Antioxidants vs. Free Radicals

Which One Wins is Up To You!

A battle is constantly raging inside your body, a war between free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals damage and prematurely age your body; antioxidants protect you from that damage. 

If you want antioxidants to achieve victory over free radicals in your body, the choice is yours. All you have to do is eat a varied, wholesome food with lots of veggies, fruit, some seeds and nuts. 

Free radicals are reactive chemicals, which are released in our bodies and lead to health problems such as diabetes, cancer, cataracts and cardiovascular disease. We get free radicals from the environment (cigarette smoking, air pollution and other hazardous chemicals), and as a byproduct of our own body’s metabolism. 

In addition to environmentally and naturally acquired free radicals, the consumption of processed junk food, which is often loaded with saturated fats, hormones, harmful additives, etc., can cause the body to form large quantities of these harmful chemicals during the metabolic processes. 

Free radicals damage cell membranes, making the cells more susceptible to carcinogens and even convert some harmful chemicals into actual carcinogens. For example, they boost the atherosclerotic process by altering circulating cholesterol into LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body, thus increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Antioxidants act as active scavengers of these destructive free radicals.  They play an important role in the body’s natural defense and repair system and help slow aging by combating and preventing oxidation—a degenerative process caused by free radicals. 

One of the many significant benefits of eating a variety of organic produce, variously colored fruits, seeds and nuts is that by doing so you naturally increase your intake of antioxidants. Studies have shown that organic produce is up to 50% richer in antioxidants than conventional produce.

Obtaining nutrients from food sources is more effective than taking supplements. And research has suggested that for people who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, consumption of beta-carotene supplements may even be harmful.) 

Let's take a closer look at specific antioxidants. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C offers many health benefits. It boosts the body's immune system, aids in iron absorption, prevent cataracts, maintains connective tissues (bones, teeth, skin and tendons), keeps cholesterol levels down, protects you from damage caused by stress, promotes mental health, supports tissue repair, protects against cardiovascular and gum disease and certain types of cancer. 

Vitamin C is necessary for the production of the hormone thyroxine, which regulates the basal metabolic rate and body temperature and the production of collagen, which forms the scar tissue that heals wounds (responsible for mending fractures and the supporting materials of capillaries that prevent bruising).

Vitamin C deficiency symptoms include bleeding gums, low resistance to infection, swollen joints, tendency to bruise, etc. Vitamin C can be obtained easily by eating turnip greens, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower, parsley, mustard greens, green peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli as well as citrus fruits, berries, kiwifruit, papaya and cantaloupe. The RDA for vitamin C ranges from 35 mg for infants to 75 mg for adults.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant essential in preserving healthy cells, blood, muscles, skin and protecting against respiratory infections. Its potent antioxidant properties prevent the destruction of fatty acids and make fats more widely available for metabolism. This enables the body to obtain more energy for the contraction of muscle, which is especially beneficial during exercise. 

Toxicity due to high doses of vitamin E is rare, but more studies are needed. Symptoms of deficiency include poor muscle coordination and reflexes, impaired vision and speech, poor skin condition, swelling of extremities, muscle cramping and other diseases that cause poor absorption of fats such as liver, gallbladder and pancreas problems.

Excellent sources of vitamin E are green leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, peanuts, wheat germ, cold pressed oils and whole grains. Most raw oils such as soybean, canola, safflower and wheat germ oils contain vitamin E, but the frying and deep frying of foods destroy it, which is why convenience, fast and processed foods virtually contain no vitamin E.

Beta Carotene

Beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A when you digest it, provides vital benefits to the body in many different ways. It’s good for the vision, skin, bones, normal cell development, reproduction, aids in the repair of tissue in the body and is crucial in the maintenance of the immune system in fighting invasive infections. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body into the active form of retinol. Scientists do not specify beta-carotene amounts in food but rather express it as RE (retinol equivalents) extracted by body from plant food after ingestion. 

