Successful Aging : Foods that Fight Aging|
by Dr. Karen Wolfe
Free radicals are molecules that damage the body’s DNA and cell membranes. They are closely linked to the initiation and spread of cancer and are produced as a by-product of metabolism. Sunlight, smoking, fried food and pesticides all create free radicals.
To disarm these potentially damaging free radicals, the body needs antioxidants. Imagine an apple cut into two halves, with lemon juice poured over the half and the other is left as it is. After a few minutes, the untouched half will start to react with the oxygen in the air and turn brown. The half covered with the lemon juice will remain its original color. The lemon juice has exerted a protective effect, acting as an antioxidant. The same sort of thing happens in the body, where antioxidants protect against damage by free radicals.
To keep our antioxidant network strong and effective, we must constantly replenish the antioxidants we lose every second of every day. What we eat can make a huge difference in our ability to maintain the antioxidant advantage, and to keep our bodies and minds functioning at optimal levels. The body also manufactures its own antioxidants that rely on nutrients for their formation. One of these, glutathione peroxidase requires selenium for its construction. This can be found in fresh nuts and seeds, dark green leafy vegetables and whole grain products. Including such foods in your meals every day should ensure that your body is supplied with the nutrients it needs to produce enough vital natural antioxidants.
Until recently modern medicine has ignored the link between diet and disease. The emphasis on high tech solutions has diminished the role of lifestyle in maintaining health. Diet was considered so unimportant that few medical schools even offered courses in nutrition. But then an interesting thing happened. Despite our superior medical knowledge, heart disease and cancer were becoming epidemic in developed countries and scientists began to ask why. Numerous studies revealed that people who lived in less affluent countries where the diet was rich in whole grains and unprocessed fruits and vegetables had markedly lower rates of cancer and heart disease than the wealthier more "advanced" nations.
There was no doubt that people who ate an abundance of plant foods were healthier and lived longer than people who ate the traditional Western diet. So, scientists began to study these plant foods using the same state-of-the-art techniques that had been previously used for cutting-edge research. In laboratories around the world, scientists began to isolate particular chemicals in fruits, vegetables and commonly used spices (such as garlic and tumeric). It was found that foods contained a wide array of protective compounds called phytochemicals, many of which were antioxidants.
There are literally hundreds of phytochemicals, many offering unique benefits. For example, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli have special chemicals that stimulate the production of anticancer compounds in the body. Soybeans are rich in isoflavones, hormonelike compounds that fight cancer. Citrus fruits contain a cancer-fighting oil in their skin. The more that was revealed about fruits and vegetables, the more apparent it became that food was powerful medicine.
From this research we have learned several important lessons.
There is no substitute for a well-balanced diet. Supplements can help enhance the healing benefits of food, but they cannot do the job alone.
Fresh, whole foods are best. Although juice has vitamins and minerals, only the whole fruit or vegetable contains fibre. Ideally, you should also eat the skin of the fruit or vegetable since it is a wonderful source of nutrients. Be sure to wash your produce thoroughly before eating it.
The color of the plant contains many of the important phytochemicals. For example the darker the green the more phytochemicals.
Packer, L. & Colman, C (1999) The Antioxidant Miracle : Your Complete Plan for Total health and Healing, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was written for National Wellness Institute Online January 2000
Copyright Dr. Karen Wolfe. All Rights Reserved.
Karen Wolfe is a national and international speaker, author and coach. She is the author of:
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