An Antioxidant Primer

January 2019 - Health & Wellness

Many of us talk about antioxidants but don’t really understand what they are, where they come from, and how they work in our bodies. So, we called nutritionist/scientist Jen Toomey, Vice President of Innovation Design, for New Chapter—a company that makes supplements from whole food ingredients—to explain.

We found Jen working late in her office, at what she calls “the best job in the world.”

“My group is responsible for anything that is new,” explains Jen. “From pre-idea to testing to viability to formula lock. We work to address consumers’ unmet needs, to source and understand interesting ingredients, and to make sure our products have therapeutic integrity. We get to play with a lot of cool stuff, and no two days are ever the same.” With that, we knew we’d found the right person. “One of the ways to think about antioxidants is to look at the word: ‘anti’ means against, and ‘oxidant’ means oxygen or oxidation,” begins Jen.

“We’re made of molecules that like to have partners to complete them—oxygen is one of those molecules. As it’s processed in the body, it grabs a partner from another molecule, leaving it unstable. That unstable molecule then creates free radicals which cause damage to the point where the molecule can die. To help to quiet these unstable molecules, our bodies produce antioxidants—part of our powerful defense system.”

A Fine Balance
“We’re constantly assaulted by stress, pollution, and other toxins that enter our bodies because of some of our lifestyle choices and what we’ve done to the environment,” says Jen. “Our bodies can only produce so many antioxidants to counter the resulting oxidative stress—which increases the risk of heart disease, cancers, Type 2 diabetes, and many other chronic diseases. That’s why our diet is so important.”

Our best defense, therefore, is a diet loaded with antioxidant-rich vitamins and phytonutrients found in deeply coloured fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, and mushrooms.

Supplemental Measures
Supplements can also play a role in maintaining the balance. “I do think that some level of supplementation is beneficial and healthy because we don’t always eat well, our food quality isn’t the same as it used to be, and children can be picky eaters,” explains Jen.

“But people’s supplement routines shouldn’t be static because their lives aren’t. Our lifestyles change, and so do the seasons. High-endurance athletes, for example, need different support than someone going to the gym a couple of times a week; and if we’re sick with a cold, we need more help—like taking elderberry, high in vitamin C, to help clean up the collateral damage.”

When choosing the supplements, Jen advises to read the label and look for organic wherever possible, and choose whole-food over chemicals—and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“Never megadose—it’s easy to over-supplement so you need to be careful. And children should take products designed for them because they grow and develop so quickly and metabolize differently than adults. If you stay with food, first, it’s a safe place to be.”

Cooking tips
Make your vegetable cooking simple, fresh, and quick, says Jen, to preserve as many antioxidants as possible:

  • Buy fresh, local, and in-season first. Frozen (picked ripe, in season) is a great alternative.
  • Cut your veggies in larger pieces, leaving less surface area for antioxidants to be pulled out.
  • Cook only to a crisp-tender consistency. A little cooking makes food easier to digest.
  • Steam or stir fry over boiling. Save the water from steaming to enrich stock or soup. Freeze until needed.
  • Broil to bring out natural sugars. Broiled, fresh tomatoes are my favourite thing on the planet!

This article was publish in The Good Life magazine – see more antioxidant tips and Jen’s Favourtie Smoothie here.

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