Antioxidants

Free Radicals, Your Health and How to Manage!

Free Radicals

Straight from Miriam Webster: an especially reactive atom or group of atoms that has one or more unpaired electrons; especially : one that is produced in the body by natural biological processes or introduced from an outside source (such as tobacco smoke, toxins, or pollutants) and that can damage cells, proteins, and DNA by altering their chemical structure.

BORING…

But the important words are ESPECIALLY REACTIVE. Free radicals are desperately seeking out an electron pair – and the WILL get it one way or another. So how do we handle free radicals in our body, and where do they come from?

Free radicals are the main reason behind the recommendations for increasing foods rich in antioxidants such as blackberries, blueberries, goji, etc. in your daily diet. These foods essentially pick up high numbers of free radicals from your body when being digested, but that’s not the only way!

To quote Dr. Carol Davis (Professor Emerita – University of Miami Miller School of Medicine): “Over time, free radicals build up in our bodies. In order for them to become stable, the radicals must find an electron to “connect” themselves to. Where are these electrons then? Beyond the sources found in certain foods, vitamins, etc, we have an abundant source of electrons right beneath us in the earth. If we fail to connect ourselves with these sources, free radicals attack our healthy tissue to rob the cells of their electrons. The result? A high potential for infection and inflammation, among other ailments.”

Earthing?

From a scientific perspective, the idea is that the earth has a mild negative charge to it. Over time, especially in modern life, our bodies build up a positive charge. Direct contact with the earth can even out this positive charge and return the body to a neutral state.

Many people don’t have this contact with the earth anymore, and some experts wonder if this is a contributor to the many rising health problems we face today. As a population, we wear rubber shoes and live indoors. In theory, many of us could go years without directly touching the earth at all, or even being in direct sunlight!

Antioxidants

Vitamin E and Vitamin C are great antioxidant sources, and can be found in high quantities in foods like nuts, seeds, fish oils (vitamin E), citrus, kale, strawberries, green peppers, etc (vitamin C).

Antioxidants are the polar opposite of free radicals and are especially adept at neutralizing these otherwise harmful byproducts.

Where do they come from?

While not much is known for sure about free radicals’ effects on the body, scientists have theorized that they may contribute to everything from wrinkles/aging signs to atherosclerosis to Alzheimer’s Disease!

While free radicals do occur due to natural body processes, high levels of free radicals are generally associated with people living in highly polluted areas, people who eat fried foods and/or trans fats, people who smoke cigarettes, or people exposed to pesticides.

Interesting Fact: “Weekend Warriors” (as opposed to people who exercise consistently) generate far more free radicals during endurance exercise. Consider a more consistent approach to conditioning which allows your body to manage the stress and not become overwhelmed by the unusual strain.

All About Herbs!

Last week we talked about a lot of unusual produce you might find at the Farmers’ Market or grocery store (read here if you missed it!), but herbs are another great item to source from your local market or store. When it comes time to discuss vitamin and mineral content of foods or antioxidant rich sources herbs are often forgotten, but they can be a great source of all three!

Some herbs are perennial, some biennial or annual, but for the most part they tend to offer their best harvest in the summer and early fall. Even with herbs that will survive a snowy winter, it’s important to harvest before the frosts start to settle in. You can extend the life of your herbs by freezing them on the stem or chopping and placing in a bag – or even freezing in ice cube trays with water! Usually it is suggested to make use of them within 2 months, but to extend their freezer life a little try freezing them in olive oil! This ensures preservation of their flavor up to 3 or 4 months and makes them very convenient to use in soups or while sauteing vegetables.

MINT

Mints are incredibly hardy perennial herbs which make them very easy to grow. They spread so willingly, in fact, that many people choose to plant them in a large pot, and then plant that pot in the ground so they don’t take over an area!

Mints have one of the highest antioxidant capacity of any food! Try adding fresh mint to salsas and salads or toss it in your water for a refreshing flavor! You can also steep the leaves for 5 – 6 minutes in hot water for fresh mint tea.

Click here for a fresh Summer Roll recipe containing fresh mint!

OREGANO

Oregano is another perennial that is easy to grow (and split to share with a friend!). It’s known not only for its common use in Italian foods and on pizza, but also for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties! Oil of Oregano is a fantastic natural immune booster when antibiotics are not available or necessary.

Try this different take on classic pesto using oregano and spinach!

BASIL

An annual herb, basil is best harvested by pinching off a few leaves from a few different stems to encourage the plant to fill out vs getting tall and spindly. Traditional basil uses include pesto, marinades, bruschetta, and soups. Basil is another great addition to fresh spring rolls or tossed into a fresh greens salad. Try steeping 3 basil leaves in 1 cup of boiling water to create a tea to relieve an upset stomach or digestion!

Here’s another Summer Roll (*not fried spring roll) recipe to try – so fresh you can even cut out the dipping sauce if you’re concerned about the extra calories!

CILANTRO

This annual herb is often confused as a perennial because it reseeds so easily. Cilantro, in addition to being abundant with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, is also known to combat heavy metal toxicity in the body and aid in digestion. Unfortunately however, about 15% of the population has a gene that causes them to detect aldehyde chemicals which are found in both cilantro and soap. If you find that you fall into this group and you dislike cilantro, swap out parsley in any of your favorite recipes that include cilantro. Those in Wisconsin will even find, with the heavy frosts, cilantro can sprout up on it’s own from the prior season. When growing, the green leaves can be harvested as cilantro. Let it flower and go to seed and you have grown spicy coriander seeds! Cilantro is used in many Mexican or Asian dishes such as guacamole, salsa, and cilantro lime rice.

DILL

Like Cilantro, dill reseeds easily, but is a biennial since a plant will only live two years. Toss seeds just about anywhere, and you’ll have fresh dill available readily for years to come. Dill tastes great in fresh in salads, greens, and as flavoring for roasted or grilled vegetables!

Click here for grilled carrots with lemon and dill!

There are many, many herbs out there worth mentioning, but some easy perennials that have a wide variety of uses are Rosemary, Thyme and Sage! Plant all kinds of herbs and try using something brand new to you – your tastebuds will thank you!