Although deficiency is rare, studies have shown that people who eat diets low in foods that contain beta-carotene are more prone to develop certain types of cancer and blindness in old age. There is growing evidence that a diet rich in beta-carotene is associated with low incidence of disease. 

Rich sources of beta-carotene are carrots, broccoli, spinach, collard greens, beets, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, turnips, winter squash, mangos, papaya, apricots and cantaloupe -- all delicious, yummy stuff!

For a healthy daily dose of antioxidants look no further than moderate consumption nutrient rich, organic plant foods -- everyday!

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Words of Wisdom

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.


The Research Department

A recent study funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and conducted by scientists at Glasgow University has found that an early diet consisting of junk food promotes aging in zebra finches. Now experts believe that the consumption of junk food may have the same adverse effect on humans.

The research shows that the birds eating a poor diet of seeds lacking essential nutrients in the early stage of their lives died prematurely. It is thought that the junk food prevented them from developing adequate amounts of anti-aging antioxidants and shortened their lives.

Here's a link to the press release announcing the findings.

Reader Comment

Love the newsletter, particularly the recipes! Unlike many vegetarian dishes, they are all quick and easy to prepare (a major plus for busy folks). And very tasty, too, I might add :)

Anyway, I just wanted to suggest that the vegetarian woman whose baby has a dairy allergy (about which you wrote in the 25 June newsletter) visit www.vegfamily.com. This site is a community for vegetarian families—especially those with young children--with regular columns by pediatricians and forums for answering questions like your reader's. A great resource!

Follow Up

Stressing the Importance of Avoiding Stress

I talk about stress and the importance of practicing stress-management techniques in my newsletter issued on June 19, 2003 ("Your Mental Environment" column). The consequences of experiencing high levels of stress have always been known to cause health problems.

Scientists at Ohio State University have recently discovered exactly why chronic stress can be so deadly. As I mentioned in my previous column, stressful situations cause the body to release toxic chemicals that pollute the body, and those pollutants cause ill health. 

Now there is scientific evidence published in this week’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that identifies a chemical called interleukin-6 (IL-6) as the culprit. People under stress show higher levels of IL-6 in their blood.

Other studies have previously associated increased levels IL-6 with heart disease, certain cancers, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes and arthritis. Smoking and overeating seem to also boost the levels of this deadly chemical. And, of course, adequate sleep and regular exercise decrease it.

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Guacamole con Tofu (vegan)
Makes about 2
½ cups

My guacamole recipe is truly delicious, provides complete protein and it’s refreshingly light. Tofu adds more texture to it without taking away from the flavor. Avocados are high in fat. But eating 1/3 of an avocado is good as part of a healthful diet. Most of this fat in it is monounsaturated, which is protects against heart disease and diabetes. Avocado is the most nutrient-rich fruit available—providing more concentrated nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin C, riboflavin, vitamin B6, potassium, folate, and dietary fiber per calorie than any other fruit. Avocado also contains lutein, a carotenoid that helps protect against cataracts and prostate cancer. Among fruits, avocado is the richest in vitamin E.  

This complete protein appetizer can be served with organic tortilla chips (I suggest baked tortilla chips and raw vegetables as healthier alternatives), or with fresh corn tortillas, beans and salsa as tacos.

Preparation time: 15 minutes 

Get ingredients ready: (organic if possible)
½ cup, finely cubed firm fresh tofu (diced into ½ inch cubes)
2 ripe, peeled and pitted medium avocados
1 ripe chopped tomato
1 seeded and finely chopped fresh small jalapeno pepper
2 fresh garlic cloves—pressed or minced
½ small chopped onion 
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon hot sauce (such as Melinda’s or Tabasco)
2 tablespoons of fresh finely chopped cilantro
sea salt & freshly ground pepper

1. In a large ceramic or glass bowl mash the avocado lightly. Add all remaining ingredients except the tofu and mix well. 

2. Add tofu, salt and pepper mixing well. Serve with baked tortilla chips. 

Cook’s tip: Avocado is a healthier spread substitute for butter, sour cream or cream cheese.


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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.