When it comes to helping skin stay young, the research has been clear for some time that our most promising option is antioxidants. Topical application of antioxidants delivers their benefits directly to the skin, where they fight off free radicals to optimize skin health and help it stay younger looking.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the best way to give your body the antioxidants it needs is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
The prefix "anti" means against, in opposition to, or corrective in nature. In order to understand antioxidants, it helps to learn what exactly these agents oppose and correct.
Within the human body, millions of processes are occurring at all times. These processes require oxygen. Unfortunately, that same life giving oxygen can create harmful side effects, or oxidant substances, which cause cell damage and lead to chronic disease.
Oxidants, commonly known as "free radicals," are also introduced through external sources such as exposure to the sun or pollution. Other mediums include stress, as well as things that people put into their bodies, such as alcoholic beverages, unhealthy foods, and cigarette smoke.
In much the same way as oxidation creates rust, causing a breakdown on the surface of inanimate objects, oxidation inside the body causes a breakdown of cells. Free radicals produced by this breakdown attack healthy cells, usually DNA as well as proteins and fats. This chain of events weakens immunological functions as well as speeding up the aging process, and is also linked to several diseases such as cataracts, various forms of cancer, and heart disease. Some studies indicate possible links to arthritis and several other chronic conditions.
Antioxidants, or anti-oxidation agents, reduce the effect of dangerous oxidants by binding together with these harmful molecules, decreasing their destructive power. Antioxidants can also help repair damage already sustained by cells.
Certain antioxidant enzymes are produced within the body. The most commonly recognized of these naturally occurring antioxidants are Superoxide Dismutase, Catalase, and Glutathione. Superoxide Dismutase changes the structure of oxidants and breaks them down into hydrogen peroxide. Catalase in turn, breaks down hydrogen peroxide into water and tiny oxygen particles or gasses. Glutathione is a detoxifying agent, which binds with different toxins to change their form so that they are able to leave the body as waste.
Other antioxidant agents are found in foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables. Items high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene are believed to be the most beneficial. These nutrients are commonly found in fruits and vegetables, those with the strongest colors being healthiest. Orange and red peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and carrots are examples.
Choosing raw fruits and vegetables rather than cooked, provides the highest concentration and best absorption of antioxidants. Dietary supplements are also available for those that do not consume enough antioxidant-producing foods.
Top Seven Healthiest Foods
Researchers at Tufts University in Boston have come up with a way to calculate the antioxidant properties of fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidants are believed to provide a protective effect against conditions such as heart disease and cancer by interfering with the damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are also believed to help retard the aging process.
The seven foods listed below provide additional individual benefits as well. Prunes, for example, are frequently used to relieve constipation, while spinach may be helpful in avoiding memory loss and staving off Alzheimer’s.
Consumers are urged to not only eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but to choose nutrient-rich sources such as these:
SCD LEGAL Food Sources
Citrus fruits and their juices, berries, dark green vegetables (spinach, asparagus, green peppers, brussel sprouts, broccoli, watercress, other greens), red and yellow peppers, tomatoes and tomato juice, pineapple, cantaloupe, mangos, papaya and guava.
Vegetable oils such as olive, nuts and nut butters, seeds, legumes (white beans, lentils, split peas) and dark leafy green vegetables.
Brazil nuts, chicken, eggs, yogurt, cheese, garlic, onions, salmon, seafood, tuna (not canned in broth), most vegetables.
Variety of dark orange, red, yellow and green vegetables and fruits such as broccoli, kale, spinach, carrots, red and yellow peppers, apricots, cantaloupe and mangos.
The Top 10 Antioxidant Foods
by Lisa Turner
Better Nutrition, Jan. 2002
We've known for years that antioxidants can help prevent heart disease and cancer, reduce blood pressure and slow the effects of aging. These naturally occurring compounds protect the body from harmful, excess free radicals, sweeping them up before they can cause damage. And the best way to lay an antioxidant-rich foundation that's inhospitable to toxins and free radicals is through a combination of whole foods.
