Antioxidants Explained

          So I’ve written a couple blogs that have mentioned the beneficial effects of antioxidants.  Thanks to your feedback, I’ve decided to dedicate a blog to explaining what exactly antioxidants are, why they’re beneficial, and how you can acquire them through your diet.

           To begin, it’s important to know that because of oxygen, our atmosphere is highly reactive.  This means that the air we breathe is both good and bad for us.  So we can thank oxygen for life, however, we can also thank it for producing many of the diseases which ultimately lead to death.  Fortunately, we have antioxidants to help counteract many harmful oxygen-induced effects.
            When we take a breath, a very complex set of chemical reactions take place in our bodies which enable us to produce and store energy.  During these processes, however, a small amount of oxygen is converted to a toxic form that is damaging to our cells.  Without getting too scientific, these “oxygen radicals,” as they are called, cause damage by stripping electrons and hydrogen atoms from neighboring molecules in our cells.  This is where the beauty of antioxidants comes into play!  Antioxidants are chemicals that donate electrons and hydrogen atoms to hungry oxygen radicals, thus sparing our cells from their harmful effects.  Without antioxidants, we would be much more prone to cancers, heart attacks, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and other ailments.  I suppose you can think of antioxidants as chemicals that sacrifice themselves for the sake of our health.
            While your body has evolved its own set of antioxidant defense systems, it’s important to supplement this by consuming foods high in antioxidants.  Below is a list of some antioxidant-rich foods.  Remember that processed foods generally contain fewer antioxidants and that organic fruits and vegetables tend to have higher antioxidant levels than those that are conventionally grown.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Orange-Colored Food:
  • Carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, oranges, mangoes, pumpkin, and apricots
Dark-Green, Leafy Vegetables:
  • Spinach, collard greens, kale, broccoli, dandelion greens, and turnip greens
Redish-Colored Food:
  • Tomatoes, blood oranges, grape fruit, berries, watermelon, cherries
  • Milk, eggs, almonds, blueberries, grains, peas

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                                                                                    -Shahir Masri


Alzheimer’s: How Donating Blood Reduces Your Risk

          While iron is extremely important to our bodies, too much iron can be a bad thing.  We’ve all heard that antioxidants are good for your body.  Well this is because they “fight” oxidizing agents, which are harmful to your health.  Well, in certain instances, iron is an oxidizing agent.  Since our bodies are efficient at storing iron, various iron reserves tend to accumulate throughout one’s life.  Studies have in fact linked disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease with high levels of iron in the brain.  So what can you do?  Well because so much iron is contained in the red blood cells of your body, it’s a good idea to donate blood every once in a while.  When your body is forced to regenerate these blood cells, it calls upon its iron reserves to do so.  This in turn reduces your body’s iron, including that which is stored in your brain.  This health tip is even more important for guys, as high iron tends to be more common in males (most likely due to the female menstrual cycle).  For a list of places to donate blood, simply use your Google skills.  The American Red Cross and other organizations are always happy to accept your blood donation, and it’s completely free!  Aside from reducing your iron reserves, you can also manage your iron intake by eating less meat, as this is where much of our body iron comes from.  To understand why oxidizing agents are bad and why antioxidants are good, and for a list of foods which are high in antioxidants, stayed tuned for my next blog!

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                                                                                                -Shahir Masri


Mercury and Fish

          In recent years, the consumption of fish has been widely advocated due to the health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids (FAs).  Diets high in fish, however, have also been associated with elevated exposures to toxic chemicals, mainly methyl mercury, and have therefore been linked to adverse health effects.  Such mixed messages have led to much confusion regarding whether or not, or to what extent, fish should be included in one’s diet.  Consequently, many organizations and agencies have published warnings about which fish should be avoided due to high mercury levels.  These messages, however, are limited in that they describe only fish that are bad because of high mercury without describing those that are most healthy due to high levels of FAs.  In this article, I’ve not only listed certain popular seafood to be avoided due to high levels of mercury, but also included fish that are important to good health due to high FA levels.
          For those unfamiliar with the health effects of methyl mercury, this compound is a widely know neurotoxin.  While toxic to adults, it is especially toxic to the developing fetus and therefore should be particularly avoided by pregnant women.  Lower IQ in children whose mothers consumed high-mercury fish while pregnant has in fact been observed in major studies.  Methyl mercury is also linked to heart disease and therefore increased heart attacks.  To the contrary, omega FAs have been shown to improve brain function and reduce heart disease.  This is why it’s important not simply to eat fish low in mercury, but to eat those high in FAs, otherwise you’re missing out on the benefits of fish consumption!  Note that if you don’t like fish, you can still obtain beneficial omega-3 FAs by taking dietary supplements..

