Anti-oxidant rich foods are prevalent in plant based foods. If a food has to be picked, cut down or pulled out of the earth chances are it will be better for you. Aim for at least 75% of your diet coming from plant based sources to increase your anti-oxidant intake. This includes vegies, fruit, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and legumes. This fits my plate model which has a quarter of the plate a protein-rich food.
“Oxidation” is a process which occurs within the human body which is akin to rust occurring in metal objects. In the human body this process damages cell membranes speeding the aging process and increasing susceptibility to a variety of illnesses. Oxidation in the human body creates “free radicals” which “steal” electrons from other molecules damaging cell membranes and other structures including cellular proteins, lipids and the building blocks of life itself – DNA – in the process.
While the body can cope with some free radicals, and in fact needs them to function effectively, excess free radical formation has been linked to a variety of diseases, including heart and liver disease, arthritis and certain forms of cancer.
Modern lifestyles that include excessive stress, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption, regular exposure to pollution and poor dietary habits accelerate the process of oxidation increasing free radical production.
ANTI-OXIDANTS AND THE BATTLE AGAINST FREE RADICALS.
Certain foods are rich in anti-oxidants and neutralise many of the effects of free radicals. Anti-oxidants include vitamins such as A, C and E, and the minerals copper, zinc and selenium. Other dietary food compounds, such as the phytochemicals in plants and zoochemicals from animal products, are believed to have even greater antioxidant effects than either vitamins or minerals and include phytochemicals, such as lycopenes in tomatoes, and anthocyanins found in certain berries. The protective effect of anti-oxidants is an area of intense research around the world. For example, in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece where men consume large amounts of cooked tomatoes containing the anti-oxidant lycopene lower levels of prostate cancer have been reported. Another sub-group of anti-oxidants (flavonoids) such the catechins found in green tea, are believed to contribute to the low rates of heart disease in Japan.
SOURCES OF ANTI-OXIDANTS.
Good sources of antioxidants include:
Allium sulphur compounds – leeks, onions and garlic.
Anthocyanins – eggplant, grapes and berries.
Beta-carotene – pumpkin, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach and parsley.
Catechins – red wine and tea.
Copper – seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts.
Cryptoxanthins – red capsicum, pumpkin and mangoes.
Flavonoids – tea, green tea, citrus fruits, red wine, onion and apples.
Indoles – cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
Isoflavonoids – soybeans, tofu, lentils, peas and milk.
Lignans – sesame seeds, bran, whole grains and vegetables.
Lutein – leafy greens like spinach, and corn and egg yolks.
Lycopene – tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon.
Manganese – seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts.
Polyphenols – dried herbs including thyme and oregano, spices including ginger, cumin and cinnamon, berries, prunes, flaxseed, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, spinach, broccoli, apples, peaches & apricots
Selenium – seafood, offal, lean meat and whole grains.
Vitamin C – oranges, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, capsicum and strawberries.
Vitamin E – vegetable oils (such as wheat-germ oil), avocados, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
Zinc – seafood, lean meat, milk, pumpkin seeds, spinach, mushrooms and nuts, especially cashews.
Zoochemicals – red meat, offal and fish. Also derived from the plants animals eat.
VITAMIN AND MINERAL SUPPLEMENTS
Some studies suggest that anti-oxidants are less effective when isolated from the food matrix and presented in tablet form. For instance, beta-carotene has actually been found to increase the incidence of lung cancer in smokers when taken in a supplemental form. Therefore a well-balanced diet rich in anti-oxidant whole foods is your best option. Eat a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and dairy products daily. Include at least five daily serves of fruit and vegetables.
Dietitians Association of Australia: www.daa.asn.au