The Antioxidant Underdogs: Coffee, Chocolate, and Wine
Straight talk about 3 foods and beverages you would think were unhealthy, but are actually rich in antioxidants.
What are antioxidants and how do they contribute to our overall health?
Antioxidants are molecules that can slow or prevent oxidation in our cells. Oxidation is the body’s natural process of taking in oxygen. For this to work, a chemical reaction takes place that transfers electrons to what is known as an oxidizing agent. An example of this is when a person runs or exercises and the body has an increased demand for oxygen intake. The person’s cells will produce high levels of oxygen, and after running for a long period of time, the muscles will secrete chemicals that cause muscle fatigue and signal the person to slow down. In the case of the runner, oxidation is a beneficial and healthy process because it contributes to muscle formation.
Even though the body requires the intake of oxygen to perform many vital functions, sometimes by-products called free radicals are formed in the process. Free radicals are capable of starting chain reactions that damage and destroy important cells. They are said to be linked to a variety of diseases, including Cardiovascular Disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and certain forms of Cancer. This is precisely where antioxidants come into play, because they are capable of terminating these chain reactions and preventing the formation of these diseases. Antioxidants take on the role of “regulators” of oxidation, since the goal is not to remove the process of oxidation entirely, but to keep things in balance while keeping free radicals at bay.
Where can we find quality antioxidants to add to our diets?
A few antioxidants are synthesized by the human body, generally as enzymes. These are Glutathione Peroxidase, Catalase, and Glutathione Peroxidase. Other antioxidants must be obtained externally, and are present in common vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. The vitamins A and C are water soluble vitamins that can be absorbed directly into the body and are both found in an array of fruits and vegetables. Carrots, squash, pumpkins, apricots, collard greens, and spinach all contain Vitamin A, and all fruits and some vegetables are rich in Vitamin C. Lycopene is rich in antioxidants and most commonly found in tomatoes and tomato products, while Selenium is an important mineral that is present in grains, meats, and even eggs. You will pretty much obtain your fair share of antioxidants so long as you select from the food groups that constitute a healthy diet. The recommended serving of fruits and vegetable per day is five of each, in order to maintain a balanced diet.
Right Wrong Foods- The Antioxidant Underdogs
A balanced diet is realistic if you have the time and the willingness to engage in health-inducing activities. Yet try as many people do, we all fall into the occasional slip-up of eating not- so -healthy foods. If you happen to find yourself falling into that hole anytime soon, don’t despair, because you may actually be doing yourself a favor, depending on which junk foods you are consuming. Yes, “bad” foods can actually provide health benefits, especially when it comes to being a source of antioxidants. The following are three commonly “wrong” foods and beverages that are actually very high in antioxidant content, and when consumed properly, can have enormous benefits on your health and prevent disease and free radicals.
1) Red Wine
After a long grueling day at the office, make sure you kick back and relax with a glass of Red Wine. Although excessive drinking causes high blood pressure, liver damage, and obesity,the consumption of red wine can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease dramatically when consumed in moderation since it is rich in flavanoids and reservatol. Reservatol is a substance found in the skin of grapes, especially in purple grapes. Because of this, Red wine is richer in antioxidants than white wines or other forms of alcohol. The recommended moderate consumption rate is up to two glasses a day for men, and one glass per day for women. What constitutes one drink is five ounces. This is not recommended for pregnant women.
Go ahead, have dessert. Not only do you deserve it, your body would greatly benefit from it- dark chocolate, that is. Although chocolate is high in caloric intake and usually looked down upon for this trait, dark chocolate is known to lower high blood pressure when eaten in moderation. Dark is the way to go versus white or milk chocolate, since it has more highly concentrated antioxidant levels and usually less sugar. Just one ounce of dark chocolate contains more than twice the antioxidants found in red wine. In a study performed by the Marz corporation, Dove Dark chocolate contains the highest level of flavanoids over any other chocolate bar, and is often used for testing purposes because of this statistic. The recommended serving is one ounce per day in order to promote good cholesterol levels.
Alright all you java junkies, this should really put some pep in your step. Coffee probably has one of the worst raps out of all beverages for being detrimental to human health. It is said to give the jitters, be bad for people with high blood pressure, and even increase cholesterol levels. But breakthrough studies have placed it amongst the ranks as number one in antioxidant content over any other antioxidant-containing substance. Coffee is also the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet, according to the findings of chemistry professor Joe A. Vinson at University of Scranton. He along with other researchers have discovered that the antioxidants found in coffee play a role in enzyme and gene reaction, and that coffee consumption daily cuts the risk of developing the most common form of diabetes. Regular coffee consumers also have half of the risk of developing cancer of the liver as opposed to those who do not drink it, according to the National Cancer Institute. Interestingly, medium roast coffee provides the maximum amount of antioxidant activity within a range of roasts, and dark roasts actually have less activity. The average adult American consumes approximately 1.64 cups of coffee daily, although a recommended amount of coffee to consume is unknown.
All things are good in moderation
Antioxidants are essential to health and disease prevention, however, over-consumption is an issue that needs to be addressed. Antioxidants can act as pro-oxidants at high levels, so it is very important to exercise moderation. Also, it is not entirely clear whether supplements should be consumed by themselves or not, since there is no real evidence that can link the antioxidants themselves to producing any drastic health benefits. This is because any positive effect on human health in relation to an antioxidant could always be caused by another substance. For example, just because fruits are good for you and contain antioxidants does not necessarily mean that the health benefits could not be traced to some other substance within the fruit. The same cautionary principle should be applied to the use of supplements.
Which is your antioxidant of choice?
- Wikipedia.com, "Antioxidants"
- coffeescience.org, "Antioxidant Content"
- MSNBC.com,Associated Press, "Coffee Top Source of Healthy Antioxidants"
- Web MD, "Dark Chocolate is Healthy Chocolate" by Daniel J. DeNoon
- Mayo Clinic.com,"Red Wine and Resveratrol: Good for Your Heart?"
- Prevention.com, "Dark Chocolate Can Pack a Big Antioxidant Wallop" by Linda Rao