Free radicals are basically incomplete and highly reactive molecules that attach themselves to cells and the genetic material inside them causing deterioration (called oxidation) leading to cell mutation or death. In turn, radicals released from these cells can start a damaging chain reaction to other tissues in the body. Free radicals are believed to play a role in heart disease, cancer, pre-mature aging and overall loss of health and vitality.
Free radicals are produced through the normal process of metabolism but fortunately, the body is designed to handle a certain amount of oxidation and free radical activity. Today, we are exposed to a much larger amount of damaging free radicals from our environment, indoor and outdoor air pollution, radiation, home cleaning products, personal care products, and cigarette smoke all place extra toxic loads on our bodies.
The current “standard American diet” consisting of fast foods, unhealthy fats, fried foods, junk and fast foods, refined carbohydrates, sugars and excessive meat also contributes to free radical damage. The greatest control we have over limiting free radical damage is through the food choices we make. The antioxidants in foods, especially fruits and vegetables offer us some protection against free radical damage.
Antioxidants provide our body’s protection against free radical oxidation by counteracting or neutralizing free radicals and their destructive effects. Whole, fresh foods are abundant in antioxidant rich vitamins and minerals. There are hundreds of different substances that can act as antioxidants. The most familiar ones are vitamin C, vitamin A and E, beta-carotene, and other related carotenoids, along with the minerals selenium and manganese. They’re joined by glutathione, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, flavonoids, lycopene, phenols, polyphenols, phytoestrogens, and many more.
Vitamins C and E are found in plentiful supply in fresh fruits and vegetables. However, at least 60% of vitamin C is destroyed after ten minutes of cooking. Nuts, whole grains, beans, some meats, poultry and fish also contain some antioxidants.
Although antioxidant supplements are widely available, it is most beneficial to obtain antioxidants through fresh food because your body can assimilate and use the antioxidants from fresh food much more efficiently. Organically grown foods have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than conventionally grown foods.
Here is a list of the top 20 sources of antioxidants in commonly consumed foods per the American Chemical Society. Largest USDA Study Of Food Antioxidants Reveals Best Sources.”
Starting with the richest source of anti-oxidants they are:
Small red beans
Red kidney beans
Red delicious apples
Granny Smith Apples
Russet Potatoes (cooked)
Black beans (dried)
Super-foods for Super Health
Some foods are called super foods because they are some of the most nutrient dense foods available and contain other phytochemicals that are found to be protective against disease. There are entire books devoted to super-foods. In fact, just about every brightly colored fruit and vegetable fits the category of a super-food, as do nuts, beans, seeds and aromatic and brightly colored herbs and spices. You can incorporate some in your meal planning while others would be taken as nutritional supplements. Here are some of the best.
§ Wild Caught Salmon – high in Omega 3
§ Green super-foods have the highest concentration of digestible nutrients, vitamins and minerals. These include dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens, broccoli, spinach and super-greens such as wheatgrass and barley grass for example.
§ Beans – chili beans are one of the best as well as lentils.
§ Whole grains – quinoa which is highest in protein and gluten free. Barley and oats are among the others.
§ Green and white teas are both high in antioxidants.
§ Fruits – kiwi (highest in Vitamin C) berries (high in antioxidants), pomegranate and avocados. Super-fruits like mangosteen juice (www.earthsjuice.com) goji, acai and cacao are the highest in antioxidants.
§ Nuts and seeds– almonds and walnuts are some of the best. Super-seeds include flaxseed, hemp and chia seeds.
§ Bee food (pollen, honey, jelly) The western world actually discovered the benefits of bee superfoods by accident during an investigation of native Russian Beekeepers who regularly lived past 100 years of age who ate raw honey, rich in bee pollen, every day.
§ Seaweeds (sea vegetables) – hiziki, wakame, kombu (kelp), arame, nori, etc. are the most nutritionally dense plants on the planet containing up to 10 times more calcium than milk and eight times as much as beef. The chemical composition of seaweeds is so close to human blood plasma, that perhaps their greatest benefit is regulating and purifying our blood system.
§ Herbs and Spices – turmeric, curcumin, rosemary, cinnamon, capsicum found in peppers, aloe vera, ginseng, Echinacea and nettle to name just a few. Herbs have been used for centuries as part of the wisdoms of natural healing methods. Herbs as medicine are essentially body balancers that work with the body functions so the body can heal and regulate itself.
§ Fermented foods –yogurt, kefir, raw sauerkraut, pickles, sourdough breads, unpasteurized vinegars or acidophilus supplements for extra probiotic support.