Antioxidants - Your Powerful Little Helpers for Beauty from Within
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
It’s no secret that antioxidants are incredibly beneficial to good health and beautiful skin. If you’re wondering ‘where have I heard about antioxidants before?’ - they’re the things skincare companies tell you their anti-ageing moisturisers are full of.
The prefix 'anti' means against, in opposition to, or corrective in nature. In this case, the 'anti' in antioxidant describes the effect these chemicals have against oxidants. If you want to bulletproof your skin's glow you need to stockpile natural antioxidants.
Why are antioxidants important?
Oxidants, usually referred to as 'free radicals' are produced as a natural by-product of the millions of biochemical processes undertaken by your body every single minute. The same life-giving oxygen that supports all the functions of the body creates these harmful by-products which can damage your cells.
Free radicals can also enter the body from the outside such as through unprotected exposure to the sun, pesticides and other kinds of environmental pollution. Interestingly, their levels are also increased by mental and physical stress, and, of course, the consumption of alcohol, processed foods, and cigarette smoke. You can end up in a situation where you have too many oxidants and not enough antioxidants.
What are the effects of oxidation?
In much the same way as oxidation causes rust on your car, oxidation inside your body can cause a breakdown of cells. If the amount of free radical oxidation in your body rises to an unhealthy level, it can heavily damage cellular components and accelerate the ageing process. Yikes.
But unfortunately your looks aren't the only thing at risk. Oxidation may also contribute to a wide range of degenerative illnesses and reduce your body's ability to deal with other problems, including cardiovascular issues, eye disease, and cancer.
And as I'm writing this during Covid-19 lockdown, let's not forget that oxidation may weaken your immune system, reducing your body's ability to heal wounds and overcome infections. Some studies indicate possible links to arthritis and similar chronic conditions.
Antioxidants counter these effects by binding with free radicals before they can cause damage. They then convert them into non-damaging biochemical substances which can be safely and easily eliminated or excreted, so that the reparation of the cellular damage done can begin.
Gluthathione - the Master Antioxidant
Certain antioxidant enzymes are produced within the body. The most well known of these are catalase, superoxide dismutase and glutathione. When it comes to a strong immune system and glowing skin, the latter deserves a starring role. Glutathione is one of the most important molecules in the body - the "master antioxidant". Too little of it and you’re at risk of developing one of the most feared health conditions facing us today, including stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
When your levels are adequate or high, you’ll not only have protection from the conditions above, but you’ll have amazing energy, glowing skin (!), healthy detoxification, strong heart and brain function, and possibly even a longer life.
Eating the right foods to naturally increase glutathione will help you glow from the inside out. There are a small number of foods that naturally contain glutathione. These include asparagus, avocado, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, garlic, chives, tomatoes, cucumber, almonds, and walnuts.
Some other foods contain the building blocks needed to make glutathione (they are the pre-cursors – the warm-up act); the foods containing cysteine and other sulphur-containing foods, and selenium. Good foods to choose are onions, spring onions, shallots, leeks, kale, bok choy, rocket, spring greens, watercress, radishes. Some spices such as turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom have compounds that can also help to restore healthy levels of glutathione and its antioxidant enzymes.
Gluthathione is just one antioxidant though, there are more than 4,000 known ones and scientists have yet to discover all unknown forms.
Some of the other better known antioxidants include the vitamins beta-carotene, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin E.
How to get more Antioxidants into your diet
Your best bet to eliminate damaging free radicals is to eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables providing a large supply of antioxidants. The highest concentrations are found in fruits and leafy green vegetables, such as carrots, orange and red peppers, spinach and tomatoes.
Given all we know about antioxidants and their beneficial properties, it’s always heart breaking for me to see that so many of my clients simply don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, the primary sources of antioxidants. I usually recommend a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, but getting 7-10 servings is best.
Here are 8 simple steps to getting more antioxidants into your diet.
Breakfast doesn’t have to be a hurried toaster tart before rushing into your day. Throw some (frozen) berries, spinach and (plant-based) milk into a blender; pour your delicious mixture into a cup and head into your day with the right start. You’ve just added one to three servings of fruit & veg to your daily intake. Or throw some berries onto your cold or hot porridge.
I am writing this during lockdown, but a healthy breakfast will still be important when we go back to our "normal lives". Say you truly have no time in the morning and usually grab something on the run. Go for a fruit and yogurt pot or a piece of fruit and some nuts, like an apple. For about £2, you have a breakfast providing one to two servings of plant foods.
Here’s an easy way to get more antioxidants in your diet. How about a handful of raisins for a snack, or a pare? Dip some strawberries in yogurt. You’ll feel decadent, but the berries provide the color you’re looking for. Need crunch? How about some baby carrots dipped in hummus? Consider a handful of pecans for crunch and a nice antioxidant boost.
3. Lunch and dinner
I always focus on diversity for my clients' diet. One reason is that antioxidants, like most nutrients, are best eaten in combination. Single antioxidants, such as vitamin E, need other vitamins in order to work as effectively. So eating a well balanced meal is your best start. It might sound trite, but adding a salad to each of your main daily meals can add loads to your (skin) health and well-being. They don’t have to be boring, and they don’t have to be just salad greens. If you’re going classic, add some red pepper slices to your green salad, some tomatoes to the Greek salad, or dried cranberries or pomegranate seeds to your field greens. Whip up a broccoli salad for lunch, or be adventurous and mix up a rice salad with a mélange of fresh vegetables like string beans, tomatoes, peppers and red onions.
4. Desserts & Beverages
Berries, with or without whipped cream or chocolate are a wonderful way to end your day of healthy, antioxidant-rich eating.
Replace your soda with a green tea which boasts antioxidant compounds. Have an (occasional) glass of wine with dinner, or for a real change of pace, pour a glass of chai tea.
5. Learn to cook
If you’re cooking, you’re not opening bags and boxes. Cooking involves scrubbing and peeling vegetables, preparing whole foods and paying attention to how things are cooked. If you’re ordering out every night, you’re far less likely to be eating the whole foods and natural fruits and vegetables that provide the base for our antioxidant intake.
6. Cook lightly
Cooking can destroy some antioxidants and interfere with your body's ability to absorb them. Try eating raw vegetables and fruit, and include sprouts in your diet. Steaming vegetables as opposed to frying, microwaving or boiling is also a good idea. As a rule of thumb, stop cooking them when they still have all of their bright color and most of their bite.
7. Plant a garden
Experts believe that people who plant and harvest vegetables from their own garden are far more likely to eat more vegetables and fruits than people who buy their produce from the store. So plant a garden, watch it grow and eat the fruits (literally) of your labor.
8. Take your healthy diet on a journey
Too many of us consider travelling an opportunity to take a break from everything, including healthy eating. Think of your trip as a way to be introduced to new foods. Order an interesting vegetable dish in a restaurant and then pay attention to how the chef prepared the dish.