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Nutrients: antioxidants

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Antioxidants

The advance of scientific studies is showing more clearly the relationship between the binomial health and nutrition. Until recently, the major studies focussed on the effects of nutrients, i.e., carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. However, foods are characterized as complex mixtures, not only of nutrients, but also of other components that are included in a heterogeneous group called 'non-nutrient' that are currently being studied as many phytochemicals with antioxidant action.
The term antioxidant refers to activity that many vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals have on substances considered as harmful, free radicals. Free radicals can react chemically with other components of the cells (by oxidizing them) by altering its stability and functionality.
What are the properties of antioxidants?
There is a considerable amount of scientific studies at the chemical level, cell cultures and animals indicating that antioxidants may slow or possibly prevent the development of some diseases, such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, and other degenerative, such as Alzheimer's or own aging. However, recent clinical trials in people, information is much less clear. For example, studies on antioxidants and cancer, made in populations in the 1990s, came to conclusions differing depending on the type of population that is studied. Many studies were done with supplements of antioxidants, at doses much higher than the present in a varied and balanced diet, showing inconsistent results were extrapolated to a varied and balanced diet.
Some months ago, the EFSA (European food safety agency) published its opinion on the current scientific evidence that linked the antioxidant action with health benefits and its conclusion is that sufficient evidence there is to make such a relationship. This has obviously caused a stir in the international scientific community. However, the relationship of cause and effect between the consumption of antioxidants and the benefit related to the antioxidant activity or their properties is not entirely clarified, does not mean that a diet rich in antioxidants is not recommended. On the contrary, it is.

Antioxidants are found in foods

The lack of current scientific evidence does not mean that antioxidants must not be present in our food. These substances are found mostly in foods of plant origin and the benefits that have a diet rich in these foods on health in general is well-known to. The main antioxidants present in our food are:
  • B-carotene: present in Orange foods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, melon cantaloupe, apricots, pumpkin or handles. Despite this first feature other foods that are rich in beta-carotene are the vegetables of green leaf, spinach and cabbage.
  • Lutein: also present in green leafy as those previously mentioned.
  • Lycopene: is a powerful antioxidant present in tomatoes, watermelon, papaya or blood orange. The main source of lycopene in our diet is the tomato and products derived from it, such as sauces and ketchup.
  • Selenium: is a mineral that is part of some enzymes with antioxidant activity. The main sources of selenium are rice and wheat (especially in its integral version), and its contents will depend on the Selenium present in farmland. It should not be forgotten that Selenium is also present in the muscles of animals, so the meat is another of the sources of this mineral in our diet.
  • Vitamin A (retinol): this vitamin-rich foods include liver and egg yolk. Beta-carotene is regarded as pro-vitamin A, which is a precursor of this vitamin, so foods rich in beta-carotene also can be considered as important to contribute to the supply of retinol.
  • Vitamin C: is found in many fruits and vegetables, like oranges, Kiwi fruit, strawberries, tomatoes...
  • Also known by the name of Alpha-Tocopherol, Vitamin E: is mainly present in the oils of seeds, such as sunflower, soya, corn and nuts.
There are some other foods that has set them supernatural healthy properties since they present a high quantity of phytochemicals that may be considered as antioxidants. However, there is no evidence that confirm such benefits.

Antioxidant menu

Despite the new scientific consensus that marks the need for more studies that evaluate the effects of antioxidants on health, a diet rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals implies a high consumption of plant foods, cereals and grains, dried fruit, pulses and vegetable oils. You must not ignore that these foods are based on the Mediterranean diet, a food style that has shown clear benefits on health.
Below, we present an example of menu with a high content of antioxidants:

Antioxidant menu

Indicated to prevent the effects of cellular oxidation.
Breakfast
  • A glass of soya drink
  • 2 slices of bread of seeds with oil of olive, tomato slices, and sesame seeds.
  • Salad of strawberries and pineapple.
Mid morning
  • A cup of green tea.
  • A handful of nuts.
Food
  • Fresh salad of chickpeas with spinach, cherrys tomatoes, sunflower seeds.
  • Sardines grilled with chopped garlic and parsley and broccoli sautéed lining.
  • A slice of bread.
  • A yogurt.
Snack
  • Seasonal fresh fruit smoothie.
Dinner
  • Cream of pumpkin and goat cheese.
  • Chicken chicken with baked tomatoes.
  • Kiwi with honey.
Article contributed for educational purposes
Health and Wellness

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