Most of us have heard of antioxidants. They help keep us young right? Fighting free radicals in the war against lines and wrinkles. This is true but antioxidants do so much more and how do we know we are getting enough?.
Here's the science bit: A Free radical is an atom or molecule that has a free or unpaired electron. Its lonely and whizzing about looking for some interaction. When it interacts with other atoms (grabbing hydrogen ions from nearby molecules) it becomes a party guest that trashes the house. The resulting chain reaction of thieving hydrogen causes oxidative damage to tissues and cells in the body.
Here comes the cavalry: Antioxidants block the process of oxidation by neutralizing free radicals. The key is to make sure your army of antioxidants is big enough to prevent the negative chain reaction. Antioxidants do help in the ageing process (when we produce less antioxidants) but they also prevent diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Tobacco smoke, air pollution and even exercise can all increase free radical content within the tissue so it's important to maximize the antioxidant content in your diet.
Sources of antioxidants: Vitamins A, C, E and minerals, copper, zinc, selenium and magnesium.
Vitamin A: As beta-carotene vitamin A works as a scavenger of free radicals as well as single oxygen molecules. Men should aim for .07mg and Women 0.6mg.
Top ten Vitamin A foods: Sweet potato, carrot, red pepper, butternut squash, swiss chard, spinach, curly kale, spring greens, mango, cantaloupe melon.
Vitamin C: Helps scavenge free radicals. The recommended intake is 40mg per day, however intakes higher than this may be needed for optimum antioxidant protection. Remember you cannot store vitamin C so will need it every day.
Top ten Vitamin C foods: Guava, black currant, red pepper, curly kale, orange, brussel sprouts, broccoli, green pepper, papaya, strawberries.
Vitamin E: Works with fatty acid molecules to stop interaction with oxygen free molecules. No specific intake level is set in report 41 (the nutrient reference bible) because it depends on the polyunsaturated fatty acid intake in the diet. Aim for 4-8 mg per day.
Top ten vitamin E foods: Wheat germ oil, sun dried tomato, sweet potato, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, avocado, hazelnut, almond, butternut squash.
Zinc: Is essential in the production of superoxide dismutase which is an enzyme that collects and removes free radicals. Men need 9.5mg and Women 7mg per day.
Top ten zinc containing foods: Aduki bean, tofu, tempeh, lentils, muesli, pasta, wheat bran, chickpeas, tahini paste, brown rice.
Manganese and copper: Used in the production of superoxide dismutase. Copper is also essential for converting various chemicals to their non-reactive state. Aim for 1.2mg per day.
Top ten manganese containing foods: Oyster mushrooms, brown rice, muesli, tempeh, pine nuts, tofu, blackberry, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, aduki beans.
Top ten copper containing foods: Tempeh, brown rice, aduki beans, figs, mushrooms, melon seeds, sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, tahini, soya beans.
Selenium: Is a free radical quenching enzyme. Removing hydrogen peroxide and other organic peroxides that are harmful to cell membranes. Men need 0.075mg and Women 0.06mg per day.
Top ten selenium containing foods: Brazil nuts, lentils, whole meal bread, shellfish, sunflower seeds, pinto beans, red kidney beans, cashew nuts, mushrooms, eggs.