Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A is for the Antioxidants

Did you know our bodies rust due to old age and exposure to the environment?

Yep. Our bodies, just like our cars, are susceptible to oxidation. Over time our bad habits and indulgent activities such as smoking, poor diet, vigorous exercise, sun worship and those nasty hangovers take their toll on our bodies at the molecular level, causing our cells to oxidize, breaking down and destroying the very structure that holds us together and helps us fight off disease. And unfortunately this gets worse the older we get and the more oxidative stress our cells are under.

So here’s what’s happening to your body … when our body cells use oxygen they naturally lose an electron, producing a by-product called “free radicals.” These little buggers can create oxidative stress or damage to the many different cells in our bodies. When we develop bad habits such as overeating, smoking, and drinking, these free radicals can become more than our bodies can naturally handle. Normally, our bodies can handle these bad boys, but if we’re prone to over indulge, and we’re not as young as we used to be, these suckers become so abundant our bodies can’t control them. And low and behold, research is proving these free radicals are the culprits for many types of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and many types of cancers. (More to come on free radicals in a couple of weeks with the letter “F”)

Our biggest defense against these scoundrels is Antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances and nutrients in our food that can slow, and even prevent, the oxidative damage caused by free radicals. They can also enhance our immune system making us less susceptible to disease and infection. We like to think of them as our body’s version of Pac-Man munching through our bodies and gobbling up all the excess electrons rendering the free radicals powerless.

The best way to get your antioxidants is to “taste the rainbow!” No, we don’t mean eat a ton of Skittles. On the contrary, eating as many fruits and vegetables, in as many colors as possible, is your surest defense: the deep red of cherries and tomatoes; the orange of carrots; the yellow of corn, mangos, and saffron; and the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. The most well known components of food with antioxidant activities are vitamins A, C, and E; β-carotene; the mineral selenium; and more recently discovered, the compound lycopene. The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute all recommend you get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday.

Some of our favorite ways to get our antioxidants include drinking Yerba Mate or green tea every morning instead of coffee (the former claiming to offer 10,000 times the amount of antioxidants than blueberries). Guayaki Yerba Mate and Mighty Leaf Tea are our favorites and can be found in any Whole Foods (we especially like both of them for their sustainability and free trade practices).

Acai berries are another new food that’s chock full of these goodies. Sambazon, the foremost authority on acai berries, offers several different products. Their frozen non-sweetened smoothie paks are our favorites, especially when they’re mixed with frozen strawberries and bananas in apple juice – YUMMY!

Beware of processed foods touting their antioxidant benefits. 7-Up seems to be up to their old bad tricks. Harkening back to their “natural” campaign, they’ve just introduced Cherry 7-Up Antioxidant.

This is a huge red flag for us for several reasons. Vitamin E is found naturally in sources such as nuts (almonds), wheat germ and leafy greens, none of which are listed on the product's ingredient list along side the likes of high fructose corn syrup and “natural flavors”. What’s particularly unsettling is the ingredient list includes Vitamin E, but in its man-made form, Vitamin E acetate. And we’re curious to know why did they choose Vitamin E in its synthetic form rather than Vitamins A & C, which could have come from a natural source, and supported their Cherry natural flavor offering?

The best advice we can give when it comes to antioxidants is this ... eat real foods, especially fruits and vegetables … drink some hot tea to warm your bones in the winter months … if you’re older or worried about not getting the right amount ask your doctor about their daily recommendations, Dr. Weil is a great natural resource with a great website. And last but not least, make sure your indulgences are super good ones, and free radical worthy!

Here’s to living your best possible life!

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