Thursday 11 January 2018

The Scoop on Antioxidants!

Written by Lexie Seherr-thoss, Dietetic Intern, OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center
If you’ve ever been to a supplement store or down the supplement aisle at your local drugstore, chances are that you’ve seen the term “antioxidants”. There are claims that antioxidants can help slow the process of aging, prevent vision loss and decrease the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. The real question is whether or not research supports these claims.
What Are Antioxidants?Antioxidants occur naturally in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, coffee, tea, wine, and chocolate. They are known to protect cells in your body and prevent them from harm. There are many different types of antioxidants, but the most common are vitamins A, C, and E, minerals such as selenium or manganese and flavonoids which are found in plants.

How can I get Antioxidants?Each type of antioxidant has its own effect and benefit on the body. Vitamin A is found in milk, butter, eggs, dark leafy greens such as kale, and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots. Vitamin A offers many benefits including protecting eyesight and improving your immune system. Vitamin C is found in fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and tomatoes. Vitamin C aids the body in healing and repairing itself. Vitamin E is found in nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds. Vitamin E has been shown to boost your immune system and aid in skin health.
Antioxidants as Supplements:Many antioxidants are sold as supplements and are widely available at most drug and grocery stores. When buying antioxidant supplements you must be careful since they are typically offered in high-doses which can be harmful to consume and fail to provide the benefits that they claim. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements and there is no research required before being sold to the general public, so you really don’t know what you’re getting.
Looking at the Research:There have been numerous studies on single and combined uses of antioxidant supplementation and they have failed to provide a clear outcome of disease prevention. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, studies have shown that taking antioxidant supplements could interfere with your health. However, there’s strong evidence that when people eat a variety of foods such as vegetables and fruits, they are healthier and have lower risks of aging, cancer, and heart-related diseases.  Whole foods also contain fiber and additional vitamins and minerals besides antioxidants that will help improve your health which will result in a lowered risk for a disease. Many health organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association recommend getting antioxidants from food instead of supplements until there is enough research to support the supplementation of antioxidants.
The Bottom Line:The best way to achieve the possible benefits of antioxidants is to eat a varied diet with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts/seeds. It is recommended to eat between 5-9 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables a day, 3-6 servings of whole grains, and 2-3 servings of nuts/seeds a week. Eating a variety of colorful whole foods instead of supplementing certain antioxidants is the best way to maintain a healthy body and prevent disease.

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