How to increase your antioxidants levels

Linda Smith shows us how to boost our nutritional health

Boost your health and vitality by increasing your antioxidants levels

It’s a classic tale of good versus evil. On one side there are the nasty and highly volatile free radicals, which are intent on ruling our bodies and destroying everything that crosses their path. And then there are the good guys – the brave antioxidants – a group of magical little warriors who fight off the baddies and help keep internal peace.

It sounds not unlike the plot of the latest superhero movie, but keeping the inner workings of our bodies in balance is far more serious than a trip to the cinema.

While free radicals are essential in small doses – they help eliminate rogue cells and invade bacteria – they can become dangerous if allowed to run out of control, and have been linked to many chronic diseases, including cancer, as well as being blamed for premature ageing.

The good news is that numerous studies show that a diet with the right balance of antioxidants and free radicals is the hallmark for good health. So, we should all embrace our inner crime fighter and choose foods that maximise our antioxidant intake.

Sydney-based dietitian and nutritionist Joanna McMillan ( says packing berries, pomegranate, apples, tea, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, garlic, herbs and spices into our diets is a good place to start, as these super foods are among the highest in antioxidants.

As a general rule, the deeper and more varied the colour of fruit and vegies, the more potent the antioxidant level will be – for example, red grapes contain more antioxidants than green grapes.

So, Joanna says, sprinkling your muesli with a handful of blueberries or raspberries, munching on an apple at morning tea time, adding a few extra vegies and spices to your stir fries or sipping on a cup of tea at your desk are all great ways to boost your intake of antioxidants.

While these foods are all rich in antioxidants, Joanna says almost all plant foods, including whole grains, offer an array of antioxidants, so many of us are already getting a good dose of antioxidants each day without even realising it.

“There are numerous antioxidant compounds in the foods we eat, primarily in the plant foods we eat,” says Joanna, before adding that “eating a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods has been linked to lower risk of many diseases and better health.”

She says our bodies respond much better to eating fresh fruits and vegetables than to the isolated compounds in vitamin supplements, so fresh is always best when it comes to bolstering antioxidant levels. She says the important thing is to not get stuck in a routine of eating the same foods all the time – variety is the key to keeping the free radicals at bay.

Pairing certain foods – like tomato with olives, spinach with oranges, dark chocolate and red wine or onions and garlic – can actually boost their antioxidant properties so Joanna suggests creating meals around compatible foods to maximise antioxidant intake.

Pairing such foods can also help our bodies absorb vitamins, minerals and antioxidants better than eating each separately. Some nutrients, like iron, are best absorbed with the help of vitamin C, while antioxidants are often absorbed best when oil is present.

“If you eat raw carrots you absorb very little of the beta-carotene,” Joanna explains. “But drizzle over a little good quality cold pressed oil and you dramatically increase the absorption.”

A similar rule applies with tomatoes. They have long been considered a great source of vitamin C and lycopene (a powerful antioxidant that is often said to have anti-ageing properties while boosting vision and improving prostate health) and eating them with olives or even olive oil means our bodies can absorb those antioxidants more successfully. Joanna suggests getting a fix by eating oven-roasted tomatoes drizzled with virgin olive oil or making some garlic bruschetta.

Studies suggest eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day to reap the most health benefits when it comes to antioxidants. However, upping your antioxidant intake isn’t all about eating your greens. Chocoholics will be pleased to know that dark chocolate and red wine provide a powerful free radical-fighting combo.

Joanna says, “Eaten together they offer a killer mix of antioxidants.” Just remember not to overindulge! Moderation is key. One small glass of red and two squares of dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent cocoa) is ideal.

Those with a sweet tooth will also benefit from mixing fruits like apples and raspberries. The naturally occurring phytochemicals in these fruits work better together than alone, and help fight disease as well as provide a great dose of vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. Apples are said to contain almost five times the antioxidant capacity of bananas and more than twice that of an orange.

A measure called the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) is commonly used to measure the antioxidant capacity of different foods. The higher the ORAC value the greater the antioxidant activity of the food. The recommended amount of antioxidants required to maintain a healthy body is an intake of between 3000 and 5000 ORAC units per day.
As a guide, a medium-sized bananas ORAC score is around 900 and a tomato around 350.

While boosting the diet with antioxidant-rich foods, it’s important to remember that some foods, as well as environmental factors, can boost the production of free radicals in our bodies, requiring a larger intake of antioxidant-rich foods to keep things in balance.

Alcohol, cigarette smoke, stress, poor nutrition and excessive sun exposure can generate so many free radicals that our normal antioxidant defenses become overwhelmed, leaving us vulnerable to cell damage and disease.

And that’s when the war between good versus evil starts up again. So add some antioxidant rich foods to your diet. Not only will you look and feel better, you’ll be able to relax and unwind, safe in the knowledge that you’ve helped the antioxidant superheroes keep the baddies at bay.

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