To stay out of oxidative debt we need to take in more antioxidants than we use up.
Images thanks to Buckeye Impressions / Tim Tonjes via Flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.
The postprandial state is a pro-oxidant state, meaning that after each meal free radicals are produced as your body assimilates the food, and so you can't just have that bowl of berries in the morning to meet your minimum daily antioxidant needs and call it a day. Each and every meal should contain high antioxidant foods, which, if you remember, means plants. Antioxidant rich foods originate from the plant kingdom. This is due to the thousands of different natural antioxidant compounds natural found in plant foods.
For example, consuming fruits, which are high in phenolic phytonutrients, increases the antioxidant capacity of the blood, and when they are consumed with the standard American diet high fat and refined carbohydrate ‘pro-oxidant and pro-inflammatory’ meals, they may help counterbalance their negative effects. Given the content and availability of fat and sugars in the Western diet, regular consumption of phenolic-rich foods, particularly in conjunction with meals, appears to be a prudent strategy to maintain oxidative balance and health.
And of all fruits, berries may be the best source. So for example here's the spike in oxidation caused by a Mediterranean meal of pasta, tomato sauce, olive oil, and fried fish. Obviously not enough tomatoes. Add a glass of red wine, which contains berry phytonutrients from grapes, and we can bring down the level of oxidation, but not blunt it completely. So the meal needs even more plants.
In this study they gave people standard breakfast items, resulting in lots of oxidized cholesterol in their blood stream 1,2,3,4,5,6 hours after the meal. But all it took was a cup of strawberries with that same breakfast to at least keep the meal from contributing to further oxidation. Note though, without the strawberries, look where you'll be at lunchtime. Let's say you ate a standard American breakfast at 6 am, then 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 o’clock, noon. If we didn’t eat that cup of strawberries with breakfast, by the time lunch rolls around we'd already be starting out in the a hyper-oxidized state and could just make things worse. Since western eating patterns include eating multiple meals a day, including snacks, one can only speculate on the level of biological unrest.
But, at least if you had some berries for breakfast you're starting out at baseline for lunch. This acute protection is likely due to the antioxidant effects of the strawberry phytonutrients.
Even better than baseline, how about your meal actually improving our antioxidant status? Here's measuring the antioxidant level of one's bloodstream after a crappy meal, it drops, using up your antioxidant stores, but eat a big bunch of red grapes with the meal and the antioxidant level of our bloodstream goes up, your body is in positive antioxidant balance for a few hours. Same thing after enough blueberries. And imagine if in these ensuing hours before your next meal you were sipping green tea, or hibiscus? You’d have this nice antioxidant surplus all day long.
What, according to the researchers, are the practical implications? These data provide an interesting perspective for advising individuals on food choice when consuming a moderate- to high-fat meal is unavoidable. Unavoidable? So what, if you're like locked in a fast food joint or something? Well, then they suggest chasing whatever you’re forced to eat with some berries. Reminds me of those studies on smokers I talked about suggesting whose who smoke should eat lots of kale and broccoli to reduce the oxidative damage to their DNA. Uh, they could also, just not smoke.
In a single day, the systemic stress of all the fat in your blood and redox imbalance (being in a mild pro-oxidant state after meals) may seem trivial. Over time, however, these daily insults can lead to complicated atherosclerosis, contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths a year.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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What do antioxidants have to do with heart disease? See The Power of NO.
I strive to eat berries every day and so should everyone else. See Best Berries for the best fresh and Better Than Goji Berries for the best dried. If you’re still not convinced check out the amazing findings in Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer and Black Raspberries versus Oral Cancer. Are organic berries preferable? See Cancer Fighting Berries.
This is the third of a 3-part video series on practical tips to achieve optimum “redox” (free radical versus antioxidant) balance. In Minimum Recommended Daily Allowance of Antioxidants I tried to explain the why and how much and in How to Reach the Antioxidant RDA I got into the nitty gritty of meal planning and described how just reaching the minimum may not be sufficient.
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