They are really, really good for you.
by Karen Curinga
The Fountain of Youth may not have been a figment of Ponce de Leon’s imagination. Studies and research now support claims that substances do exist that can slow the aging process.
More good news: You don’t have to fly to a spa in the tropics or mortgage your house to pay for the secret potion. The ingredients are probably already in your house, or at least as close as your nearest grocery store and farmer’s market.
Antioxidants are vitamins and minerals found in foods and manufactured by our bodies. Research has substantiated that antioxidants not only play a huge role in preventing disease, but just as importantly, actually promote health.
“In nature, there is a direct link between high levels of antioxidants and life span,” says Dr. Lester Packer, microbiologist and biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. “We have solid evidence that antioxidants can prevent aging on the cellular level, where the aging process begins. What we eat can make a huge difference in our ability to maintain the antioxidant advantage and to keep our bodies and minds functioning at optimal levels.”
Oxygen sustains life, but also ages, damages and destroys cells and can end life itself. Metabolized or burned in the body, oxygen leaves cellular byproducts known as free radicals. You inhale about a billion free radicals with every breath.
Free radicals have been implicated in all kinds of diseases including cancer, heart disease, atherosclerosis, arthritis, premature aging and high blood pressure. They can damage cells so they are either unable to replicate themselves or they replicate abnormally. They may make it impossible for the cell to receive oxygen, water or nutrients, or cause a cell to rupture and die.
Free radicals are not all bad. The immune system actually uses them to fight off viruses and bacteria. However, when free radicals are produced in excess of the body’s needs, they can damage cells, DNA and tissues.
Free radicals are a natural byproduct of cellular metabolism. Exposure to radiation (even sunlight), tobacco smoke, alcohol, pesticides, preservatives and pollutants can increase the body’s
natural production of free radicals.
How do antioxidants work?
Antioxidants react with free radicals, keeping them from reacting with body tissues, and thus neutralize their destructive properties. Antioxidants not only help prevent disease, they also strengthen arteries, veins, capillaries and red blood cells, and improve cell membrane flexibility. They improve joint flexibility and the elasticity and smoothness of the skin, as well as protect against sun damage. Antioxidants also guard against hay fever and other allergies, inflammation and stomach ulcers.
Research supports the view that a high intake of antioxidants is directly related to reduced free radical damage to tissues and reduced incidence of disease. A 10-year study administered by Harvard Medical School on 22,000 men with histories of heart disease reported that those who had been supplied good amounts of betacarotene suffered half as many cardiovascular problems as those who did not take the betacarotene.
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that a five-year study of 30,000 persons given Vitamin E and selenium showed a 13% reduction in the cancer rate among those studied.
The American Heart Association (AHA) reported that in a study of 1,795 nurses who had histories of heart problems, a 33% lower risk of heart attack and a 71% lower risk of stroke was found among the women who had eaten antioxidant-rich foods, compared to those who had not.
The second National Health & Nutrition Survey reported that 91% of Americans do not follow the daily USDA dietary guidelines of two or more fruits and three or more vegetables per day. In fact, 45% reported eating no vegetables or fruits at all!
RDAs set up by the FDA may actually be too low for optimum health. For example, enough vitamin C to keep you from getting scurvy may not be enough to keep you at optimal health. It has not yet been determined exactly how much of each antioxidant we may require. But we are finding that antioxidants work at their highest level when they all work together. What we do know for sure: We should all be eating as many foods rich in antioxidants as possible.
“Ironically, despite all the spectacular, high-tech medical breakthroughs of the twentieth century, Americans are still two to four times more likely to die of lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes than citizens of poor nations. Why? The answers often lie with what we are putting on our plates,” says Dr. Packer.
If your diet is less than optimal, you can start making small changes that will add up to big benefits. Shop in the produce section and at farmers markets. Teach your children how to secure a healthy future for themselves; let them help you select a “rainbow” of produce colors. By choosing colors of the entire rainbow, you guarantee a wide variety of antioxidant coverage. To maintain a high level of antioxidants in your body, aim to eat seven to 10 portions of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
Avoid the aisles packed with foods rich in sugar, salt, chemicals, additives and preservatives.
