Nutrition’s Double Edged Sword
Walk into any supplement store or read just about any health and fitness magazine and you will be bombarded with messages about the health promoting, weight loss enhancing, life extending power of antioxidants. The story of antioxidants, flying around your body neutralizing disease-promoting free radicals and oxidized molecules is an attractive one, but it isn’t that simple.
Balance is important in your body. Antioxidants help provide balance by neutralizing oxidized molecules. Oxidation occurs in your body naturally but at an excelled rate due to stress, exercise, inadequate sleep, and a poor diet.
For a long time the message was, the more antioxidants the better. However, research has shown us that too many antioxidants can be a bad thing. A little stress and oxidation in your life is good and allowing your body to fight it by itself, is a natural part of your body keeping its “edge”.
For example, exercise produces free radicals. They are generated as part of the process when your muscles are broken down (as they naturally are during exercise). These free radicals actually stimulate your body to begin rebuilding your muscle so it can come back stronger than before. Taking in high levels of antioxidants after exercise might actually hinder muscle growth and recovery!
The term antioxidants is very broad and there are many different types of antioxidants that have different functions and benefits. Let’s look at two that can specifically help improve exercise performance, weight loss, and overall health
Foods that are high in flavonols include: dark chocolate, apples, and tea.
The flavonols in dark chocolate can help improve the health of your blood vessels and may be able to decrease the rate in which you lose brain function as you age.
Apples are antioxidant powerhouses with a large amount of their antioxidants being in their skin. The antioxidants in apples can help fight cancer, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. An apple a day may truly keep the doctor away!
Green tea contains one of the most famous antioxidants, EGCG. EGCG can upregulate the processes in your body that burn fat, upwards of 17%! People who drink green tea also have lower risks of many cancers. Researchers attribute most of this decrease in risk to EGCG.
Anthocyanins are another extremely popular group of antioxidants with powerful health effects. Anthocyanins are found in dark red and purple foods like blueberries, pomegranates, and cherries.
Blueberries are well known for their antioxidant prowess which can help with brain, eye, and blood vessel health. Wild blueberries have 2x the antioxidants. Perfect if you are controlling calories but don’t want to sacrifice the antioxidants.
Pomegranates, with a massive ad budget, have made their antioxidant status part of modern culture. Unfortunately the benefits of pomegranates have been overstated, as they won’t save your life. But, they will improve blood vessel health and help prevent excessive stickiness of the platelets in your blood.
Cherries have anthocyanins and have been shown to be strong enough to inhibit key enzymes in the body that regulate inflammation and inflammatory pain. These are the same enzymes that drugs like Celebrex act on. Research has shown that cherries may also be able to help fight jet lag.
If you eat a well-rounded diet, there is probably no need to supplement with additional antioxidants. In certain cases, if you are looking to elicit a specific effect, then supplementing may be warranted so that you can get enough of a certain antioxidant in the right dose. An example of this would be twice daily supplementation with quercetin to boost exercise performance.