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A is for Antioxidant

Antioxidants are amazing for keeping your body young and avoiding nasties such as inflammation and disease

Antioxidants are a vital player in the body’s fight against disease and premature ageing,” says Frederika Le Cain from health store Loop de Loop in Castletownbere, Co Cork.

“Without antioxidants our bodies deplete nutrient stores rapidly, struggle to heal from illness or injury and become listless with a heavy toxic load. Antioxidants are the janitors of the body, keeping the system clean, orderly and running efficiently. They are as important as drinking water.

“The most celebrated antioxidants are more recognisably known as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and selenium. Antioxidants play a vital part in preventing premature ageing, by protecting cells from the harmful, ravaging effects of free radicals. They also play a role in neutralising carcinogenic substances, particularly in smokers. Free radicals are highly reactive, harmful substances that cause damage to human cells and tissue.”

“The function of antioxidants is protection,” says Matt Ronan from Evolv in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. “A very long time ago nature figured out that cells need protection from a host of potential baddies. The wonderful pigments in plants – reds, oranges, yellows and purples – is them cleverly protecting themselves from the sun with powerful organic substances.

“Given that most of the major diseases of modern life are now considered to be largely based in chronic inflammation, it is becoming increasingly vital to have a defence from the damage which this does to the body. This is exactly where antioxidants step in and give us this protection.”

Eating antioxidants

“In our modern day diet we rely heavily on pre-made foods, carbohydrates and proteins,” says Frederika Le Cain. “We do not get enough antioxidants as these are fragile and, although present in fresh vegetables, they can be destroyed easily in the cooking process. Eating raw salads such as grated carrot and beetroot with chopped walnuts and a natural yogurt stirred through as a dressing with a drizzle of sesame oil is an excellent way to include antioxidant-rich foods in your day.

“Avoid peeling or preparing fruits too far ahead of consumption as many antioxidants may be lost to the atmosphere. Instead prepare and eat immediately. Pineapples, pears, apples and pomegranates are particularly rich in antioxidants. Pomegranate seeds are delicious as a topping to a salad, yogurt or fruit salad. Alternatively check out your local health store for pomegranate juice.”

“A diverse diet giving us access to a variety of colourful fruits, vegetables, seeds etc will go a long way towards addressing our needs,” says Matt Ronan.

Raw is best!

Try not to overcook your antioxidant foods – eat them raw or lightly steamed to get the greatest benefits.

Drinking antioxidants

“Green tea cammelia sinensis contains a bouquet of potent antioxidants called catechins, a type of flavonoid,” says Cobus Botha, a naturopath and medical herbalist who works with Coyne Healthcare. “Flavonoids are natural plant chemicals that protect the plant from toxins, insects and diseases; it makes sense that they can protect us too.

“There are eight different catechins in green tea that work synergistically together. Each serving of green tea has the same antioxidant capacity as a capsule of vitamin C and is a more potent antioxidant than vitamin E. The antioxidants present in green tea have been proven to have anti-ageing benefits and protect humans from a number of diseases. We can use green tea to enhance metabolism, lower cholesterol, treat obesity and detoxify our bodies.”

What about supplementing?

“Vitamin C is arguably the most important nutrient in our diet,” says Frederika Le Cain. “Supplementing with a good brand of vitamin C, preferably with bioflavonoids, will provide your body with a potent antioxidant while also fuelling your energy levels and boosting the immune system. As vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin make sure to buy a quality brand.

“Beta carotene capsules provide an excellent source of antioxidants, particularly suited to those concerned about skin health,” says Frederika Le Cain. “Prolonged use of beta carotene has been shown to increase the skin’s natural SPF barrier, while giving a healthy glow. Beta carotene is also vital for eye health. In this age of screen use the macula of the eye is exposed to an unhealthy level of blue light, and beta carotene has been shown to increase the eyes’ ability to screen out harmful rays.”

“Beta-carotene, the orange in carrots, is a powerful antioxidant which we can utilise to protect our own skin from burning in the sun, as it is a terrific aid to us producing our own pigment, melanin,” agrees Matt Ronan.

“Selenium is a trace mineral and powerful antioxidant, particularly when used in combination with vitamin E,” says Frederika Le Cain. “Well known for its ability to bind with toxic metals in the food chain and prevent them from being absorbed by the body and doing harm, selenium is also vital for the utilisation of your essential fatty acids and helps to treat inflammation in the body. Selenium is used by the body for prostaglandin production, involved in healing injury and disease.”

“A high absorption turmeric supplement can act as an excellent anti-ageing supplement,” says Matt Ronan. “If we were looking for something of a superstar among antioxidants it would be alpha lipoic acid, which has an almost unique ability to dissolve both in fat and water. Astaxanthin is pink and we see it in pink flamingos and salmon who eat a diet particularly rich in this terrific substance. For humans, taking capsules aids in the protection of our cholesterol from oxidation which potentially poses a health risk by sticking to our arteries. Pycnogenol is derived from French pine bark. Reddish in colour, it is most famous for its benefits to the circulatory system.”

Your A-Z of top antioxidants

Vitamin A – keeps eyes in good condition and boosts the immune system.

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids – for skin health.

Vitamin C – the main antioxidant.

Vitamin E – important for energy and sex drive.

Flavonoids – believed to contribute to the low rates of heart disease in Japan.

Isoflavonoids – reduces the formation of free radicals.

Lutein – has been linked to a lower incidence of eye lens degeneration and associated vision loss in the elderly.

Lycopene – men who eat plenty of the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes may be less likely than other men to develop prostate cancer.

Polyphenols – strong antioxidants that can neutralise free radicals by donating an electron or hydrogen atom.

Selenium – important for the immune system and reproduction.

Zinc – important for a healthy immune system.

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