So what earns many foods their super food label you ask?
Well it’s basically the wealth of antioxidants they provide.
Antioxidants are micronutrients that are found in almost every food we eat but many are destroyed by cooking which makes raw and lightly-cooked plant foods our richest source.
Plants have developed protection from the environment and disease, a kind of security blanket which keeps their defences strong and when we eat them we digest these micronutrients and benefit from their protective properties.
This doesn’t mean I’m telling you to go outside and eat your neighbours’ rose bush, I am referring to broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, asparagus, garlic, celery, beetroot, cabbage and lettuce.
A lack of these basic micronutrients can cause damage that can lead to free radicals in the body. Few had even heard the term until recently, but we are now regularly reminded that they should be regarded as the enemy. But what are they and why do they pose such a threat?
Try and think of it like this: - oxygen is essential to life but can be the devil in disguise by its very nature. Just as a match won’t burn without oxygen, neither can we burn the food we eat to release its energy without oxygen.
All atoms ideally have an even number of electrons in their outer orbit for stability but when the inner food burning fire is raging and oxygen is playing its vital role, sparks fly and atoms can lose their electrons.
A free radical is an atom that has lost an electron and has become unstable and unpredictable. They are free because they are at liberty to roam, looking for a new electron to make them stable again and they are radical because they will steal an electron from another atom at random.
This creates a damaging domino effect because every time an atom is robbed of an electron it becomes free and is forced to go on the hunt. Thousands of free radical reactions can occur in seconds threatening not only the integrity of the outer membranes of our body’s cells but also their DNA, which can alter behaviour, reduces effectiveness and compromises our health. Free radicals are involved in many diseases including coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cataracts and some cancers.
This is where antioxidants come into play. Antioxidants are the protective parents that form a shield around the cells. This shield absorbs free radicals which are neutralised, lose their destructive energy and are safely excreted in urine. For example if you cut an apple in half and leave one half uncovered for 20minutes you can see the free radical damage occurring. The apple will start to go brown and dries up because it reacts with the oxygen in the air causing free radicals to be formed.
On the other hand if you soak the other half in lemon juice, it retains its creamy, white colour and texture. This is because it has been protected by the vitamin C in the lemon juice. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant.
So people the more antioxidant-rich foods we introduce into our diet the better our defence. Fruits and vegetable are the major players but nuts and whole grains do a fairly impressive job too.
But, just as one talented rugby player can’t win the game on his own (Phil Watson you can use this analogy in your next team talk), one antioxidant-rich super food can’t do the job alone. The rest of the team are vital, so if we want to ensure that our antioxidant shield is strong we have to get the whole team of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains into our diet. And don’t forget the humble banana!
Hope this helps you understand a little more.
Paul White BSc