Minimum “Recommended Daily Allowance” of Antioxidants

Minimum “Recommended Daily Allowance” of Antioxidants
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How many antioxidant-rich foods do we need to eat every day just to stay out of oxidative debt?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Carbohydrate means, basically, hydrated carbon—carbon dioxide and water, which is what plants use to make carbs with, and all that’s left after we then burn them for energy to power our muscles and brain. But, this process of oxidizing carbs to make energy is messy, and generates free radicals, such that if we chug down straight sugar water, the level of oxidation in our bloodstream goes up over the next few hours. Why would our bodies evolve to have a negative reaction to our primary fuel? Because over our millions of years of evolution, there was no such thing as sugar water—all sugars and starches came pre-packaged with what? With antioxidants. In nature, sugar always comes with phytonutrients.

If you drink the same amount of sugar in the form of orange juice, you don’t get that spike in oxidation. Why? Because the sugar in fruit comes prepackaged with antioxidants. Can’t we just drink vitamin C-enriched sugar water? No. It wasn’t the vitamin C in the OJ, but the citrus phytonutrients, like hesperetin and naringenin that beat back the oxidation.

If we don’t eat phytonutrient-rich plant foods with every meal—like fruit—then, for hours after we eat, our bodies are tipped out of balance into a pro-oxidative state, which can set us up for oxidant-stress diseases. The free radicals in our body can oxidize the fats in our blood, for example, and set us up for heart disease.

Here’s the levels of oxidized fat in our blood one, two, three hours after sugar water ingestion, and the corresponding drop in vitamin E levels in our blood as our body’s antioxidant stores are used up, within hours. If we don’t eat phytonutrient foods with our meals, our body has to dip into its backup supply of antioxidants, and you can’t get away with that for long. So, while ideally we should stuff our faces with as many phytonutrient-rich foods as we can, in the very least, we should eat enough antioxidants to counter the oxidation of digestion. In the very least, we don’t want to slide backwards every day, and end up with fewer antioxidants in our bodies than we woke up with.

Just to break even, here’s about how many antioxidants we need every day, depending on how much we eat, just to counter the oxidation of digestion. (This is measured in millimoles of trolox equivalents.) Men in the U.S. average about 2,500 calories a day, and so should be getting at least 11,000 micromoles a day. Women who eat about 1,800 calories, on average, so should get at least 8,000, just to stay solvent. The average American, doesn’t even get half the minimum! No wonder oxidant stress-related diseases abound. We’re getting so few antioxidants in our diet, we can’t even keep up with the free radicals created just digesting our meals. We are a nation in chronic oxidative debt.

In developed societies, we eat a lot of food, but not enough plants, which could result “in exaggerated and prolonged metabolic, oxidative, and immune imbalance, presenting opportunity for biological insult that over time could supersede biological defense and repair systems manifesting in cellular dysfunction, disease and ultimately death.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to TheFoodJunk via flickr; and OCAL, Joshua8420, and Philip Hilgaertner via clker.com. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise, and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Carbohydrate means, basically, hydrated carbon—carbon dioxide and water, which is what plants use to make carbs with, and all that’s left after we then burn them for energy to power our muscles and brain. But, this process of oxidizing carbs to make energy is messy, and generates free radicals, such that if we chug down straight sugar water, the level of oxidation in our bloodstream goes up over the next few hours. Why would our bodies evolve to have a negative reaction to our primary fuel? Because over our millions of years of evolution, there was no such thing as sugar water—all sugars and starches came pre-packaged with what? With antioxidants. In nature, sugar always comes with phytonutrients.

If you drink the same amount of sugar in the form of orange juice, you don’t get that spike in oxidation. Why? Because the sugar in fruit comes prepackaged with antioxidants. Can’t we just drink vitamin C-enriched sugar water? No. It wasn’t the vitamin C in the OJ, but the citrus phytonutrients, like hesperetin and naringenin that beat back the oxidation.

If we don’t eat phytonutrient-rich plant foods with every meal—like fruit—then, for hours after we eat, our bodies are tipped out of balance into a pro-oxidative state, which can set us up for oxidant-stress diseases. The free radicals in our body can oxidize the fats in our blood, for example, and set us up for heart disease.

Here’s the levels of oxidized fat in our blood one, two, three hours after sugar water ingestion, and the corresponding drop in vitamin E levels in our blood as our body’s antioxidant stores are used up, within hours. If we don’t eat phytonutrient foods with our meals, our body has to dip into its backup supply of antioxidants, and you can’t get away with that for long. So, while ideally we should stuff our faces with as many phytonutrient-rich foods as we can, in the very least, we should eat enough antioxidants to counter the oxidation of digestion. In the very least, we don’t want to slide backwards every day, and end up with fewer antioxidants in our bodies than we woke up with.

Just to break even, here’s about how many antioxidants we need every day, depending on how much we eat, just to counter the oxidation of digestion. (This is measured in millimoles of trolox equivalents.) Men in the U.S. average about 2,500 calories a day, and so should be getting at least 11,000 micromoles a day. Women who eat about 1,800 calories, on average, so should get at least 8,000, just to stay solvent. The average American, doesn’t even get half the minimum! No wonder oxidant stress-related diseases abound. We’re getting so few antioxidants in our diet, we can’t even keep up with the free radicals created just digesting our meals. We are a nation in chronic oxidative debt.

In developed societies, we eat a lot of food, but not enough plants, which could result “in exaggerated and prolonged metabolic, oxidative, and immune imbalance, presenting opportunity for biological insult that over time could supersede biological defense and repair systems manifesting in cellular dysfunction, disease and ultimately death.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to TheFoodJunk via flickr; and OCAL, Joshua8420, and Philip Hilgaertner via clker.com. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise, and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.

Doctor's Note

If those citrus phytonutrients sound familiar, it’s because I mentioned them before in videos like Keeping your Hands Warm with Citrus and Reducing Muscle Fatigue with Citrus. It’s still better to eat the whole fruit, though (see Best Fruit Juice and Apple Juice May Be Worse than Sugar Water).

Digestion isn’t the only physiological source of free radicals—exercise is, too. See Preventing Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress With Watercress.

Background on the role free radicals play in aging and disease can be found in Mitochondrial Theory of Aging. Antioxidant-rich diets can even change gene expression; see Plant-Based Diets and Cellular Stress Defenses

Is there a refined sweetener that doesn’t cause free radical formation? Yes: Erythritol May Be a Sweet Antioxidant

What’s the best way of reaching our daily minimum of 8-11,000 antioxidant units a day? So glad you asked! Covered in my next video, How to Reach the Antioxidant RDA.

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