Antioxidants: natures power of prevention
Antioxidants are powerful nutrients which can be conceptualized in a number of ways: as insurance against some of the effects of aging; as weapons against degenerative conditions and as a means of combating certain diseases such as cancer and heart disease. They prevent, delay or repair oxidative damage to cells in our body caused by free radicals.
Free radicals are the antagonists of health, though they occur naturally as a result of the body’s metabolic processes.
They are also formed by environmental influences such as pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation, asbestos, pesticides, and even stress. In other words, breathing, eating, going out into the sun and being exposed to the typical conditions of city life all contribute to the oxidation process, and the resulting damage is reason enough to take measures to increase our intake of antioxidants.
Cho Young-yun, director of Dietetics at Samsung Medical Center, shared insight on how to increase intake of antioxidants through simple dietary changes.
Cho warns against relying heavily on supplements.
“Those under the age of 65 should aim for a diet of natural, whole foods. After that, it makes medical sense to rely more on vitamins, but younger people ought to get their nutrients from natural sources.”
Cho, a nutritionist of 30 years, emphasizes the importance of maintaining the body’s inherent equilibrium, urging patients to adopt a dedicated attitude to eating well as part of a healthy lifestyle.
“Often, people assume a tablet can substitute for wholesome food choices”, she says. “Consuming large amounts of nutrients through synthesized supplements throws off the body’s intrinsic balance and can lead to other problems. Natural foods also contain micronutrients which boost the effects of antioxidants, and help the body to work as an integrated system.”
When selecting fruits and vegetables, think “bright and fresh.” Smart choices include carrots, apricots, peaches and squash-all of which are jam-packed with vitamin A.
Citrus fruits and juices such as lemon and orange juice are excellent sources of vitamin C, as well as strawberries, green peppers, broccoli, tangerines and green chilies.
To ensure you get your quota of Vitamin E, stock up on nuts, seeds and whole grains. Cho recommends raw almonds as a heart healthy snack.
And not all cooking oils are created equal; cooking with vegetable oil-based products such as cottonseed oil is an easy way of increasing the nutritional value of a meal.
Selenium is a nutrient believed to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and is found in fish, shellfish, red meat, chicken, eggs and garlic, so don’t hesitate to add extra cloves to your galbi (grilled dishes).
Other sources of valuable nutrients might involve a trip to a foreign food shop. These include concord grapes, cranberries, flax seed and pomegranate, which are rich in Lycopene.
While we can’t always avoid exposure to the elements, we can increase our chances of minimizing damage by including these readily available foods in our meals, and unless you’re over 65, a visit to the fresh produce aisle is far more beneficial than the pharmacy when it comes to ensuring a healthy and balanced diet.
The writer is a freelancer from Ontario, Canada, and is currently living in Seoul, where she co-owns a Korean lifestyle website.