Health/ Nutrition

Antioxidants

 

QuestionFlavonoids are one of the following:

  1. The taste buds of a robot.
  2. A rare form of hemorrhoids
  3. A powerful antioxidant found in over 4,000 foods.
  4. A GMO food additive

What a flavonoid actually is is much more interesting than what you’d get out of the name but don’t be fooled; this is not an artificial ingredient (although if I didn’t know better I would’ve chosen answer d!).

Flavonoids are a kind of antioxidant and so far the biggest category known to date.  The term antioxidant is not necessarily foreign these days but do you actually know what they do and why they’re important?  How about where to get them?

Antioxidants are natural compounds that help protect the body from harmful free radicals.  Free radicals are highly unstable atoms or groups of atoms that can cause damage to cells, weaken the immune system and may lead to infections and various diseases.  Basically, they act as scavengers in the body, destroying electrons wherever they can.   Our bodies have a natural protective ability to kill off free radicals but only to a certain extent.  There are many environmental factors that cause free radical formation in the body; pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, alcohol, sunlight, strenuous exercise and herbicides create them. Unfortunately, we live in world full of these factors and so our bodies oftentimes can experience a kind of overload of free radicals to deal with.

 

Main Types of Antioxidants and Their Vegan Food Sources (*)

Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Spinach, Broccoli, Potatoes, Brewer’s Yeast

Coenzyme Q10: Peanuts and Spinach(highest sources are in meats and sardines)

Curcumin: Found in the spice Tumeric

Flavonoids: (Also referred to polyphenols): Almonds, Apples, Broccoli, Citrus Fruits, Tea, Tomatoes, Onions, Soybeans, Red Wine, Blueberries and Bilberries

Garlic: Either fresh and eaten straight away or aged garlic extract

Ginkgo Biloba: An herb, usually taken in capsule form.

Green Tea: Traditionally taken as a beverage.  Best source is when the tea is whole leaf.

Selenium: Brazil nuts, Brown Rice and Buckwheat

Vitamin A and Carotenoids: Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Spinach, Corn, Sweet Peppers, Spirulina and Kale

Vitamin C: Citrus Fruits, Papaya, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli and Strawberries

Vitamin E: Nuts, Soybeans, Spinach, Sunflower Seeds, Asparagus and Sweet Potatoes

*This is not a complete list.  Refer to the resource section for links to more information

 

What is better: Food or Supplement Sources? 

Food is always going to be the best source and should always be given priority over supplements but sometimes you just simply cannot get them in the form of food, such as certain herbs and extracts.  The other issue unique to vegans is the fact that some of the most readily available food sources might come from animals as is the case with Coenzyme Q10 and Alpha-Lipoic Acid.

When looking to food first and foremost you must also look at the source and form,  meaning whole unadulterated foods in their most natural state possible and lots of them (in other words fruit-flavored gummy vitamins don’t count!)  Here are a few ideas for how you can get an antioxidant-rich meal or snack worked into your day:

Breakfast Bars

1 medium ripe banana
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed
1/4 cup raisins
1/8 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped dates
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon Goji berries
1 tablespoon raw sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons ground flax seed

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mash banana in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  3. Lightly wipe an 8 X 8 baking pan with a small amount of olive oil. Spread mixture into pan.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack and cut into bars. Refrigerate any leftover bars.

 

(Compliments of www.epicurious.com)

Blueberries and Greens Salad

2 cups green leaf lettuce – chopped
2 cucumbers – diced
1 avocado – cubed
1 cup – fresh blueberries
2 cups –garbanzo or other beans
1/2 – 1 red pepper – cut in strips
1/2 – 1 orange pepper – cut in strips
1 cup – tomatoes-diced
1/2 large red onion – diced
1-2 cups black olives

Simple Citrus Cilantro Dressing

Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 2 limes
1/2-3/4  cup olive oil
1/8 cup fresh cilantro (use more for a heavier cilantro taste)
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
1. In a blender add all ingredients except for the olive oil.  Blend well.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
2. Add dressing to salad above.

(compliments of Nutritional Healing Technologies Inc.)

 

Popeye and an Orange Creamsicle Hook-up Smoothie

2-3 cups fresh spinach
1-2 fresh oranges
½ cup soy milk
½ cup soaked almonds
Stevia or Agave Syrup(optional, to taste)
Ice Cubes

  1. Blend everything until perfect smooth.  Drink right away or store covered in the fridge no more than a day.

 

Popcorn

Already known as a good source of fiber (and perfect accompaniment to movie watching), popcorn was actually analyzed for its antioxidant levels recently by Joe Vinson, PhD and professor at the University of Scranton.  What he found is that popcorn actually has a much higher level of the antioxidant polyphenols than many fruits when compared serving for serving (300mg vs. 160mg.).  His research will continue to look into how much of the polyphenols in popcorn actually go to work in the body but I think it’s safe to say that it’s still a great snack choice when the toppings chosen with care.  Try truffle oil drizzled on top of air popped popcorn and sprinkled with a bit of sea salt.  Nutritional yeast also makes a great topper, giving it a slightly “cheesy” taste and texture.

 

Is there anyone who should NOT consume antioxidant supplements?

There have been a few studies showing adverse reactions to antioxidant supplementation; those who are taking medication to increase their HDL cholesterol and for smokers who take excessive amounts of beta-carotene as a way, perhaps, to counteract the ill effects of their smoking habit.

If you’re currently on any kind of prescription medication then be sure and talk with your doctor about any and all over-the-counter supplements you’re taking.  Many physicians still don’t think to ask and consequently their patients assume it’s not important enough to tell them.  And for smokers, one study demonstrated that high dosage intake of beta-carotene actually made their propensity to lung cancer worse. It is by far a better use of time and resources to invest in measures that will help with long-term smoking cessation then trying to cancel out one bad habit by adding a seemingly good one.

Lastly, do not underestimate the power of antioxidants, meaning that too much is not always a good thing when taken in supplement form and could lead to a toxic effect in the body.  That being said, most of the studies looking at the ill effects of taking antioxidants in high doses have looked at synthetic versions, not those found naturally in foods.

by Melissa Sanborn of Nutritional Brands, PureVegan

 

Resources

  1. Balch, Phyllis A. Antioxidants, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, fifth edition, pages 65-71. (2010)
  2. Dufresne, Christiane J. and Farnworth, Edward R. A Review of latest research findings on health properties of tea. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11448616
  3. CBSnews, Popcorn packed with antioxidants.  http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-500368_162-57404129/popcorn-packed-with-antioxidants/. Sept. 15, 2012.
  4. Recipe for Breakfast Bars: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/ANTIOXIDANT-RICH-BREAKFAST-BARS-50167938#ixzz26ghFhTRn
  5. Recipe for Blueberries and Greens Salad: http://www.apassionforhealthyliving.com/2011/06/16/time-for-more-raw-greens-blueberry-salad-with-a-light-citrus-cilantro-dressing/
  6. Barrett, Stephen, M.D., Antioxidants and Other Phytochemicals: Current Scientific Perspective.  http://www.quackwatch.com/03HealthPromotion/antioxidants.html

Photo credit: Robyn Mackenzie via BigStock

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