High Antioxidant Diet Decreases Risk Of Heart Attack In Women.

A diet rich in total antioxidants, especially from fruits and vegetables, can greatly reduce the risk of heart attack in women, according to a new study in The American Journal of Medicine.

This particular study was the first to focus on the effects of all dietary antioxidants and their connection to heart attacks. Total antioxidant capacity calculates all antioxidants present in diet and the cooperative effects that take place between them, into one single value.

This study followed 32,561 Swedish women between the ages of 49 and 83 from September 1997 through December 2007. Participants filled out a food-frequency questionnaire, during which they were asked, on average, how often they consumed each type of food or beverage during the past year.

Researchers calculated an approximation of total antioxidant capacity from a database that measures the oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) of the most common foods in the United States (Swedish equivalent does not exist). The women were divided into five separate groups based on a total antioxidant capacity of diet.

Throughout the study, 1,114 women suffered a heart attack. Women with the highest total antioxidant rate had a 20 percent lower risk than the women with the least total antioxidant rate. The group with the highest total antioxidant rate also consumed three times as many fruits and vegetables as the lowest antioxidant rate group, about 7 servings per day, compared with their 2.4 servings.

Lead investigator Alicja Wolk, DrMedSci, Division of Nutritional Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, explains:

“In contrast to supplements of single antioxidants, the dietary total antioxidant capacity reflects all present antioxidants, including thousands of compounds, all of them in doses present in our usual diet, and even takes into account their synergistic effects.”

Pamela Powers Hannley, MPH, Managing Editor of The American Journal of Medicine analyzed this study and suspects as the US food industry develops, Americans are starting to eat more calories from processed food, loaded with fat and sugar. This causes obesity rates to climb, even with plenty of weight loss programs available. She urges ample servings of fruits and vegetables to become a more common reality in the diets of all Americans.

Antioxidants: Health Benefits and Nutritional Information.

Antioxidants are natural molecules found in certain foods that help neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are byproducts of metabolism and our environment.

Internal factors such as inflammation and external factors such as pollution, UV exposure and cigarette smoke can increase free radical production.

Free radicals can damage cells all over the body and cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been closely associated with heart disease,cancer, arthritis, stroke, respiratory diseases, immune deficiency,emphysema, Parkinson’s disease and other inflammatory or ischemic conditions.5

What do antioxidants do?

A bunch of tomatoes on a vine.
Tomatoes are a source of lycopene, an antioxidant that provides them with their red color.

Antioxidants serve as protection against the cell damage that free radicals can cause by terminating the free radicals reaction with those cells. Some antioxidants are products of normal metabolism and others are found in food.

Synthetic antioxidants are widely used in the cosmetic and food industries, but may cause more harm than good due to their high volatility. As a result, it is important to obtain your antioxidants from natural sources as much as possible.5

Micronutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene, minerals such as selenium and manganese and many other flavonoids, polyphenols and phytoestrogens found in food all serve as antioxidants.

Each antioxidant serves a different function and is not interchangeable with another. This is why a varied diet is so important.

What are the best sources of antioxidants?

The best sources of antioxidants are plants (fruits and vegetables). Foods that are particularly high in antioxidants are often referred to as a “superfood” or “functional food” and include many types of berries, leafy greens, eggplant, legumes such as black beans or kidney beans and certain teas. Foods with rich, vibrant colors often contain the most antioxidants.

The following foods are also good sources of antioxidants. Click on each one to find out more about their health benefits and nutritional information:

Cooking particular foods can either increase or decrease antioxidant levels. Lycopene is the antioxidant that gives tomatoes their rich red color. When tomatoes are heat-treated, the lycopene becomes more bioavailable (easier for our bodies to process and use).

However, studies have shown that cauliflower, peas and zucchini lose much of their antioxidant activity in the cooking process. Keep in mind that the important thing is eating a variety of antioxidant-rich foods, cooked and raw, so that preparation can be your personal preference.

How to incorporate more antioxidants into your diet

The following tips could help increase your antioxidant intake:

  • Make sure you have a fruit or a vegetable every time you eat, meals and snacks included
  • Have a daily green or matcha tea
  • Look at the colors on your plate; is all of your food brown or beige? If so, it is likely that the antioxidants are low. Add in foods with rich color like kale, beets and berries
  • Spice it up! Make turmeric, cumin, oregano, ginger, clove and cinnamon your go-to spices to amp up the antioxidant content of your meals
  • Snack on nuts, seeds (especially Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds) and dried fruit (with no sugar or salt added).

Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:

There is no set recommended daily allowance (RDA) for antioxidants.