What Are Antioxidants and Are They Really That Important?

Q: What Are Antioxidants, and How Do They Fit Into My Healthy Lifestyle?

A: Over the past decade, the term “antioxidants” has basically become shorthand for healthy. Ask someone to explain why a superfood is super? Antioxidants. How to reduce inflammation in the body? Antioxidants. How to prevent disease? Antioxidants.

But people often ask me this question: What are they, really? And are they as important as food manufacturers, nutritionists, and scientists make them out to be?

Here are the basic facts on the powerful nutrients, which, yes, you really do want all up in your diet 24-7.

What Are Antioxidants, and What Do They Do?

Many nutrients you know about fall into the category of antioxidants (the “good guys), like vitamins A, C and E, minerals like selenium, and  Most are found in plants—including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and herbs and spices—and in healthy fats like nuts and beverages like tea and coffee.

Put simply, all of them are substances in the body that protect your cells from the harmful effects of molecules called free radicals (the “bad guys”).

Free radicals are produced when your body breaks down food or as a result of environmental exposures like tobacco smoke, the sun, radiation, or chemicals found in food and skin-care products.

antioxidants

Think of a free radical as a pinball careening around inside your body, constantly smashing into other cells, disrupting normal cell functioning. The cells can’t do their jobs properly because these guys keep storming the gates. If the body isn’t able to defend itself and the free-radical production becomes excessive, it can lead to damage that contributes to aging (yes, including wrinkles!), heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

Antioxidants are the first line of defense to prevent that from happening. I like to think of them as little molecules flying through our bloodstreams wearing capes, like superheroes. When they encounter free radicals, they neutralize them (by using their powers to do things like donate electrons to balance out the unpaired electrons that cause the free radicals to wreak havoc, but that’s getting technical).

How To Include Antioxidants in Your Diet

All of that is to say that these molecules really are pretty incredible, and eating foods that contain them as often as possible is a great idea.

One way to determine a food’s antioxidant power is by checking its ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score. The ORAC scale was developed as a way to determine which foods were richest in antioxidants, and it essentially measures how well the components of a food mop up free radicals in the bloodstream. It’s not a perfect scale but it is a reference point.

But there’s a lucky secret: you’ll find the highest antioxidant values attached to colorful, plant-based foods like blueberries, kale, cinnamon and turmeric, and…wait for it…dark chocolate! In other words, most antioxidants are found in the healthy foods you should be eating anyway for other important nutrients like fiber.

So, your overall focus should be on maintaining a nutrient-dense diet that’s filled with a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and spices. This way, you’ll be taking in a variety of powerful antioxidants naturally, without going overboard, at every meal.

Photos: Adam Jaime, Mikey Boyle via Unsplash

4 Superfoods You Should Definitely Be Eating

When you hear the word superfoods, your mind probably goes right to kale and blueberries, right? Well it’s time for some other “new” superfoods to make it to your Instagram feed.

I recently shared four of my faves with Rachael Ray, and you may want to add them to your repertoire of nutritional superheros in place of your old worn out go-tos.

Because let’s face it, you can never have enough superfoods on your plate!

4 Superfoods You Should Definitely Be Eating

matcha superfoodsMatcha: Use this bright green powder to replace your morning coffee. Matcha is made from whole tea leaves that are ground into powder form. Since you’re consuming the whole tea leaf (versus steeping and dumping a tea bag) matcha provides you with a super dose of antioxidants  – 10 times the amount of traditional green tea.

The high levels of both ECGC (a type of catechin) and polyphenols will provide you with anti inflammatory benefits, may improve your blood pressure and play a role in cardiovascular health. Matcha contains caffeine as well the amino acid known as l-theanine. This combination will help to improve your mental alertness and help you focus without the 2pm crash you usually get from downing your daily dose of java.

Add this powder to warm almond milk to replace your morning latte, blend with Greek yogurt, add to smoothies or even sprinkle on popcorn.


gheeGhee: Use this to replace traditional butter. Ghee is a type of clarified butter that you’re definitely going to want to add to your grocery list. This creamy spread has more short and medium chain fatty acids than traditional butter.

What does this mean for your bod? The calories from these fats are burned faster so the energy the ghee provides is more quickly utilized. These healthy fats also benefit your gastrointestinal health and ghee also has more vitamin A, D and E than the traditional stuff, meaning it can help repair damaged skin, improve your vision, and even help balance your hormones.

Use ghee anywhere you would typically use butter. Swipe a teaspoon on a slice of ezekial toast in the morning, or drizzle a tablespoon over veggies before roasting. The higher smoke point makes it safe to cook at high temps, too.


black riceBlack Rice: Toss the white stuff and go for this instead. Slightly lower in calories and higher in protein, white rice pales in nutritional value (and color) compared to its darker rice counterpart.

It’s packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins (this is what gives it the dark color) that have been shown to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and can improve cognitive function and mental decline.

Use black rice to replace white or brown rice. Top a cup of black rice with beans, diced tomatoes, roasted corn, avocado, and grilled peppers to make a super fast and nutrient packed burrito bowl.


chickpea flourChickpea Flour: This flour could be the new whole wheat. Made of nothing more than simply ground chickpeas, this flour is versatile, wheat free, gluten free, high in protein, and a wallet friendly option compared to other gluten free flours (I’m looking at you almond flour).

So you can try chickpea flour if gluten makes your stomach turn, or even simply to keep you fuller longer after meals thanks to its high protein content.

Commonly known as ‘socca,’ this chickpea flour crepe recipe is simple, healthy and delicious and the perfect vehicle to be topped with veggies and enjoyed (or try it sweet by adding a little vanilla and cinnamon to your batter).