Achieving a Balance

By Anil Monocha

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, December/January 2004.

In general, antioxidants are nature’s combined sanitation and police department. They are designed to keep the body’s free-radical population under control, to keep the process of oxidation at its rightful balance and to ensure that nutrients are properly absorbed and assimilated.

However, antioxidants can only work effectively if enough of them are present in the body at any given time. Antioxidants are primarily found in fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins C and E.

Following is a list of foods and food groups loaded with these substances.

Green leafy vegetables — Fresh green, leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage, bok choy, endive, spinach, watercress, beet greens and parsley provide lavish amounts of the antioxidants lutein, folate and beta-carotene, plus a hefty supply of vitamin C. Make it a practice to eat a salad containing these greens at least once a day.

Whole grain — Brown rice, wheat, barley and millet contain vitamin E and, hence, antioxidants. Avoid processed white bread. It provides few nutrients and has very little antioxidant capacity.

Red fruits — Typical red fruits include grapes,
strawberries, raspberries, red grapefruit and tomatoes (yes, tomatoes are a fruit). All of these are rich in lycopene, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Red grape juice has four times more antioxidant capacity than orange juice or tomato juice, and is often recommended as a protective nutrient for the cardiovascular system.

Citrus fruits and juices — Grapefruits, oranges, lemons and limes, either in fruit or juice form, carry large stores of vitamin C and antioxidant-rich bioflavonoids. They also contain stores of potassium
and folic acid.

Soy products — Tofu, tempeh and other soy-derived products are endowed with plant estrogen and plenty of antioxidants. Soybeans contain isoflavones, nutrients that some researchers believe contribute to the low levels of breast cancer among women in Japan where large amounts of tofu are eaten daily.

Prunes — Prunes contain an abundant amount of “oxygen radical absorbance capacity” (ORAC). Strong ORAC is reputed to raise the antioxidant power in the blood and to slow aging symptoms. Other foods with a high ORAC rating include raisins and berries.

Chili — The much-maligned hot chili contains large amounts of vitamin C. Some people believe its endorphin-raising qualities also help elevate mood.

Blueberries — Blueberries contain some of the highest antioxidant levels in all the human cuisine. Animal studies show that a half cup of blueberries a day helps reverse the effects of failing memory.

Garlic — Fresh garlic contains vast supplies of antioxidants and is used by healthcare professionals to fight infection and treat cancer. Garlic also provides useful phytochemicals — plant substances that protect against cancer, dementia and heart disease.

Turmeric — Scientists are excited about the role turmeric may play in anti-aging defenses. Interestingly, in India, where almost every cooked dish contains turmeric, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is very low.

Tea — Though green tea is touted as the high antioxidant player, black tea contains approximately the same amounts of free-radical fighting substances as its green relative. Harvard researchers found that a cup of black tea a day substantially reduces the chances of heart disease. Other studies suggest green tea has preventive effects on both chronic and lifestyle-related disease (including cardiovascular disease and cancer).

Other foods high in antioxidants — This group includes peas, cauliflower, yams, beans, broccoli, carrots, brussel sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, squash, beets, bell peppers, onions, corn, eggplant, melons, peaches, plums, apricots, fish oils and seeds.