Antioxidants can protect us from free radicals and oxidative stress, which destroy our cells, accelerate aging, and may even cause cancer. Fortunately, a proper diet may bring us many antioxidants and protect us. That being said, there is no point in consuming antioxidants on one side if you intake oxidizing foods on the other. So let’s start from the beginning.
If you are used to consuming any of the following foods in “large” quantities, you may need to consider:
- processed products
- dairy products
- red meat
Vegetable oils are often rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega 6 and omega 3). These fatty acids are are beneficial, but they are also easily oxidized: heat, sun, oxygen… So, avoid heating them or leaving the bottle open for too long: when oxidized, oils become harmful.
For cooking, prefer coconut oil or olive oil (which has different properties than other vegetable oils – made from seeds -, which make it more resistant to heat).
Cooking tends to oxidize food. This is particularly true for grilled or smoked food. Favor low-temperature, simmered or steamed cooking.
Now that we know how to limit oxidation, let’s see how to foster anti-oxidation!
Polyphenols are antioxidants used by plants to protect themselves from agressions. Luckily, it turns out that they can protect us as well!
So… which food has antioxidants? All of them! It is therefore “sufficient” to have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables in order to have them contribute to our health.
Here are a few famous ones :
- Red fruits
- Green tea (its antioxidant effect is however perhaps overestimated 1)
- Black tea
- Red wine (be careful, in excess it becomes oxidative)
- Chocolate (black!!)
Note that excessive coffee consumption will be harmful, as too many blueberries may bring too much sugar… Finally, you will get polyphenols more easily from fruits or vegetables that have a lower concentrations, but that you can consume in larger quantities.
Vitamin A helps in reducing the risk of some cancers and protect the eyes from degeneration. One of the forms of vitamin A are carotenoids, and they are easy to spot with their orange color (“carotenoids” like carrot).
- Poultry offal
- Beef liver
- Sweet potatoes (with peel)
Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals efficiently. Also, it regenerates the antioxidant potential of vitamin E after this latter has neutralized free radicals.
- Chili pepper
Vitamin E protects fat cells from oxidation. So, the more you consume polyunsaturated fatty acids (easily oxidized), the more you need vitamin E.
- Vegetable oils (especially olive oil)
- Oil seeds
- Whole grains
Copper, Manganese, Selenium, Zinc… trace minerals also have an antioxidant effect. Indeed, they can stimulate the enzymatic activity and therefore the effectiveness of antioxidants produced by the body. That being said, in excessive amounts, they quickly become harmful. So you might prefer a natural intake from food and use supplements only if you know that you are deficient.
- Zinc: legumes, seafood, lean meat, milk, nuts
- Selenium: brazil nuts, seafood, offal, lean meat, whole grains
- Copper: seafood, lean meat, nuts (nuts, hazelnut, etc.), legumes
- Manganese: quinoa, seafood, lean meat, milk, nuts
Coenzyme Q10 is a very powerful antioxidant produced by the body. If you know that your body is suffering from oxidative stress and you need a quick and effective solution, you can opt for CoQ10. The bad news is… it is quite expensive. Also, note that it reduces hypertension.
Food is one thing, but other factors also play a role: stress from your work or relationships can foster oxidative stress in your cells. On the other hand, meditation, yoga or tai chi can stimulate your antioxidant mechanisms2.
Do not fall into the trick of miracle antioxidant food… you will lose more time and money than free radicals. Oxidative stress is a matter of balanced habits! Start by limiting the sources of oxidation: stress, alcohol, processed foods, over-cooking… Then diversify among these foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. They will bring you the many antioxidants you need. Add some tea and yoga, and it should work out just fine!