Antioxidants + Polyphenols = Disease Prevention
We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine, probably because it helps relieve us from stress. But what about food? It comes in so many different varieties these days, but studies have shown that certain ones actually help heal and protect us from many stressors that lead to diseases. These heroes come in the form of fruits and vegetables, because they are rich in nutrients like antioxidants and polyphenols! Let’s break down how they help save us from life-threatening diseases and what’s at stake if you’re not getting enough in your diet.
What Do Antioxidants Do?
So antioxidants are molecules (think vitamins A, C, D, E, & Folic Acid) that fight free radicals. You already have some in your body, but you can load up on the rest with smart food and vitamin choices. They’re helpful in repairing DNA and keeping our cells healthy. There are thousands of different kinds with multiple functions, but ultimately they all work to fight oxidation and inflammation (both are leading causes of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular and Neurodegenerative diseases).
Food sources of antioxidants that we love:
- Berries (especially with skin)
- Dark Chocolate
- Leafy Greens (hello green smoothie people!)
- Supplements: Green and Joint Vibrance by Vibrant Health
Antioxidant paradox – word of warning – you can have too much of a good thing. Be smart about your antioxidant intake, but know that too much is also damaging. Balance is something that’s important to strive for in food, exercise, health, and life!
What Can Polyphenols Do?
Polyphenols are helpful little guys that assist with weight and blood sugar level management, digestive issues, heart and brain health, etc. They’ve got tons of antioxidants in them too! There is strong evidence showing that having a diet rich in polyphenols can protect us from developing cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases. There are thousands of different types of polyphenols with many functions, but they fall into four main categories: Flavonoids, Phenolic acids, Stilbenes, and Lignans. What this means for us is that we can’t be skimpy with our whole foods and we’ve got to have as much variety as we can for our optimal health!
Polyphenol rich food sources:
- Herbs and spices
- Cloves, star anise, capers, curry powder, ginger, cumin, cinnamon
- Peppermint, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, lemon verbena, parsley, marjoram
- Dark chocolate, berries, spinach (do these sound familiar?)
- Berries with the most polyphenols:
- Highbush blueberries, with 560 mg polyphenols.
- Blackberries, with 260 mg polyphenols.
- Strawberries, with 235 mg polyphenols.
- Red raspberries, with 215 mg polyphenols
- Beans – especially black beans
- Red Wine!
- hazelnuts, with 495 mg polyphenols.
- walnuts, with 28 mg polyphenols.
- almonds, with 187 mg polyphenols.
- pecans, with 493 mg polyphenols.
Now, who are these troublemakers that antioxidants and polyphenols protect us from? Free radicals. Our bodies use these compounds to fight infection, but when we have too many, they can get out of hand and lead to all those nasty diseases I’ve mentioned, along with speeding up the aging process.
How do you get too many free radicals?
- Some causes include not eating enough fruits, veggies and vitamin supplements;
- Too much exposure to pollution/cigarette smoke, alcohol, radiation; and
- Eating too much polyunsaturated fatty acids (meat, fish, etc).Like I said, you can have a healthy balance of free radicals, but if our bodies become overrun, long-term, we’ll be in a state of oxidative stress (it’s got the word stress in it for a reason!). It will trigger cell damage, and plentiful evidence shows that it plays a role in a variety of diseases, specifically:cancer, cardiovasculardiseases,diabetes, Alzheimer’sdisease,Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
How Do We Maintain A Balance?
Luckily our bodies are finely-tuned to protect us from taking on too much damage. Yet we can definitely help it along by providing it with plenty of antioxidant and polyphenol soldiers! Plenty of lab studies along with observational studies have been done that show the importance of antioxidants and polyphenols. While scientists have yet to isolate why exactly these nutrients are so lifesaving, “health histories of large groups of people have shown that those who ate more vegetables and fruits had lower risks of several diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and cataracts.” Polyphenols have even been proven to reduce tumor cell growth both in size and numbers! So loading up on nutrients with a green smoothie or a salad is a great way to check off all the boxes and help prevent the occurrence of diseases.
Being mindful of what’s on your plate at every meal can make a world of a difference in the long term. While you make healthier food choices and you progress towards clean eating, your tastebuds will adjust and you’ll be able to taste more of the distinct flavors in the whole, unprocessed foods. However, what you may not see right away is how these nutrient rich foods provide you with an army of micronutrients like polyphenols and antioxidants, all of which
protect and repair your cells from day-to-day damage. Damage that can ultimately lead to advanced aging, a poor immune system, and worst of all, chronic diseases like cancer, cognitive decline (Alzheimer’s) and heart disease. So make food your medicine!
Author: Carla Castro Trainer at Bare Health
3. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm#about 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835915/