Thursday, September 25, 2014

Anti oxidants & Free radicals - what are they and do we really need them?

Antioxidants are involved in the prevention of cellular damage. This is the common pathway for cancer, aging, and a many of diseases. Recently some of the mysteries surrounding this topic have been unveiled and athletes have an ever keen interest in this subject because of health concerns and the prospect of improved performance and quicker recovery from exercise.

Free radicals are the 'baddies'! They are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd number of electrons in their configuration. They can be formed when oxygen reacts with certain molecules. Once formed these very reactive radicals can start chain reactions. They can react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane resulting in the cells performing badly or even dying. Antioxidants are the bodies defense system against these free radicals.

Antioxidants have the ability to safely react with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before cells are damaged. There are several enzyme systems within the body that mop up free radicals. The primary antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Also, selenium (a trace metal). The body cannot manufacture these antioxidants so they must be supplied in the diet.

Vitamin E : A fat soluble vitamin found in nuts, seeds, vegetable and fish oils, whole grains,  fortified cereals, and apricots.
Vitamin C : A water soluble vitamin present in citrus fruits and juices, green peppers, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, kale, cantaloupe, kiwi, and strawberries.
Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A (retinol) and is present in liver, egg yolk, milk, butter, spinach, carrots, squash, broccoli, yams, tomato, cantaloupe, peaches, and grains.

Can anti oxidants help in preventing serious disease such as cancer and coronary disease?
Studies have shown lower cancer rates in people whose diets are rich in fruits and vegetables. This has lead to the theory that these diets contain substances (antioxidants) which protect against the development of cancer. So far, none of the large studies have shown that dietary supplementation with extra antioxidants reduces the risk of developing cancer.
Antioxidants are also thought to have a role in slowing the aging process and preventing heart disease and strokes. So far the data is still inconclusive. Studies are on going.

Are cells damaged due to exercise?
Endurance exercise can increase the oxygen usage 10 to 20 times more than at rest. This greatly increases the production of free radicals, causing concern of increased damage to muscles and other tissues. Athletes need to defend themselves against this free radical onslaught.
Experimental studies have taken place to look at free radical reactions and anti oxidant benefits due to exercise.
An important finding was that regular physical exercise enhances the antioxidant defense system and protects against exercise induced free radical damage. This shows that the body protects itself to a certain degree! This happens over time and with training.
Intense exercise in untrained individuals overwhelms defenses resulting in increased free radical damage. Thus, 'binge' exercising may be doing more harm than good.

Although it is well known that vitamin deficiencies can create difficulties in training and recovery, the role of antioxidant supplementation in a well nourished athlete is controversial. Most of the data suggests that increased intake of vitamin E is protective against exercise induced oxidative damage and aids in the recovery process after exercise.
In general, antioxidant supplements have not been proven to enhance performance. The one exception to this is vitamin E which has been shown to be helpful in athletes exercising at high altitudes.

Supplements or not?
Looking at all the studies on exercise and nutrition it can be deduced that if a balanced exercise regime and a diet of 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day is followed, there should be no need for supplements.
'Bing' exercisers or 'weekend warriors' should develop a more balanced approach to exercise. If this isn't possible due work commitments, then supplements should be considered.
For extremely demanding races (endurance events) or adaptation to high altitude, a Vitamin E supplement should be considered up to and several weeks after the race.       

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Here's to a healthier 2014!

I'm sure I'm not the only one to make a new year's resolution to eat healthier, do more exercise and lose weight?! Let's try and stick to it this year - here's some helpful tips to be successful:

1. Set yourself up to succeed

This year I tried to de-stress the resolution issue by not being 'too' strict and simplify.
Make lots of small changes not one big one. Focus on freshness, variety and color. Concentrate on foods you like and easy recipes that incorporate a few fresh ingredients. This way you will be making good food choices without trying too hard.

Make the changes over time. Don't change everything all at once - this is sure to fail. Add a salad to your diet each day. Switching from butter to olive oil. These are both healthy switches that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. As these changes become habit you can make additional healthy changes.

Every change you make is a step in the right direction to feeling good, having more energy and preventing disease.

Don't forget water and exercise. Water will help flush out toxins and waste products. Being dehydrated causes tiredness, headaches.
Find something active you like doing and add it to your day. Exercise has lifelong benefits and will help you make healthy choices.

2. Moderation is key

Despite what certain fad diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body. The goal of healthy eating is to develop a diet that you can maintain for life, not just a few weeks or months Try to think of moderation in terms of balance.
For most of us, moderation means eating less than we do now of the bad stuff (sugar, processed foods, saturated fats) and more  fresh fruit & vegetables. Eliminating all the foods you love will only mean you will crave them more and are more likely to fail. Having bacon for breakfast once a week is OK if you follow with a healthy lunch and dinner.
If you crave sugary things, just eat less of it and less frequently. Think smaller portions. This way you won't constantly crave the bad stuff.

3. How you eat

This may sound odd, but this does make a difference.
- Chew your food and savor every mouthful
- Eat with others. Having company helps you to enjoy your food and not overeat
- Listen to your body. If you aren't hungry don't eat or just eat a small snack
- Eat breakfast followed by 4+ small meals throughout the day. This will keep your metabolism going
- Avoid eating at night.

4. Fill up on color

Eat a 'rainbow' diet. Not just greens - kale, lettuce, broccoli. Try sweet peppers, radish, beets, squash to name but a few. Fruits and vegetables are packed full of NATURAL vitamins, minerals & phytochemicals that you cannot get from manmade vitamin pills. These naturally occurring vitamins etc work together synergistically.

5. Healthy carbs

Swap white rice for brown. Swap regular pasta for spinach pasta. Include couscous, quinoa beans and pulses. All these are great sources are carbohydrates that are a healthy choice.

6. Healthy fats

Eliminate or reduce  unhealthy saturated fats from animal products (red meats and dairy) and  shortenings, candies, cookies and snacks.
Replace with good, healthy unsaturated fats from canola and olive oils, nuts, avocado's and seeds.
Also, include omega fatty acids found in fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines)

7. Protein plus

All proteins are broken down into 20 amino acids and they are the body's basic building blocks for growth and energy. A lack of protein can slow growth, reduce muscle mass, lower immunity and weaken the heart and respiratory system.
We tend to focus too much on protein in each meal. Try to eat equal portions of protein, whole grains and vegetables.
Good sources of protein are chicken, fish, tofu, eggs, beans & nuts.

8. Calcium

Calcium is needed for strong bones and as we get older we need more of it. Good sources are dairy (milk, yoghurt and cheese) leafy green veg and beans.

9. Limit sugar and salt

If you concentrate on eating more fruits and vegetables you'll most likely find yourself consuming less sugar and salt.
Sugar - Cut out sugary drinks. Sweeten foods yourself. eat naturally sweet foods (fruits, sweet peppers etc)
Salt - Avoid processed foods. Choose frozen instead of canned veg. Cut back on salty snacks. Read labels for hidden salt.

All these points may seem a lot to absorb all at once but you will be surprised how quickly they become 'habit' and you find yourself eating healthier. The key is to keep at it! make it a way of life. You will benefit in the long run.

Good luck and Happy New Year!