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The Truth About Antioxidants | Nutrition Gone Wild

The Truth About Antioxidants

The Truth About Antioxidants 

We are all interested in feeling and looking young…

Or really just remaining hot enough that other attractive people want to buy you a drink and take you home.

So the food and health industries throw buzzwords at us like “antioxidants” and “superfoods” as if eating those foods are like magic or something. But at the end of the day, there are people who will do everything right for their health and still die of cancer at 60….

But that doesn’t mean I’m saying FUCK IT ALL and eat the Krispy Kreme diet and then drown yourself in margaritas…

But before you start worshiping single ingredients in your diet, I think it’s important to know what all these buzzwords really fucking mean. I’m more about giving people the information to decide whether they are going to live YOLO or become a raging health freak. (Or somewhere in between, because really, most of us fall into some middle category…)

These antioxidants shouldn’t be treated like food gods, but there is something to this whole thing called “research.”

And often, there is something worthwhile in what is discovered (or more correctly, interpreted from data that then suggests a possibility).

I want to preface this discussion by saying that nutrition is not an exact science…

People are literally so different that even the most well-designed study can’t account for all your differences. But just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time or that the findings are irrelevant.

Ok. Let’s get into it.

 

What are antioxidants?

Literally, antioxidants are a biological property that prevent oxidative damage from free radicals to your cells, tissues, and organs. In less “science-ee” terms, shit called free-radicals have a rager in your body and want to fuck shit up and age you. This thing called oxidation is enemy number one. Oxidation is why you age! Quite ironic that we need oxygen and oxygen fucking ages you.

Kinda lame if you ask me…but I digress.

Anyways, antioxidants are in your food and they are your soldiers to combat this oxidation. But, they are not down to hang around forever (the one time you probably want a level 9 clinger here).

There are literally enough different antioxidants to keep me talking for days, but I’d like to highlight some that I feel are worthwhile.

 

Resveratrol

Red Wine Feeling Fine

Image Credit: Foodiesfeed.com

The antioxidants in red wine are called polyphenols. These polyphenols have been shown to prevent degenerative diseases. Resveratrol is one of the more studied polyphenols found in red wine.

And unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of resveratrol. We have only been shitting our pants over this magical substance for years now…

Benefits of Resveratrol

Resveratrol improves heart health by lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) and prevents blood clot formation. LDL cholesterol is the culprit of plaque buildup in the arteries and eventually could result in heart disease.

Resveratrol has other benefits beyond the heart. These benefits may be the result of resveratrol’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. With this unique ability, resveratrol has shown the ability to increase cerebral blood flow. Studies have yet to prove improved cognitive function with the administration of resveratrol supplementation, but future research will help better understand the brain benefits of this awesome antioxidant.

Like most antioxidants, resveratrol has shown to prevent the development of cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. However, it is important to note that alcohol has been linked to cancer, and these positive results have only been tested with resveratrol supplementation and may not be applicable to red wine consumption itself.

Not to continue to dispel the magic of resveratrol…

But to put things into perspective, to get the benefits of resveratrol you would have to drink 40 liters of wine every single day to see the same results found in studies! While I like a good buzz, this amount of wine would kill you…

So what’s the solution here? How can you get the benefits of resveratrol? 

If you truly want to get the benefits of resveratrol, stick to the pill form. My advice is to enjoy red wine over white for the slight heart-healthy benefits. But as soon as you’ve moved to drink the whole bottle, don’t kid yourself and think you’re “being healthy.”

 

Capsaicin

Chilis

Image Credit: Freefoodphotos.com

There is more to spicy foods than the sweat dripping down your brow and the fire in your throat. I’m a huge fan of food with some heat, and i’m sure some of you love it too! There is more to love than just the great flavor.

Capsaicin is what makes peppers spicy. This spice intensity is measured on the Scoville scale. Currently, the hottest pepper in the world is the Carolina reaper pepper. It measures in at 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units, in comparison to the friendlier jalapeno with a heat between 2,500 and 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Benefits of Capsaicin

Capsaicin has been shown to prevent the growth of cancer cells through cancer cell “suicide” through a process called apoptosis in prostate cancer and leukemia. In cancer studies, the benefit of capsaicin over other chemotherapies is capsaicin’s ability to only attack the cancer cell while leaving the healthy tissue around it undamaged.

