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Antioxidants Explained

A photo of a woman with a bowl of antioxidant-rich berries

We often hear about antioxidants, but what are they exactly and how can we make sure we are getting enough? Rude Health magazine finds out

The fight against free radicals

Nancy Flexman of Eats of Eden in Limerick city: “Antioxidant means something that works against oxygen. Oxidation occurs when our cells process the oxygen we breathe to produce energy to fuel the essential processes in our bodies. This results in unstable molecules called free radicals which can damage our cells. In the worst case, it can lead to disease. Antioxidants protect cells from damage.”

Ann Gannon, resident nutritional therapist at Healthy Beings, Strokestown, Co Roscommon: “Antioxidants are believed to help the body’s cells resist the oxidatative damage caused by free radicals formed by normal bodily processes and exposure to hydrogenated fats, trans fats, burnt foods, alcohol, food additives and sugar. Optimise your intake of antioxidants and this will help to protect your health and keep disease at bay.”

Other causes of free radicals include excessive sun exposure, electromagnetic radiation, pollutants such as tobacco smoke and other fumes, domestic cleaners, heavy metals, environmental chemicals such as pollution, car fumes, and so on.

Colour crazy

Ann Gannon: “Different colours of fruit and vegetables denote different kinds of antioxidants, so a combination provides the most protection. Fruits that have the highest levels of antioxidant value are those with the deepest colour such as berries, raspberries and strawberries. Herbs and spices such as turmeric, garlic, cinnamon and even dark chocolate are loaded with antioxidants. Look out for raw cacao which is closer to chocolate’s natural state. My top five antioxidant vegetables are tenderstem, broccoli, asparagus, kale and spinach.”

How to up antioxidants

Nancy Flexman: “A really good rule of thumb is to eat generous amounts of foods that are naturally brightly coloured, like vegetables and fruits, particularly berries as well as nuts and seeds, herbs and spices. The more variety you can get in your diet, the better. You can’t go too far wrong eating lots of unprocessed whole foods.”

Tips for increasing antioxidant intake

  • Eat multi-coloured foods every day – aim to eat foods from each of the different colour groups
  • Aim for at least seven servings of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Use herbs and spices in your everyday cooking – add turmeric, garlic and pepper to soups and stews, add cinnamon to cereals or yogurt
  • Always add in a fruit or vegetable to each meal and snack. Make half of your dinner plate vegetables, particularly the green leafy variety
  • Consider juicing fruit and vegetables – an easy and delicious way of consuming your daily dose of antioxidants
  • Keep frying to a minimum as this destroys the antioxidants in food – choose steaming, light stir frying or poaching instead
  • Butter, coconut butter or olive oil are safer options at high heat – they create fewer oxidants than heating sunflower oil
  • Never eat burnt food.
Ann Gannon

Click here to read earlier Rude Health Magazine natural health articles.
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