THE OXIDATION PROCESS
There is a growing concern over our harmful environments and much hype over consumption of antioxidants in order to overcome potential damages on our bodies. Oxidative stress occurs naturally around us everyday. Most of us fear oxidative stress associated with environmental toxins (pesticides, smoke etc.) and how they are playing havoc on our bodies leading to increasing rates of diseases including heart disease, cancer or Parkinson’s disease. What we are not necessarily aware of, is how everyday digestion and regular breathing creates oxidative stress on the cells within our muscles and fat, through our ongoing metabolic cycles.Oxidation is a natural part of our metabolism allowing for the synthesis of ATP. Thankfully our bodies have an efficient antioxidant system under normal conditions and a magnificent ability to repair this ongoing cell destruction since the beginning of mankind. Furthermore we have been utilizing antioxidants to replenish any damage on our protein, lipids and DNA for thousands of years. However as the intensity of our environment changes, including living in pollution, exposure to various viruses, to intense exercise regimens, our genes may not always be able to keep up with the increasing demands of oxidation, increasing free radical prevalence. can occur. When oxidation occurs is too fast for our own replenishment capability, it can lead to cellular necrosis or muscle deterioration.
WHAT IS AN ANTIOXIDANT?
Increasing our awareness of oxidation leads us to the importance of leaning what is an antioxidant and how they work. Although very few of us truly understand what an antioxidant does, we know they replenish unstable cellular structures which otherwise cause harm to healthy cells. Visualize how Vitamin C from a lemon added onto a slice of apple helps to protect the apple from damage and turning brown. Researchers strive to distinguish between the various pathways in which antioxidants perform their missions, either helping to stabilize oxidized cells or destroying free radicals. There are thousands of antioxidants available and are classified within 2 categories: food antioxidants and endogenous antioxidants. Endogenous antioxidants, which our bodies are able to make themselves through our own genetic make-up, are proving to be far more powerful. An exciting new wave of promising research is focusing on understanding the importance of endogenous antioxidants (Glutathione, Alpha-lipoic acid, Coenzyme Q, Ferritin, Uric acid, Bilirubin, Metallothioneine, L-carnitine and Melatonin). Interestingly endogenous antioxidants are much more effective on cellular replenishment than antioxidants consumed from food.
WHERE ARE ANTIOXIDANTS?
We have become more familiar with the importance of antioxidants including but not exclusive to vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium and Vitamin C. Now growing evidence leads us to consume superfoods in the form of phytochemicals. Phytochemical is a fancy word for the active pigment in plants and they are required to make these power house endogenous antioxidants. There are hundreds of phytochemicals which have been identified within the following groups; Carotenoids, Flavonoids, Isothiocyanates, Resveratrol, Tannins and many more continued to be discovered.
The good news, these precious phytonutrients are plentiful right in our back yards making the availability of antioxidants relatively easy. Consumption of these plant pigments is the essence to obtaining vitality and encouraging the generation of the endogenous antioxidant powerhouse. Wild blueberries contain an exceptional amount of anthocyanins, a flavonoid, making them the top choice! Wild contain twice the amount of antioxidants than regular blueberries and also tower over other fruits and vegetables.
HOW MUCH ANTIOXIDANTS DO WE NEED
Health Canada, The Canadian Cancer Society, The Heart and Stroke Foundation, and The Canadian Diabetes Association promote increasing fruit and vegetable intake. Aim for 1/2 of your plate and snacks to be filled with these vibrant colours is an easy way to gage your requirements and help you to ultimately consume 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Keep in tune with current developments with Health Canada’s Guiding Principles to determine specific recommendations for your population as well.
Because we are unable to see the microscopic cellular damage on a daily basis, we may forget about the importance of staying in tune with what is involved to meet our antioxidant needs. Determining our needs is a difficult thing to measure and their roles are not entirely understood.
Research does continue to inform us that more is NOT better when it comes to these power molecules. Detrimental effects are evident from large doses and supplementation is highly discouraged. Remember phytonutrients contain very powerful antioxidant capabilities and they are best obtained from a balanced diet. Avoid focusing on phytonutrients as single nutrients and consuming foods enriched with antioxidants where they are taken out of their natural context. Strive to choose a variety of whole foods on a regular basis.
WHICH ANTIOXIDANTS SHOULD I EAT?
Watch out for marketing tactics and overpriced sources of antioxidant enhanced products. Furthermore there are various studies suggesting red flags for supplemental intake of antioxidants including beta-carotene and Vitamin E and research is ongoing to determine safe intake recommendations
Trying to obtain a balance between the accessibility and the cost of nutritious food can be a challenge so aiming for what is in season and local is a good idea. Food preparation methods also need to be considered, with specific attention to the thermodynamcis of the antioxidant, in order to maximize its availability and absorption once consumed.
There is an abundance of beautiful colours out there whether at our markets or frozen from grocery stores. Aim for a blend of bright colours and eat them regularly all day long. Don’t forget to focus on whole foods including nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, which all contain a wealth of antioxidants. Practice safe food handling measures to promote consumption of your health food from it’s most natural form.
Grune, Tilman (2005) Oxidants and the Antioxidant Defense Systems The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry (2.0) Springer pp 58-88.