Antioxidants for health

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are beneficial compounds found in certain natural foods, such as fruit, vegetables, grasses, grains etc and even some animal products (such as fish oils). They help to defend your cells from damage caused by potentially harmful molecules, known as free radicals.

How do free radicals damage the body?

When free radicals accumulate in the body (as a result of, for example, poor diet, exposure to pollution, stress and many other factors), they can lead to what is known as oxidative stress. This has the potential to damage your DNA and other important structures in your cells.

Chronic oxidative stress, where your body is repeatedly exposed to high levels of free radicals, can increase your risk of disease (including heart disease), place a strain on your immune system, lead to inflammation in the body and also accelerate the ageing process.

How are antioxidants good for health?

Fortunately, eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help to support your body in neutralising these harmful free radicals. What’s more, naturally antioxidant-rich foods tend to be alkalising, which can simultaneously help to address any inflammation.

What are the best antioxidant foods?

Scientists use several different methods to measure the antioxidant content of foods. However, one of the best tests is the FRAP (Ferric Reducing Ability of Plasma) analysis. It measures the antioxidant content of foods by how well they can neutralise a specific free radical. The higher the FRAP value, the more antioxidants the food contains.

Another method is the ORAC system. The ORAC unit (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), ORAC value, or ORAC score is a method developed by scientists at the National Institute of Health and Aging (NIH) to measures the antioxidant capacity of different foods. Whilst the exact relationship between the ORAC value of a food and its health benefit has not been fully established, it is generally believed that foods with higher ORAC scores have greater antioxidant capacity, and more effectively neutralise harmful free radicals.

Here are the some of the most notoriously antioxidant-rich foods…

  • cloves
  • sumac
  • cinnamon
  • oregano
  • turmeric
  • acai berries
  • sorghum
  • cocoa
  • pecans
  • wheatgrass
  • blueberries
  • krill oil
  • artichokes
  • goji berries
  • kale
  • raspberries
  • beetroot
  • cherries
  • spinach
  • and the list goes on.

If you are trying to integrate more antioxidants into your daily diet, seek out foods that are naturally rich in colour. The common phrase “eat the rainbow” is a good rule of thumb. The pigments that naturally colour these foods tend to contain the antioxidant compounds that are so beneficial for health! Certain vitamins, such as vitamin C and E, are also powerful antioxidants. You may therefore turn to antioxidant supplements for a reliable daily source, coupled with a well-balanced, varied and seasonal diet.

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What are superfoods?

What puts the “super” into superfoods?

The expression “superfood” has been used for many years now, but what does it actually mean? And do these foods provide the answer to your nutritional goals, or is it all just hype?

Well, the reason these foods are referred to as being “super” is because they tend to be a rich source of vitamins and/or other nutrients (such as antioxidants and carotenoids), all of which play a vital role in keeping you healthy. Alternatively, they have a health-promoting characteristic that is not found in other foods of a similar type.

Many are known to contain elevated levels of lutein and vitamin C. They can also be rich in enzymes, proteins, minerals, and a range of phyto-nutrients.

Acai berries

A great example of a food often classed as a superfruit is the acai berrry.

These berries are known to contain among the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit. They also contain high levels of vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E and a lot more.

You can incorporate these exotic fruits into your daily diet by purchasing the powder, or by looking for a high quality acai berry supplement – ideally with Brazilian freeze-dried acai berry powder and extract for extra oomph!

Turmeric

Not just limited to the world of fruits, turmeric is another superfood that is known to provide various health benefits. This time a colourful root, turmeric contains high levels of curcumin – the active ingredient most often cited as the reason for its superfood title.

Add it into your diet regularly in whole food form, but for a greater concentration and therefore effect, try a supplement that contains at least 95% curcumin from turmeric extract.

Other colourful fruit and vegetables

And there are so many more examples of superfoods and superfruits.

Look for highly pigmented fruit, vegetables and other plant-based foods (such as wheatgrass), naturally rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and chlorophyll.

Blueberries, cherries and beetroot are just a few others.

These are all readily available in supermarkets or delis. The only downside of accessing their nutrients in whole food form is the concentration and the diminished levels of nutrients as a result of, for example, long-term storage and refrigeration. If you want to be sure of the level and quality of nutrients you are accessing, it is better to opt for health food supplements, where concentrated extracts and freeze-dried powders are used.

And, ideally, choose organic supplements for maximum benefit.

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