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Food for Thought: is there anything antioxidants can't do?

Science backs up the importance of antioxidants with studies naming better resistance to colds, younger skin, relief from allergies, weight loss and increased energy as just some of the associated benefits.

Antioxidants seem to be everywhere, from face creams to specially formulated supplements, famed for their amazing anti-ageing and revitalising powers. But what are they and what do they really do?

An antioxidant is defined as a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. This is big news because oxidation, a chemical reaction that occurs naturally in the body, can produce free radicals that set off chain reactions in cells, which ultimately cause damage and death to the cell.

Studies have shown that this type of oxidative stress is a main contributing factor to many human diseases, which is why they have become a focus of prevention and treatment research, particularly in the case of neurodegenerative and coronary heart diseases. It has become apparent that environmental, lifestyle and nutritional factors have the potential to increase the free radical activity in our bodies through the same process of oxidation, and this is commonly blamed for premature ageing.

The science certainly does back up the importance of antioxidants with studies naming better resistance to colds, younger skin, relief from allergies, weight loss, increased energy, improved circulation, reduced high blood pressure, improved digestion and improved sleep as just some of the associated benefits. Perhaps more importantly they are noted in being important in the prevention of degenerative diseases and cancer.

Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or ORAC value, is a method devised by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (an agency of the US Department of Health) to measure the antioxidant capacity of different foods. According to this system, cacao, acai berries, maqui berries, turmeric and cinnamon with ground cloves are some of the top 10 foods that possess some of the highest ORAC values in the world.

Many of these top ORAC foods are available in powder form, which makes it very simple to quickly increase your antioxidant intake - just sprinkle some over muesli or fruit or add it to your smoothies.

Laura Holland is a well-being consultant and nutritional therapist. For more information, go to www.BeUtifulYou.co.uk.

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