High-Mercury (To Avoid):

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Marlin
  • Tuna (yellowfin, ahi, canned albacore)
  • Mackerel (king, Spanish, Gulf)
  • Tilefish
  • Marlin
  • Sea bass (Chilean)
  • Orange roughy
  • Grouper
Low to Moderate Mercury + High-omega FAs (To Eat):

  • Salmon (Atlantic)
  • Herring
  • Trout
  • Flounder
  • Pollack
Other seafood such as tilapia, cod, halibut, lobster, and certain sea bass are okay to eat given their low mercury content, however, since they are not high in FAs, they are not the BEST choices.

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                                                                                                       -Shahir Masri


Whole Grain: What's All the Fuss?

          We’ve all heard that whole grain products are healthy.  Still it seems many people remain unaware as to the variety of health benefits of eating whole grain, and what makes whole grain healthy in the first place.  That said, I thought I’d use this blog to expand on the topic.  If I’ve succeeded, you’ll learn that whole grains are not luxury items, but instead are critical components to good health that should be incorporated into your every meal; ideally replacing far less healthy refined grains. 

What exactly is a whole grain and how do whole grains differ from refined grains?  Basically, a grain consists of three “layers,” each layer consisting of a unique assortment of nutrients.  When a grain food contains the intact grain, or at least all parts of the grain in its original proportions, the food is considered to be a whole grain.  Through the process of refining, however, two layers of the grain are removed.  Historically, refining grain was important as it extended its shelf life, making grain ideal for storing and transport.  It was not known at the time that refining had important health implications!  In today’s day, however, transportation is rapid, storage is less necessary, and the disadvantages of eating refined grain are well documented.

What are the “nutrient” differences between whole grain and refined grain?  Containing not only more vitamins and minerals than refined grain, whole grain foods have been shown to have high antioxidant properties; in fact, more so than even your average fruit or vegetable!  Whole grains also contain phytonutrients, which are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases as discussed below.  Most phytonutrients as well as antioxidants, dietary fiber, and many important vitamins are unfortunately removed when grain is refined.  

What are the health benefits of eating whole grain over refined grain?
  1. Cancer Prevention: Phytonutrients as well as other compounds contained in whole grains have been associated with a lower risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer.  Also, antioxidants are known to prevent a variety of cancers.
  2. Diabetes: In general, eating whole grains is well associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.  Mainly because compounds such as saponins and lectins found in whole grains lower plasma glucose and insulin.  Studies also suggest that whole grain intake may improve insulin sensitivity. 
  3. Heart Attack: Studies have consistently shown a strong relationship between eating whole grains and a reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes.  This is mainly because whole grain intake tends to reduced blood pressure.
  4. Weight Loss: Over 14 major studies have reported whole grain consumption to be associated with a reduced risk of obesity and weight gain.  This is partially because digesting whole grains affects hunger hormones such that a person is not as quick to become hungry following a whole grain meal.  It’s also because digesting whole grains affects metabolism and therefore energy storage differently than refined grains. 
  5. Cholesterol:  Whole grains contain compounds such as plant sterols and stenols which are known to lower blood cholesterol by reducing cholesterol absorption.
How much whole grain should I eat?  It’s recommended that a person eat three or more 1-ounce servings of a whole grain product per day.  However, don’t just add whole grains to your diet.  Instead, eat whole grains as a substitute for refined grains (otherwise you’re adding unnecessary calories to your diet). 

What are some common whole grains?  These include whole wheat, whole oats, brown rice, corn, barley, whole rye, and other grains that are less common.  Popcorn is even a whole grain, although I’m not sure the buttery version is very good for health.  Most whole grains can be consumed in the form of products such as whole wheat bread, cereal, pastas, and crackers.  This makes it very easy to eat whole grains.  If you want to barbeque, use whole wheat buns.  If you want to cook Italian, use whole wheat pasta.  And so on.  I know some people argue that whole grain doesn’t taste as good.  I actually think it tastes pretty similar, and it’s definitely worth it in the long term.  Look for products that say “100% whole ___” as many products are advertise as whole grain even though they contain only some whole grain.

If you enjoyed this article and have a Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, please join my blog!  Here you can leave comments and feedback.  Simply click the “join this site” button to the right, log in using your account info, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!
                                                                                                -Shahir Masri