Increase Your Antioxidants: 5 Ways, No Supplements
I want you to start thinking of antioxidants like the Molly Maid cleaning-crew of your body.
Antioxidants are substances that we get from fruits and vegetables, mainly, and they serve a number of functions for us. Perhaps their most notable role is that of mopping up free radicals.
As humans, we are land mammals that require oxygen to live. We use that oxygen to make cellular energy (called ATP), and through the metabolic processes of doing so, our cells produce free radicals. Free radicals are little molecules that bounce around in our systems and can cause cellular damage. It is a natural process, and one that is even somewhat necessary (more on that in this previous post), but in large quantities over long periods of time free radicals can damage our organs and reproductive cells (eggs and sperm). Free radical damage is responsible for cellular aging, increasing our biological age, and decline of egg quality over time.
Being that this is a natural process, our bodies have developed a system for taking care of these free radicals. Antioxidants to the rescue – they mop up free radicals, making them inactive, and reducing their damage potential.
As you may have heard me say before, the mitochondria are the organelles in which a lot of this takes place – it is here where our cells take oxygen molecules and convert them into ATP (energy). As a result, our mitochondria produce lots of free radicals and are susceptible to their damaging effects. In order to protect these helpful little energy-producing batteries, you need to make sure your antioxidant levels are optimal.
You don’t necessarily need to rely on supplements to increase your antioxidant levels. Here are 5 ways to increase your antioxidants through your diet:
1. Remember the rainbow
Antioxidants give colour to foods – for example, purple fruits and veggies contain resveratrol, and orange salmon and egg yolks contain asaxanthin, both important antioxidants for reducing inflammation and slowing free radical activity. Aim to eat all of the different colours of fruits and veggies every day (red, green, blue, purple, yellow, orange) to ensure you’re getting a good mix of different antioxidants (Skittles don’t count).
2. Drink wisely
There are many beverages that are a great source of antioxidants, and I’m not talking fruit smoothies. Green tea is one of the well studied antioxidant sources, as it contains EGCG beneficial for reducing cancer risk and quelling inflammation. 100% pure cranberry juice, and even coffee and red wine contain antioxidants, though the latter two should be consumed infrequently when we’re talking about your fertility.
3. Prep your food carefully
Raw fruits and veggies contain the most amount of active antioxidants, but for fertility patients (and most of my regular patients) they are harder to digest. If you’re not digesting raw carrots, you’re also not absorbing their antioxidants. I encourage the following to maximize the antioxidant content of cooked veggies:
-don’t peel (as long as your veggies are organic)
-don’t soak veggies pre-cooking
-don’t throw away cooking water! Use it in soups or stews later
-lightly and quickly steaming helps retain nutrients
4. Snack away
Snack times are an easy way to boost your antioxidants for the day – nuts and seeds contain antioxidants like selenium (highest in Brazil nuts) and vitamin E (which can help thicken the uterine lining). A mixture of ½ cup walnuts, ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds and 2 Brazil nuts is a fertility-powerhouse recipe I commonly recommend.
5. Spice it up!
You can make meals more tasty and boost antioxidant content at the same time – herbs and spices are some of the most potent sources of antioxidants. Companies that make supplements often extract their antioxidants from certain herbs and spices. Turmeric is one of my favourite anti-inflammatory spices, and contains curcumin, a potent antioxidant. Oregano, dill, rosemary, cinnamon, and ginger are other antioxidant powerhouses, but all herbs and spices have some so feel free to experiment!
It is important to remember that it is possible to overdose on the good guys in any situation - we always preach balance and moderation at Acubalance, because too many antioxidants (which may occur from over-supplementing) can be damaging too. I test all of my patients for their antioxidant status on the first visit, so we know where we stand. But you'll be safe to increase dietary antioxidants by doing all of the above.
Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND
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