Along with eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, drink at least eight glasses of water to help flush the free radicals and toxins out of your body.
Thus you will avoid the “self-inflicted” diseases that often accompany toxic diets, and unlock the power of health. Start today! u
The Big Three
Vitamin E: Keeps skin youthful and protects against sun damage. Helps relieve symptoms of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Helps protect against the causes of cancer. May play a strong role in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease.
A few food sources: Nuts, seeds, olive oil, flax oil, fish liver oils, dried apricots, leafy greens.
Vitamin C: Regenerates Vitamin E in the antioxidant network. Critical for a healthy immune system. Essential for the production of healthy skin. Protects against cataracts. Protects against heart disease. Shields DNA and helps protect sperm from free radical damage.
A few food sources: Citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, kiwis, cantaloupe, green peppers, raw cabbage, spinach, kale, broccoli and leafy greens.
Betacarotene: Boosts the immune function in the body. Helps protect against many kinds of cancer. Essential for healthy skin. These can be converted into Vitamin A in the body.
A few food sources: Spinach, carrots, squash, broccoli, yams, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, leafy greens.
More about foods
One way to recognize these powerful, highly protective foods is by their vibrant colors. They are a palette for the eye — blueberries, tomatoes, prunes, beets, broccoli, squash, carrots, yams, strawberries, red/green/yellow bell peppers, grapes/raisins and dark, leafy greens — all high in antioxidants. Color and the antioxidant value in the food are directly correlated.
Apples: Full of fiber and a good source of Vitamin C. The pectin in apples has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
Berries: Packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals — and loaded with antioxidants. Blueberries may rank highest on the list of antioxidant-rich foods. But don’t forget the strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. These are cancer fighters.
Citrus fruits: Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes and tangerines are full of Vitamin C. The National Cancer Institute has acknowledged them as strong cancer fighters. Pink grapefruit is a good source of lycopene.
Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts contain a potent antioxidant that breaks down estrogen in the body, believed to reduce the risk of breast cancer and other estrogen-related cancers (ovaries and cervix).
Greens: Dark green, leafy vegetables are more than decorative garnish on a plate. Packed full of vitamins, minerals and other disease-fighting antioxidants, they are high in fiber and help lower cholesterol.
Sesame oil and seeds: Sesame appears to be an antioxidant booster. Sprinkle on vegetables or tofu. I promise you will enjoy this.
Red grapes: Antioxidants in red grapes boost heart health. They help the blood vessels remain open and flexible. They can help reduce the risk of inflammatory disease, ulcers and stroke.
Spinach: Lutein, the antioxidant in spinach, appears to help protect the eyes from sun damage and free radicals.
Sweet potatoes or yams: Full of fiber, potassium and betacarotene, these colorful vegetables are delicious raw.
Carrots: Along with sweet potatoes, yams, beets, and other yellow-orange vegetables, carrots are rich in betacarotene and provide protection against cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
Tomatoes: Contain lycopene, credited with powerful preventive effects on prostate, lung, colon and breast cancers; and glutathione, another powerful antioxidant that helps boost the immune system.
Garlic: One of the world’s oldest known medicinal herbs, helps lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, keeps the blood from clotting and fights free radicals. It has also been used in treating yeast infections and asthma.
Soy: Linked to prevention of cancer and osteoporosis, lowered cholesterol, alleviation of the symptoms of menopause. Soy contains isoflavones, which resemble natural estrogens in the body.
Karen’s Oriental Salad
A guaranteed antioxidant booster!
Amounts listed serve one.
Dark leafy greens (variety of romaine, spinach, kale, etc.)
1 orange, peeled and diced
1/4 cup raw walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup avocado or raw broccoli florets
Juice of 1 orange
2-3 Tbs. lite rice vinegar
2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil (good quality)
Karen Curinga (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a speaker, consultant and author of The Greatest Diet On Earth, Globe Publishing. For more information on the benefits of a plant-based diet, visit www.thegreatestdiet.com.