Most of us have been told to introduce more antioxidants into our diet, but what do they really do and more importantly where can you find them? Daphne teamed up with author Kerri Glassman to find out more about these powerful superfoods.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances that protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Think of them as the good guys that fight the bad guys, or free radicals. Free radicals are produced when your body breaks down food or from environmental exposures such as tobacco smoke or the sun, which damage cells and contribute to aging, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
Think of a free radical as a pinball careening around inside your body, constantly smashing into other cells. The free radical disrupts normal cell functioning so that the cells can't do their jobs properly because this little guy keeps storming the gates. Antioxidants protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals.
So How Do Antioxidants Work?
Kerri Glassman likes to picture antioxidants, as little molecules flying through the bloodstream, wearing capes, like super heroes. The vast majority of these "free-radical fighters" are found in plants including fruits, vegetables, and delicious whole grains--and in healthy fats like nuts.
Antioxidants combat free radical damage caused by UV exposure, environmental pollution, stress, and even some foods we eat. Free radicals disrupt normal cell functioning and have been linked to many health problems including premature aging- (aka wrinkles), heart disease, cancer, poor immune function and Alzheimer's disease.
How Do you Know Which Foods Contain the Most Antioxidants?
One way to determine a food's antioxidant power is by checking the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale. The ORAC scale was developed as a way to determine which foods were richest in antioxidants and researchers suggest eating at least 3,000-5,000 ORAC points per day.
It's a scale that measures how well the components of a food mop up free radicals in the bloodstream. Eating antioxidants has been shown to be able to increase your the antioxidant power of your blood at least 10-25%. This is one of those rare nutritional areas where more is better.
ORAC scale is not a perfect scale but it is a reference point regarding foods high in antioxidants. All of these foods are also high in other nutrients including fiber and possibly healthy fat depending upon the food. They are simply the best foods out there!
Some Studies Say that Antioxidants May Not Be as Good As We Think
Supplement research has actually even shown negative effects of over-consuming. But, when it comes to real food, you wouldn't sit down and say "I'd like some iceberg lettuce instead of spinach because I have gotten too many nutrients in!"
Foods You Should Incorporate Into Your Diets
Black beans are not only are they packed with fiber and protein, but one serving of black bean soup rates as a 16,500 on the ORAC scale.
The antioxidants in blueberries are known to lower "bad" cholesterol and improve memory and cognitive changes associated with aging and fight heart disease.
Kale is loaded with breast cancer-fighting antioxidants, beta-carotene & vitamin C, and also packed with a kind of calcium that is easier to absorb than that of other greens.
Nuts in the proper portion, particularly pecans, are one of Kerri's absolute favorite foods. Most of the fat in nuts is monounsaturated, a heart-healthy fat. Pecans in particular are the highest antioxidant nut! Research published in the August 2006 issue of Nutrition Research, shows that adding just a handful of pecans to your healthy diet each day may help prevent coronary heart disease. The researchers suggest that this positive effect was in part due to the pecan's significant content of vitamin E, a natural antioxidant. It's also a total wrinkle-fighter due to its vitamin E content.