You probably don’t think of Atkins as a high-antioxidant diet, but by the time you finish reading this blog, you probably will. First, before getting to know antioxidants, lets learn about free radicals. We need oxygen to live, but byproducts resulting from the body’s oxidizing processes, called free radicals, can damage our cells, causing aging, tissue damage and inflammation. They’re also implicated in many disease states. These dangerous agents are called free radicals because they are molecules with an unpaired electron looking to bond with another electron in your body. Free radicals in your cells are the result of stress (both emotional and physical), pesticides and other chemicals in the environment, including cigarette smoke and burnt foods. Even if you’re fortunate enough not to be exposed to some or all of the above, aerobic exercise and the normal metabolic processes of your body also produce free radicals. That’s where antioxidants, which can neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals, come in. Antioxidants also protect against a variety of disease states and generally delay the effects of aging.
The Queen of Antioxidants
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory at Tufts University rank blueberries as Numero Uno in antioxidant activity, in comparison to 40 other common fresh fruits and vegetables. Next up are strawberries, kale and spinach.
A Multitude of Others
Like vitamins and minerals, antioxidants are health-protective micronutrients found in foods. There’s no shortage of antioxidants to battle the evil forces of free radicals, although we still don’t understand whether we need all of them for optimal health. Here is a just a short list of antioxidants you have probably already heard of:
· Vitamin C
· Vitamin E
· N-Acetyl cysteine
· Alpha-lipoic acid
· Co-enzyme Q10
Rather than take all these items individually, you’re better off taking a daily multivitamin/mineral that includes a good mix of antioxidants. But supplements are never a substitute for whole foods. Many of these protective agents are found in common foods. As you’ll soon see, many foods turn up repeatedly as sources for different antioxidants, evidence that getting them in food, where they are in balance with other antioxidants, is advisable.
In fact, almost all these food sources of antioxidants are among the basic foods of the Atkins Diet. Your best antioxidant-rich strategy? Make sure you’re consuming at least 12 to 15 grams of Net Carbs in the form of foundation vegetables on Atkins 20 and Atkins 40. We’ll show you where to find the best (and worst) sources of antioxidants, so you can maintain your low-carb lifestyle:
Find it in cabbage, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, mango, kiwi and papaya. Avoid OJ and other citrus juices, which are high in sugar and therefore high in carbs.
There are several chemical forms of vitamin E, and the two main types are alpha-tycopherol and gamma-tycopherol. The former is found in nuts, seeds, vegetables and vegetable oils, although the most concentrated source is wheat-germ oil. Canola oil is a good source of the latter type of vitamin E. Avoid corn and other vegetable oils as they are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which we all get more than enough of compared to omega-3s.
These plant pigments include quercetin and lutein, which are both important for eye health. Good vegetable sources include red onions, green cabbage, spinach, kale, onions and garlic. Fruit sources include cherries, white grapefruit, apples, pears, grapes and cranberries.
These, too, are vegetable and fruit pigments in vegetables. Although beta-carotene is the best known, it is only one of about 600 different carotenoids. Certain carotenoids are found in orange vegetables, including pumpkins, which are acceptable in Phase 1, during Atkins 20. In later phases of the diet (or if you’re doing Atkins 40), sweet potatoes, carrots and winter squash are also excellent sources. Fortunately, some dark green veggies are also carotenoid contenders: think of bitter greens such as kale, spinach, chard, watercress, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, dandelion greens and beet greens. Your body absorbs and utilizes carotenoids better when served with fat, so add a pat of butter to cooked greens or toss dark salad greens with olive oil. Some orange fruits will also supply you with carotenoids, although, with the exception of cantaloupe, most are Atkins acceptable only in later phases (or Atkins 40): apricots, mangos and guava. Other carotenoids are found in yellow-pigmented vegetables.
Selenium is thought to delay or prevent the onset of cancer and also has potent anti-aging benefits. Brazil nuts have the highest level of selenium (don’t overdo consumption), but other nuts, including walnuts and peanuts, are excellent sources, as well. Other foods that provide this antioxidant are animal products: beef, chicken, seafood, eggs and cheese. Additionally, for those at later phases of Atkins, soybeans and other legumes and wheat, rice, corn, wheat and oats are sources.
Unlike most other antioxidants, you will not find glutathione in foods. Your body makes it from another substance found in most vegetables and fruits: glutathione peroxidase. The following Atkins-friendly foods help your body make more glutathione: avocado, asparagus, broccoli, garlic, spinach and tomatoes. The spice turmeric, which is a source of curcumin, also helps boost your body’s production.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
In addition to its own antioxidant properties—it is particularly important for retinal health—NAC increases the production of glutathione. Anyone following Atkins is almost certainly consuming plenty of this antioxidant because the best sources include poultry, yogurt, egg yolks, red peppers, garlic, onions, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Oats and wheat germ are also excellent sources.
The best food sources of taurine are cold-water fish such as salmon and cod, which are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which themselves act as antioxidants. Taurine is also found in eggs, other seafood and milk. Vegans need to take care to get sufficient taurine.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
In addition to its role as an antioxidant, ALA helps convert blood glucose into energy. It has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in type-2 diabetics. Alpha-lipoic acid can be found in broccoli, collard greens, chard and spinach, all of which also contain other antioxidants.
Co-enzyme Q10 (Co10)
Essential to heart health, this antioxidant is primarily found in fish (sardines and mackerel particularly); beef, lamb and pork; and eggs. Although spinach and broccoli supply some CoQ10, it is significantly less than fish and meat. Peanuts, wheat germ and whole grains provide still less.
Fortunately, on Atkins, you’ll naturally get plenty of health-protective antioxidants, while enjoying whole foods.