by Sayuri Barritt RD, 5/31/22
You may have heard the term "oxidative stress".
Oxidative stress is associated with inflammation, DNA damage, and aging. This increases the risk of diabetes, cancer and other age-related symptoms.
But, what is oxidative stress exactly and how can we slow the aging process by reducing oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress is defined as a phenomenon caused by an increased amount of free radicals in the body that cause cell damage . Free radicals are very unstable and reactive molecules due to a missing electron, therefore they strive to steal an electron from their neighboring cells to grain molecular stability. This leads to increased free radicals that further damage the body .
I think of a free radical as an unstable bomb. The more unstable bombs we have in our bodies, the more risk of explosions and damage to our healthy cells and organs.
Excessive buildup of free radicals in our system can damage our DNA and healthy cells, which can result in inflammation, accelerated aging, and disease development if not removed quickly.
Free radicals are naturally produced in our bodies on a daily basis as a result of biochemical processes that sustain our life such as metabolism and immune defense. In addition, the external factors below can increase the amount of free radicals in our bodies:
an unbalanced diet
additives and chemicals used in food production
prescribed/ unprescribed drugs
viral and bacterial infections
a sedentary lifestyle
use of cigarettes and alcohol
chronic physical and emotional stress
exposure to environmental toxins, heavy metals, and radiation
Fortunately, our bodies are equipped in fighting free radicals formed by these internal and external factors. Otherwise, we would get overloaded with free radicals, and our lifespan would be decreased.
How do our bodies fight free radicals and neutralize them for removal?
Our liver is the major organ that is capable of neutralizing free radicals by producing the body's powerful antioxidant system called glutathione . We can support our liver's ability to reduce free radicals by consuming key nutrients that support glutathione activities and by reducing toxic load to the body as described above.
Several key nutrients act as antioxidants and structural components of glutathione. Here are the top 5 nutrients that are involved in glutathione synthesis and function :
Amino acids: particularly cysteine, glycine, and glutamate are part of the structure of glutathione. Consuming lean protein from various animal and plant sources is recommended to ensure adequate intake of the key amino acids.
Sulfur: a component of glutathione, this anti-inflammatory nutrient is especially high in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and kale.
Vitamin C: supports glutathione activities by making free radicals more stable and less harmful. This nutrient is rich in plant foods: especially citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, and cruciferous vegetables.
Vitamin E: this fat-soluble vitamin supports glutathione activities by collecting free radicals in the body. This nutrient is found in healthy plant oils, nuts, and seeds such as wheat germ oil, almonds, and sunflower seeds.
Omega-3 fats: act as a powerful antioxidant, these fats support glutathione by calming inflammation of the cells. They also help increase glutathione concentration.
So, you may be wondering, which dietary patterns can provide these nutrients more effectively? You may have heard of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. This diet is commonly practiced by people in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Many studies have consistently shown that this diet effectively helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases and metabolic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity by reducing inflammation and free radicals .
A Mediterranean diet includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, while minimizing foods high in sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars such as processed food, red meats, whole fat dairy, and sugary desserts. This results in consuming health-promoting nutrients such as antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
The Mediterranean diet has several health benefits:
It is considered to be one of the healthiest diets that anyone can practice safely.
It consists of a healthy balance of macronutrients from whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
It provides plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, particularly the nutrients listed above.
It is sustainable and less restrictive for most people, which can successfully lead to optimal health, weight loss and disease prevention.
It can be modified to an individual's dietary needs without sacrificing important nutrients in the diet.
One of the things I love most about the Mediterranean diet is that we can start this diet through simple dietary modifications. Here are some simple tips to incorporate the Mediterranean diet into your current food regime:
Choose whole grains over refined grains - this can be achieved by replacing "white" carbs such as white pasta, rice, and bread with whole grain alternatives.
Consume a minimum of 1 serving of fruits and vegetables with each meal. This helps increase your intake of antioxidants, which support glutathione activities (our liver's ability to reduce oxidative stress).
Eat a variety of lean protein foods - this ensures your intake of various amino acids, which help with glutathione synthesis. Protein is also an important part of muscle, hormone, and immune cell functions.
Increase your consumption of healthy fats by using unprocessed plant oils in cooking, eating more fish and seafood, and adding nuts and seeds to your snacks. This helps increase your omega-3 fat intake, which can help reduce inflammation caused by free radicals.
Replace whole fat dairy products with low-fat or non-fat options to help reduce your saturated fat intake. Unsweetened dairy-free products are a good option as well if you are lactose intolerant.
Be mindful of saturated fat and added sugar intake - excessive intake of these foods can have adverse health effects. **It is recommended to keep your intake at less than 10% of your total daily calorie consumption.
Adding more colorful plant foods to your diet will ensure the intake of the key nutrients that the liver needs to fight free radicals. This in turn, helps reduce oxidative stress and slow the aging process.
Want to know more about how you can adopt a Mediterranean diet? Let's schedule a nutrition session, so we can develop a customized diet plan for your health needs!