What is oxidative stress?
If you’ve ever seen an object rusting, this is an example of oxidation. As human beings we all need oxygen to survive but we’re also still subject to the same oxidation process that causes ageing.1 Of course, there’s no known cure for growing older, but there’s certainly a difference between growing older gracefully and ageing prematurely, which is often caused by oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is a degenerative process that occurs as a result of an imbalance between your production unstable free-radical molecules and your production of antioxidants. A free-radical molecule simply refers to a molecule that has an unpaired electron, which means it can become highly reactive.
Essentially, because they lack an electron, free-radical molecules will attempt to steal one from other healthy cells which will in turn cause them to become unstable, triggering a chain reaction.2 Your body will produce free-radical molecules when it counters toxins and other damaging factors such as pollution, cigarette fumes, UV radiation and pesticides, as well as certain ingredients found in our food like preservatives!
What about antioxidants?
Antioxidants, as the name may suggest, work to combat free-radical damage within your body. These compounds can be produced naturally by your body but the problem is, they are produced in great enough amounts to truly be able to tackle the problem of oxidative stress. That’s why your body also relies on your diet as antioxidants are often found in plant-based foods.
Could my food contain free-radicals?
Your food, while an excellent source of antioxidants, can also help to promote oxidative stress and premature ageing. This is because certain food products also contain ingredients that can encourage the production of free-radical molecules. These types of foods are often found in our diet, especially in processed food products that are chockfull of preservatives! Below, I’ve just listed the main three culprits to watch out for.
- Oils: Oils such as coconut oil and olive oil can be very beneficial for your health but it’s important to opt for the right variety. That’s why we always try to recommend Extra Virgin oils here at A.Vogel, because they have the lowest oxidation rate. As soon as oil becomes oxygenated, it becomes part of the oxidation process and can encourage the production of free-radical molecules. In particular, oils with high oxidation rates such as many vegetable oils are worth avoiding!
- Processed meats: Processed meat such as sausages and bacon are usually loaded with preservatives to enhance their shelf life and these preservatives can become more susceptible to oxidation once they are cooked.3 That’s why it’s best to reduce your intake of processed meat and instead opt for fresher options – going organic can make a big difference here!
- Alcohol: There’s nothing wrong with the occasional pint of beer or glass of wine at the weekends but when you start to drink on a daily basis, or enjoy wild bingeing sessions at the weekend, problems can arise. Alcohol is detoxified in the liver by a series of oxidative reactions – in small amounts, these reactions are relatively harmless but when you consume alcohol in excess, your liver will struggle to metabolise it which can lead to oxidative stress.4
You also have to consider that pesticides can encourage free-radical activity too so it’s always best to go for organic produce whenever possible. However, if this sounds a little bit too pricey, don’t worry! In her blog, ‘Go organic this summer,’ our advisor Katie discusses how to go organic on a budget.
The best foods to counteract free-radical damage and premature ageing!
When it comes to undoing and combatting the damage done by free-radical molecules, antioxidants are an essential tool. As we’ve discussed, your body can produce certain antioxidants on its own, chief amongst these is glutathione, sometimes known as the ‘mother of all antioxidants.’ It’s made from three amino acids, L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid and glycine.
Although glutathione can be produced by your body, it’s still possible to increase your intake through your diet. Sulfur is a key component of glutathione which can be found in a variety of fruit and vegetables. You also have to consider that other key antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E act as essential antioxidants within the body so definitely keep an eye out for these too!
In my blog, ‘What are the world’s healthiest diets?’ I took a look at the Okinawa diet. Okinawa contains one of the largest populations of centurions and part of the secret to their longevity lies in the foods that they eat, including soybeans!
Soy beans, or edamame beans, are rich in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen which contain natural anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and antioxidant qualities. This combination is particularly useful, helping to fight the spread of harmful pathogens, reduce inflammation and slow down cellular ageing!
Best of all though, soybeans can come in a wide variety of products – soy milk and tofu are both derived from soy beans, as well as miso and tempeh! Below are some of my favourite soy based recipes to inspire you!
