To say the world of nutrition is confusing is a bit of an understatement. The sheer quantity of disease-fighting superfoods and life-changing diets has got out of hand (in my opinion). We not only have too much choice, but a whole host of conflicting advice. This can add pressure to our already over-worked brains, and it’s all too easy to lose motivation (if we don’t see results by the end of January) and resort to old habits.
Without going too deeply into my old eating habits, I think I’ve finally worked it out (with a great deal of help from health professionals along the way). I now like to keep things simple, and have learnt that eating a balanced diet (giving myself a little slack at weekends, to avoid insanity) with plenty of whole foods, is the best approach. It’s achievable, long-lasting and most importantly, healthy.
But there are certain foods that are known to give us a real boost. Those that contain antioxidants are worth taking seriously. This is nothing new. It’s no quick-fix or fad diet. Eating antioxidant-rich foods just makes sense.
So what are antioxidants?
Let’s start with free radicals. These are created by the body in reaction to anything that poses a threat. In a typical Western lifestyle, we’re constantly under attack; the air we breathe, the Friday night G&Ts (if we’ve made it through the week), pesticides, chemical cleaning products, processed foods, too much sun exposure and even stress… the list goes on.
An over-production of free radicals causes damage to our cells. This can have a negative impact on our immune system and lead to premature ageing (we don’t need any help with that, thank you). Here’s the good news (and we need some after that). Because our body is very clever, and pretty self-sufficient (if we treat it kindly), it produces its own body armour – antioxidants. These keep the free radicals in line. And there are a number of ways in which you can work with your body, instead of against it.
Keeping free radicals under control
Mindful drinking, sensible sun-exposure (don’t rule it out completely, as your body needs vitamin D) and a healthy, balanced and varied diet should help keep things balanced. Opt for natural cleaning products, and unless you buy organic fruit and vegetables, you’ll need to wash everything really well.
An antioxidant-rich diet
Antioxidants come in many different forms. A simple rule is to bring as much colour onto your plate as possible, to give yourself the best variety. Here’s an outline to get you on the right track.
Carotenoids – Carotenoids give orange, yellow and red foods (Southern fried chicken wings not included) their vibrant colour. Carrots, red peppers, tomatoes, squash, sweet potato and pumpkin are all great sources. As a bonus, your skin loves them, and they can even help reduce wrinkles.
Polyphenols – A regular dose of polyphenols has been connected with a reduced risk of certain illnesses. Opt for foods naturally deep red or purple in colour, such as berries, red grapes and yes, a little red wine (a glass as opposed to an entire bottle). Cocoa, in its purest form, is a great source in moderation; a little cacao powder in a smoothie makes a fantastic guilt-free treat (a giant bar of dairy milk doesn’t count). Green tea is packed with polyphenols; it also helps with digestion and the body’s natural detoxification process. Herbs and spices are a simple way to increase your intake; cinnamon, oregano, ginger, turmeric and rosemary are particularly good.
Vitamins C, A and E – These vitamins are warriors in helping to protect our cells from free-radical invasion. Vitamin C is the superhero, as it catches them before they attack. It’s also a powerful immune boost and amazing for our skin, so taking a good quality supplement isn’t a bad idea. Here’s how to get them into your diet:
Vitamin C – leafy greens, peppers, kiwi fruit and blackcurrants
Vitamin A – sweet potatoes, kale, carrots, berries and eggs
Vitamin E – essential fats including nuts, avocados and oils.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to antioxidants. It’s a big subject, and this should hopefully point you in the right direction. Making some minor lifestyle adjustments (change can sound too daunting), could have a major impact on your health and ultimately, your happiness.
That’s something you won’t want to give up in a hurry.