Few fruits have quite the provocative allure, the fragile charm or the nutrients of berries. They're full of fiber, minerals and vitamins, and loaded with healing antioxidants. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are rich in proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that can help prevent cancer and heart disease. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries contain ellagic acid, a plant compound that combats carcinogens. Blueberries also appear to delay the onset of age-related loss of cognitive function.
Quick Tips: Stir raspberries into homemade 24-hr. lactose-free yogurt, add whole blueberries to salads, or dress up sliced strawberries with a little honey, apple cider vinegar and black pepper.
Maybe you never listened when Mom said, "Eat your broccoli." So listen now. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, can help prevent cancer and ward off heart disease. Cruciferous vegetables contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C - a potent antioxidant that breaks down estrogen in the body) that reduces the risk of breast cancer and other estrogen-sensitive cancers, like cancer of the ovaries and cervix. Other studies have shown that broccoli can help fight cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition. Broccoli also contains other protective constituents like beta-carotene, which can help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Quick Tips: Wrap cooked, chilled broccoli with roasted pepper strips, or toss steamed broccoli with olive oil, chopped black olives and crushed red pepper flakes.
Tomatoes are fast becoming one of our favorite modern foods, and for good reason -- they can ward off certain kinds of cancer, prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, and help maintain mental function as we age. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a relatively rare member of the carotenoid family, also found in pink grapefruit and twice as powerful as beta-carotene. Studies have shown that men who eat more tomatoes or tomato sauce have significantly lower rates of prostate cancer. Other studies suggest lycopene can help prevent lung, colon and breast cancers. Tomatoes also contain the antioxidant glutathione, which helps boost immune function. Note: cooked tomatoes are preferable, since heat allows more desirable antioxidants in tomatoes to be made available to the body. And because lycopene is fat-soluble, eating tomatoes with oil can improve absorption.
Quick Tips: Served minced sundried tomatoes or diced Roma tomatoes with chopped fresh basil and olive oil over grilled zucchini strips.
A little red wine can keep your heart beating longer and stronger. Why? Mostly because of substances called resveratrol and quercetin found in red grapes. These potent antioxidants boost heart health by acting as free-radical scavengers, reducing platelet aggregation and helping blood vessels remain open and flexible. Resveratrol can also protect against cancer and reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, gastric ulcers, stroke and even osteoporosis.
Quick Tips: Snack on frozen red grapes for a sweet treat, or heat organic red wine with cinnamon sticks and a few whole cloves.
The "stinking rose," perhaps the world's oldest known medicinal and culinary herb, is packed with antioxidants that can help fend off cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging. The sulfur compounds that give garlic its pungent odor are thought to be responsible for its healing benefits. Studies have shown that garlic keeps the heart healthy by lowering cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, fighting free radicals and keeping blood from clotting. Other studies suggest that eating garlic regularly can help prevent cancer. It also has potent anti-fungal properties and can help treat asthma and yeast infections.
Quick Tips: Roast whole heads of garlic until soft and puree roasted peppers with garlic for a fast sauce.
Popeye may have thought eating spinach gave him strength, but it also allowed him to hit a nutritional jackpot. Because lutein (an antioxidant found in spinach) is the main pigment in the macula - the region of maximum visual sensitivity - it can help protect your vision. Studies have shown that people who eat spinach are less likely to develop cataracts and macular degeneration, the two most common causes of vision loss. Lutein appears to work by shielding the retina from sun damage and fighting free radicals that can harm the eyes. Some preliminary studies have suggested that lutein can also help prevent heart disease.
Quick Tips: Lightly wilt fresh baby spinach leaves and onion rings and toss with walnuts and olive oil.
Carrots are loaded with a potent antioxidant called beta-carotene, a member of the healing family of carotenoids. Also found in beets and other yellow-orange vegetables, beta-carotene provides protection against: cancer, especially lung, bladder, breast, esophageal and stomach cancers; heart disease, and the progression of arthritis by as much as 70 percent. Note: Cooked carrots have considerably higher levels of antioxidants than uncooked, probably because heat breaks down the active compounds and makes them more available.
Quick Tips: Puree cooked carrots with low-fat chicken broth, rosemary and a dash of dripped lactose-free yogurt, or steam whole baby carrots and toss with nutmeg, honey and a little butter.
(Revised to be SCD compliant)