal processes and protect us against the damage of oxidative stress and free radicals.
Oxidation is a normal chemical process that takes place in the body every day. Oxidation produces unstable chemicals called free radicals, which damage cell membranes and other structures. Free radicals have been linked to a variety of diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers. Antioxidants are compounds in foods that can battle this process. They scavenge and neutralise free radicals. That all sounds very scientific, but put simply free radicals are like little fires that leave small burn marks in your cells. Antioxidants are like a guard to protect against the sparks.
No individual antioxidant does everything, so the best way to boost your antioxidant levels is to eat a wide and varied diet. Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, wholegrains and tea are all packed with antioxidants. The best known antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, and minerals such as copper, zinc and selenium, which can all act as antioxidants. Some foods with the highest levels of antioxidants include goji berries, turmeric, blueberries, Szechuan pepper, grapes and grape seeds, dark chocolate, pecans, artichoke, kidney beans and cranberries. [i]
Curcumin, a compound found in Turmeric is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is backed by numerous studies.[ii],[iii],[iv] A study, published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, found curcumin has remarkable antioxidant activity, and it has been found to be an excellent free radical scavenger.[v]
It’s easy to add turmeric to your diet. Its slightly warm and peppery flavour works especially well with cauliflower, potatoes, and root vegetables, in curries, or even in a vegetable frittata. Curcumin can be difficult to absorb in food. To get the best curcumin absorption, fry your turmeric in a healthy fat to protect it against stomach acid before full digestion.
Grape seeds are packed with antioxidants including vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid and oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC’s). OPC’s protect cells and DNA against free radical induced damage.[vi] OPC’s also have significant cardiovascular benefits as they protect LDL cholesterol against oxidation, which can prevent further damage to our cardiovascular system and in particular, arteries.vi
Unfortunately, most of us choose seedless grapes or don’t eat the seeds. Grape seed oil is now available in most supermarkets and is ideal for stir-frying, sautéing, and baking. It has a clean, light taste that holds flavour quite well. Try it as a salad dressing for an antioxidant power pack.
Green tea is loaded with antioxidants including various flavonoids and catechin compounds which are known for their antioxidant ability to protect cells and tissues from damage and to prevent the production of pro-inflammatory agents. Green tea has been shown to have benefits for the brain and cardiovascular systems and protect against damage caused by elevated blood sugars.[vii]
Resveratrol, a key ingredient in red wine, is also found in many plant foods including grapes, cranberries, mulberries, cocoa and peanuts. A Turkish study found resveratrol had effective antioxidant and radical scavenging activity[viii]. It is thought that resveratrol has particular benefits for blood vessels, the heart and inflammation, with a 2015 study showing that resveratrol consumption decreased systolic blood pressure level. [ix]
Speak to your health professional about the diet, lifestyle, testing and potential supplements that might be right for you.
References available on request