Marinated Tofu Stir Fry
Tasty Tofu Kebabs
Goji berries have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries but recently these small berries have started to make waves in the West, and are now common in health food shops across the UK. The antioxidant properties of these small fruits really cannot be overstated. They’re extremely rich in vitamin C and contain 11 essential amino acids as well as beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein.
Goji berries also have a high oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), which is used to measure the antioxidant capacity of certain foods. Goji berries manage to score an impressive 4310 – compare this to the 2568 score of apples!6 As I’ve mentioned, while fresh goji berries are difficult to source here in the UK, dried goji berries can often be found in most health food stores.
Salmon might not make it to your plate if you abide by certain dietary restrictions, such as veganism, but if you do eat fish, I would definitely put this one on the menu. Salmon might not be bursting with antioxidants but they are rich in another important nutrient for ageing – omega 3 fatty acids. You can learn more about omega 3 in my blog, ‘What are omega fatty acids?’ but this anti-inflammatory nutrient really packs a punch, helping to support your cognitive function as you age and promoting your muscle and joint health.
Citrus fruits, like goji berries, are another excellent source of antioxidants, including vitamin C and flavonoids. Limes, lemons, grapefruits, oranges – the list really does go on! Citrus fruits are numerous and there’s a variety of ways you can incorporate them into your diet to help counteract oxidative stress and premature ageing, as well as support your skin. I would always recommend consuming the fruit raw – fresh fruit juices are often loaded with preservatives and added sugar!
Here are some of my favourite citrus fruit recipes!
Chocolate Orange Boost Balls
Lemon, Mint and Cucumber Detox Water
Cruciferous vegetables are a family of vegetables that include cauliflower, kale, radish and Brussels sprouts. These foods are very rich in nutrients and also contain anti-inflammatory benefits that can be useful as you age.
They’re usually high in vitamin C, vitamin K and dietary fibre, as well as sulfur – remember, how this relates to glutathione? The high content of dietary fibre in most cruciferous vegetables also makes them pretty effective for helping to manage your blood glucose levels. Below are some of my favourite ways to enjoy cruciferous vegetables!
Creamy Cauliflower & Broccoli Soup
Spiced Cauliflower & Carrot Salad
Brightly coloured vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers and sweet potatoes tend to be rich in carotenoids, lycopene and flavonoids like lutein, which can help to combat free-radical damage. Do you ever remember being told that carrots could help you to see in the dark? While this isn’t exactly true, the carotenoids in carrots can go a long way towards supporting your vision as well as promoting the health of your skin, allowing you to maintain your youthful glow!
It should also go without saying that these types of antioxidants are brilliant for your immune system too! Here at A.Vogel, we always recommend that you try and eat a rainbow – brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are essential towards supporting your health! There are plenty of ways to incorporate these foods into your diet (I’ve shared some of my personal favourite recipes below!), but you could also try opting for a natural, organic vegetable juice such as Biotta’s Organic Carrot Juice. Not only does this product not contain any added sugars, it’s also been lacto-fermented so it has probiotic properties!
Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
Carrot & Ginger Soup
These days everybody seems to raving about avocados – they’ve gone from being a relatively obscure fruit to being thrust into the spotlight. However, this appraisal isn’t without cause – avocados are rich in vitamin E, which as I’ve mentioned, can act as an antioxidant within the body, as well as vitamin A and folic acid. Folic acid is particularly beneficial as it helps to maintain healthy cells.7
As I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve read any of my other blogs, avocados are also a fantastic source of healthy fats, including oleic acid which has natural anti-inflammatory properties helping to support your cardiovascular system. There are plenty of ways to increase your intake of avocados – you could try cooking with avocado oil or smashing avocados on top of your toast. These are just a few of my personal favourite ways to enjoy the fruit:
Spicy Guacamole Dip
Cucumber & Avocado Smoothie
Bonus: Green tea!
Okay, so green tea technically isn’t a food product but it’s still a brilliant source of antioxidants! It’s extraordinarily rich in plant compounds such as polyphenols that can help to ease inflammation as well as antioxidant catechins like EGCG. These give the brew a potent antioxidant action that’s more than capable of dealing with pesky free-radical molecules, helping to keep your heart, mind and body healthy!