For those suffering from chronic pain, capsaicin can help in the relief of pain through the depletion of substance P. Substance P has proinflammatory effects and can wreak havoc on respiratory and gastrointestinal systems (basically, substance P is a pain in the B). Through both oral and topical use of capsaicin, those suffering from pain may find relief from arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (kind of counterintuitive), and asthma.

Beyond these physical benefits of capsaicin, the burn of peppers can also lift your spirits. When eating peppers, the heat and burning sensation sends a message to the brain telling it that you are being burned. This causes the brain to be like “OH HELL NO” and the brain releases endorphins to combat the pain your brain senses you’re in (even though we like to call it a “good burn” if you’re into spicy food).

So if you’re feeling down, maybe it’s time to spice up your dinner. Beware of working with peppers at home, make sure you wash your hands and DO NOT touch your eyes…or anywhere sensitive…

When it comes to partying and getting more capsaicin, spicy cocktails are all the rage right now. If you can handle the spice in your drink, go for it!

Maybe the Spice Girls were onto something when they sang about spicing up your life…

 

Lycopene

Tomato

Image Credit: Picjumbo.com

If you ever eat ketchup, you have probably heard of the carotenoid, lycopene. Ketchup is mostly just sugar, but because it was processed under heat, the ketchup companies like to distract you with its lycopene contents.

Lycopene is found in more than just tomatoes, but for the sake of this discussion we will stick to the tomato talk.

When raw, the molecular structure of lycopene in tomatoes does not allow for easy absorption through the intestinal wall. So to get the maximum benefits of lycopene, cooking the tomatoes is essential.

Benefits of Lycopene

Like many of the antioxidants we have been talking about, lycopene has a positive impact on heart health. In a recent study, lycopene was shown to increase

In a recent study, lycopene was shown to increase Superoxide Dismutase activity which was shown to improve systolic blood pressure and a decrease in C-Reactive protein, a marker for inflammation. In other words, lycopene plays a role in the prevention of atherosclerosis, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Lycopene has also been studied in relation to fertility in men…BOMB CHIKA WAH WAH!

Oxidation activity can have detrimental effects on sperm motility and viability. Basically, if there is too much oxidation and inflammation in the body, a man’s sperm can die off or just move too slow (weed can also cause havoc on those little spermies). One study found that with the addition of as little as 4-8 mg of lycopene per day for 3-12 months can show significant improvement in fertility.

I’m sure you already know that laying out and tanning is a one-way ticket to aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. I’d really like to avoid looking like an old leather bag in my later years, and lycopene may help to prevent that.

Lycopene and other carotenoids have been shown to prevent skin damage from UV rays. In a 12-week study, the severity of redness in the participants’ skin after sun exposure was analyzed to test the effectiveness of a tomato-based supplement on skin damage prevention. The results of the study showed a 25% improvement upon skin damage in those using the lycopene supplement.

So how can lycopene get worked into your party time? BLOODY MARYS!

Luckily the quintessential brunch drink can help you get your dose of lycopene! Since the tomato juice used in Bloody Mary mix has been pasteurized before being canned or bottled, lycopene is present. 

 

Beta-Carotene

Carrots

Image Credit: Foodiesfeed.com

Beta-carotene is a carotenoid found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens (yes, not everything with beta-carotene is orange). Beta-carotene is a “provitamin A carotenoid” which means it is converted into vitamin A in the body, and consequently performs the same functions in the body.

Vitamin A is essential in maintaining healthy vision, skin and immune system. Different than Vitamin A, you cannot reach an upper limit on intake of beta-carotene (the palms of your hands may turn orange, but don’t panic). Vitamin A can reach toxic levels in the body and cause some pretty awful side effects, including liver damage.

If you’re partying all the time, your liver is working hard enough as it is. Try and get your vitamin A through carotenoid consumption.

Benefits of Beta-Carotene

Like with lycopene (another carotenoid), beta-carotene plays a role in healthy skin.

When exposed to UVA light from the sun, a Reactive Oxygen Species called singlet oxygen (a molecule in your body determined to fuck up your shit and age you) will begin to cause skin damage. This can lead to premature aging of the skin, and increases the risk of skin cancer. Beta carotene also assists in maintaining collagen, which keeps skin looking young, supple, and wrinkle free.

This amazing carotenoid can help prevent this damage and can act like a natural sunscreen. It may be worth taking a supplement to replenish your stores since sun exposure depletes your cells of beta-carotene (and you surely can’t eat that many carrots every day).

