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While the terms free radical and antioxidant will be familiar to most health-oriented people, there is often confusion about exactly what they are and how they can support or harm our health.

 

Plant-based foods provide a whopping 64 times more antioxidant levels than meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

Plant-based foods provide a whopping 64 times more antioxidant levels than meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

In a nutshell, free radicals are the end result of our normal metabolic processes, and are also formed during times of prolonged stress, as well as from external sources such as harmful UV rays from the sun, cigarette smoke, some medications, excessive alcohol, industrial fumes, toxic chemicals and pesticides and foods fried at high temperatures. They are extremely unstable molecules and therefore they go around the body stealing components from healthy cells, wreaking havoc and damaging or destroying them. Our body is equipped with its own mechanisms to manage a certain amount of free radicals, however if free radical levels escalate they cause oxidative damage, which contributes to premature aging and a decline in brain function as well as the development of chronic health conditions such as cancer, heart disease and immune system disorders.

The good news is that Mother Nature provides some power-packed superfoods and herbs and spices that are high in antioxidants – compounds that act against oxidative damage by stabilising the free radicals and supporting the body’s natural strength and defenses. The standard measurement for ascertaining the antioxidant levels present in foods is the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale, which rates the effectiveness of antioxidants to absorb free radicals. The higher the ORAC score, the higher the level of antioxidants present in the food. Plant-based foods provide a whopping 64 times more antioxidant levels than meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

 

The standard measurement for ascertaining the antioxidant levels present in foods is the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale, which rates the effectiveness of antioxidants to absorb free radicals

The standard measurement for ascertaining the antioxidant levels present in foods is the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale, which rates the effectiveness of antioxidants to absorb free radicals

 

Eating a variety of seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables will undoubtedly enrich your antioxidant quotient and help keep you fighting fit. However, by regularly boosting your antioxidant levels with some super-antioxidant foods you can help improve your cardiovascular function and circulation, energy levels, immunity and wellbeing, brain function, eye health and vision and help minimise muscle fatigue.

Red wine contains the sexy antioxidant resveratrol, but taking it in capsule form is better than drinking the 38 bottles required to get beneficial results. Studies are being undertaken for heart heath, blood pressure, cholesterol and even longevity. Red and purple berries including blackcurrants, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, elder berries, acai berries, goji berries and grapes are all rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are produced by plants as a form of protection from herbivores and parasites as well as for defense from UV light. Interestingly blackcurrants grown in New Zealand contain the highest levels of anthocyanins due to the lack of ozone in this geographical region. Berries are versatile and delicious to add to smoothies, cereals, and desserts or just as a healthy snack on their own. Additionally single berries or blends are available in supplement form as powders and capsules.

Sacha inchi and Chia seeds are relative newcomers to our western superfood repertoire. Both come from plants native to South America where they have been cultivated and used by indigenous populations for centuries. In addition to being great sources of complete proteins, essential fatty acids and a range of vitamins and minerals, Sacha inchi and Chia both deliver a potent antioxidant hit. Sacha inchi seeds and their oil contain the antioxidant vitamins A and E, and Chia provides flavonoids, phenolic acids, zinc and vitamin C. The high antioxidant levels of Chia seeds gives then a long shelf life – they can be kept unrefrigerated for up to two years without losing their potency. Sacha inchi and chia seeds can both be used in smoothies, cereals and desserts, and chia seeds, which swell up in liquids can be added to juices to make a delicious and healthy energy drink.

Sacha inchi and Chia seeds are relative newcomers to our western superfood repertoire

Sacha inchi and Chia seeds are relative newcomers to our western superfood repertoire

More exciting news on the superantioxidant front is the amazing health benefits provided by cacao. Cacao is raw chocolate – so still provides the phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide hit that keeps us reaching for the choccy bar, but without all the added unhealthy fats and sugar. PEA is a chemical that we make when we are feeling excited or fall in love. Anandamide is another “happy” chemical that is found in our brain when we are feeling positive. Little wonder that the name Cacao, or Theobroma cacao beans, quite literally means Food of the Gods. Because cacao is raw and unprocessed, it is packed full of antioxidants and other health-giving nutrients; in fact the antioxidant level of raw cacao is off the scale in terms of its potency and includes polyphenols, catechins, and epicatechins. Cacao also contains high levels of magnesium which helps fight against acid build-up, calms our nerves and relaxes our muscles. Additionally cacao provides the minerals iron – important for keeping our blood healthy, and chromium – to balance our blood sugar and help prevent cravings and tiredness.

Virgin coconut oil is another delicious super-antioxidant food which has been shown in studies to increase levels of the body’s own antioxidants superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase. Ideal for use in cooking –stir fries, roasting, baking due to its high stability when heated, coconut oil can also be used to make delicious snacks and is softening and hydrating to use on your skin (face and body) and to treat dry, stressed hair.

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