There’s no great secret to getting your antioxidants, professional home economist Mairlyn Smith says.
“People are confused about antioxidants because it sounds like a mysterious group of things in stuff,” Smith says. “But it’s an umbrella word like vitamins. There are all sorts of different kinds.”
Smith can dispel the confusion easily. “The bottom line is they are in anything that was once a plant, because antioxidants are essentially a plant’s defence mechanisms.”
That makes it surprisingly easy to measure up on your daily antioxidant intake. All it takes is a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and other healthy foods thrown in to get the right antioxidant “multi-mix” Smith says.
While supplements may have a place, registered dietician Kristine Laing notes they can’t make up for eating right. “Food is the best source of antioxidants hands down. You can’t make up for it with supplements. You have to concentrate on eating healthy.”
The reason it all boils down to the food you eat is that antioxidants work best in their natural state, she adds. “Taking the antioxidants out of a plant could be decreasing the structure. We just don’t know for sure.
“Whenever you talk about an extract, it’s an incomplete version of what was once whole food,” says Jennifer Sygo, director of nutrition for Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto. “It’s just not the same as eating whole food in complete form.”
In fact, research has yet to prove that packing in extra antioxidants through supplements and concentrates helps to reduce disease, Sygo notes.
So for those who want to know how to get the biggest bang for their antioxidant buck, here are a few easy basics you can follow:
Think in colours. Generally speaking, deeper-coloured fruit and vegetables are better than their paler counterparts, especially the deep greens, intense oranges and reds and deep purples.
Avoid processed foods. “It’s important to eat foods as naturally as possible,” Smith says.
Mix it up. That means ensuring you get your fair share of whole grains, legumes, nuts and eggs.
Understand where and how antioxidants in food work. Concentrations can vary depending on how particular items are prepared. Lycopene in tomatoes for example, is better absorbed when cooked in the presence of a heart-healthy fat, Smith says. On the other hand, up to two-thirds of the flavanols found in cocoa can be destroyed if alkaline is used during the chocolate-making process.
Check the labels. While people are snapping up pomegranate, blueberry or cherry fruit juices, for example, “Only 100% delivers the full antioxidant power,” Smith reports. “Fruit cocktails are usually watered down with apple or pear juice. But with pure juices, you only need a small quantity a day — say a quarter to a half a cup. It’s easy to dilute it with water.”
Experts ultimately believe that getting the antioxidants you need every day is simply a matter of common sense. “If you just follow the food basics, you’ll find you’re smarter and healthier than you thought,” Smith says.
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