By: Philip Palmer BA, CPT, GEI

As you walk through the grocery store and pass aisle upon aisle of food you might recall past conversations where those foods came up. Some of these conversations might have been educational or noteworthy like when someone might comment “oh you should eat that because it has….” while others might have been more of a warning like “you shouldn’t eat that because of this….” While I’m dining with others I often explain why I eat something, which is often due to the macronutrient, micronutrient, or mineral content, yet one thing that I don’t mention often, or that I haven’t heard others talk about is antioxidants.  Antioxidants are greatly lacking in many of our diets, which is a concern as antioxidants play a major role in improving or preventing many diseases. 

When it comes to understanding antioxidants and how to get more in your diet, we first have to understand what they are in the first place. Everything in the universe is made of atoms which are comprised of a core of protons and neutrons. Outside of the core, electrons are rotating around. In order for a molecule to be stable, it must contain the right amount of electrons. The problem arises when a molecule loses an electron causing it to turn into a free radical, which are unstable electrically charged molecules in the cells that can react with other molecules, like DNA, damaging them. This is where antioxidants come to the rescue and donate an electron to the free radical, thus neutralizing it. The production of free radicals is a normal body function as they are constantly formed during metabolism and would destroy our bodies quickly if not kept in check. We need a certain balance of antioxidants to free radicals to sustain life, as they do play a purpose as the body’s immune cells use free radicals to kill bacteria that try to infect us. However, it is when this balance gets disrupted things can go wrong. 

When free radicals outnumber antioxidants it can lead to a state called oxidative stress, which causes other molecules in the body to become severely damaged. Research has suggested that the main cause of cardiovascular disease and cancer are due to high oxidative stress levels. There are many factors that can increase free radical formation such as air pollution, cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, toxins, high blood sugar, excessive sunbathing, infections by bacteria, fungi, viruses, intense and prolonged exercise, which all cause tissue damage, along with excessive intake of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, along with antioxidant deficiency. Prolonged oxidative stress leads to increased risk of negative health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. It is also thought to contribute to speeding up the aging process. Removing one of these free radical causes can help lower your oxidative stress levels. Pair that with adding more antioxidant-rich foods into your life and you will improve your free radical to antioxidant balance.   

Antioxidants are essential for life and, thank goodness, are found in all sorts of foods from both plants and animals. All forms of life have their own defenses against free radicals and oxidative damage caused by them. Because of this, antioxidants are found in pretty much all foods of plant and animal origin that one can consume. Getting antioxidants from foods are so important that our life literally depends on the intake of certain antioxidants, particularly vitamin C and vitamin E. Meat products contain smaller amounts of antioxidants compared to fruits and veggies. One of the benefits associated with diets rich in plants is the wide variety of antioxidants they provide. Some foods high in antioxidants are dark chocolate, pecans, blueberries, strawberries, artichokes, goji berries, raspberries, kale, red cabbage, beans, beets, spinach. Adding a variety of these to one’s diet can increase their antioxidant levels to combat free radical damage. 

Knowing your antioxidant score can help you change up your nutrition and lifestyle to include more of the good antioxidants and hopefully remove some of the free radical issues. One simple test that is non-invasive and takes under 1 minute is the S3 BioPhotonic Scanner, which is the world’s first measuring tool that gives you a skin carotenoid score. This score is immediate evidence of carotenoid antioxidant activity in the body. The test is based on the optical method known as Resonant Raman Spectroscopy, which has been around for many years in research labs. After receiving a test a few months back I have dramatically changed up my diet from what I thought was “healthy” to include more antioxidant-rich foods daily. Upon a recent re-scan, I was excited to see those numbers jumped up. You can, and should get a scan at Intelligent Fitness so you can make improvements to your diet and lifestyle.