Whether you are a smoker, or just exposed to smoke at the bars, smoke causes oxidative damage to your lungs.

Beta-carotene may be special with its presence in lung tissue, unlike other carotenoids and vitamin A. While lung health and the role of carotenoids is still being debated, beta-carotene in some studies show it may help prevent the deterioration of lung capacity in the aging process. The debate over the benefits in smokers comes after clinical trials with beta-carotene supplementation led to an increase in lung cancer deaths among the participants years later.

At the end of the day the only sure thing here is that smoking is terrible for you, so just don’t do it. This is a party habit you should just downright pass on.

Now onto the benefit most of people have heard of, eye and vision health.

Beta-carotene plays a role in vision due to its conversion into vitamin A. Vitamin A helps with perception of light, signaling the brain to allow better vision in lower lighting. Without vitamin A, the cornea of the eye can deteriorate to the point of blindness. Although not much of an issue in the United States, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of childhood blindness worldwide.

While this may seem dramatic, ensuring that you get enough beta-carotene in your diet could really make a positive impact on the maintenance of your vision. You may not be going blind or even need glasses, but someday this could change and beta-carotene could keep that day further into the future.

Many of the foods containing beta carotene are inexpensive and very accessible.

Consider having some carrots as a snack at work, or choose to make sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes with your dinner at home. If you are feeling adventurous, carrot juice can be used as a drink mixer (you may want to mix it with other juices; alone it may make you gag more than the alcohol straight).

 

Anthocyanin

Berries

Image Credit: Foodiesfeed.com

Found in berries, eggplant, plums, cherries, and wine, anthocyanin is another wonderful antioxidant worth the hype. Mostly because it’s in wine…and berries, berries are just awesome.

Anthocyanins give these fruits and vegetables their red and purple coloring and give protection from UV light and harsh weather conditions. This antioxidant has been used for centuries worldwide as medicine to treat a diverse array of medical conditions.

Benefits of Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins are SO HOT right now…I mean with 635 different anthocyanins discovered in nature so far, we have so much more to discover about the benefits of such an important antioxidant.

One of the most impressive benefits of anthocyanins is its role in preventing weight gain.

One study conducted in rats fed a high-fat diet found that those rats given the anthocyanin supplements had a 24% decrease in weight gain in comparison to the rats without the antioxidant. This study also looked at it’s relationship with diabetes and insulin, finding that anthocyanins downregulated the gene associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Tart cherries may help to treat diabetes. They were found to increase the production of insulin by 50%. With the obesity epidemic in this country, anthocyanins could play a role in preventing the future generations from becoming part of the obesity problem.

Perhaps in the future, we can start making soda alternatives with anthocyanins as one of the ingredients? A true diet soda.

As per usual, anthocyanins have been found to prevent cancer.

The anthocyanins found in black raspberries were found to inhibit esophageal cancer in rats by 30-60% and colon cancer by up to 80%. Anthocyanins also have been shown to combat the free radicals that cause your skin to age and wrinkle.

It is believed that the anthocyanins work in the human skin like it works in the stems of the plants they are derived from. When the plant needs protection from the harsh UV rays, the plant produced more anthocyanins in the stems outer layer to protect it from further radiation exposure from the sun.

Basically, you take on the super abilities of the plant when you get enough anthocyanins in your diet (realistically through supplementation, unless you plan to only eat berries all day, every day). Pretty fucking cool right?

I’m just hoping that in the future we get to rub berry concentrates on our faces to stay youthful, rather than the super fail look of too much botox these days…

 

SO WHAT’S THE POINT?

There are antioxidants in all kinds of foods, and there are some clear benefits to be enjoyed from their consumption. You should already be aiming to stuff your face with awesome fruits and vegetables, but let’s be real for a second…

Magic isn’t going to happen.

Having good intentions is all that you can work towards when it comes to what you eat.

I could talk about many more antioxidants for MANY more pages (honestly there could be textbooks made about each one). My suggestion to you is eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables.

OH… and acai vodka is not healthy.

 

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About Kaitlin Cushman


Welcome to Nutrition Gone Wild. I'm Kaitlin, I have 2 degrees in nutrition, and I want to make a promise to you: I'm going to offer advice that is easy, beneficial, and applicable to your everyday life. This advice is meant to empower you to make these small changes that ultimately will benefit your overall health without taking the fun out of your daily schedule. Join me on this journey to living health(ier), wild and free!

Being healthy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good cocktail…

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Half the calories, all the fun.