Diet Tips

The Dietary Antioxidant Myth

We all believe that a diet rich in antioxidants is healthy. But the truth may surprise you!

Wallace Bridge (PhD) 

What defines a healthy diet?

Why do we have such a diverse range of life on earth? How can there be so many species seemingly competing to live in the same environment?

All life on earth is here today because they have evolved some characteristic that gives them a competitive advantage. For many, their competitive advantage involves their diet.

A classic example is Australia’s koala bear. It only eats particular types of eucalyptus leaves, which provide all the energy and nutrients it needs. To deal with this toxic food source, the koala has evolved a highly specialized metabolism, physiology, and lifestyle. Having been through this evolution, they have access to an abundance of food that no other animal wants – this is their competitive advantage. All they have to do is hang out in their trees, away from predators, and gorge themselves silly.

We have got to be where we are through billions of years of evolution.

All animals evolved to access a particular diet. Most instinctively know what this diet is, though in some higher animals, there is some degree of generational education that provides them with an even greater competitive advantage.

So, what is our natural diet? What did we evolve to eat? This is not easy to answer. As we progressively populated the globe, much of the latter part of our evolution took place in a range of different climates with distinct food opportunities. For example, the Inuit’s fine-tuned their diet to be completely meat-based, others adapted to metabolize the lactose in cow’s milk in the adult stage of life, and some to detoxify the alcohol in fallen fermented fruits. Different populations evolved metabolisms to deal with the foods that were available in their particular environment. This may well have been to such an extent that it resulted in a situation where foods that are healthy for one population may actually be a metabolic problem for others.

With mass globalization over the last hundreds of years, these specialized evolutionary diets have been disrupted. We are now able to consume foods that we did not evolve to eat, and this could potentially cause significant health problems. We have also been creating our own food sources for the last 10,000 years, exacerbating these problems. Many diet-related health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, and autoimmune diseases, to name a few, are in near plague proportions. Many of the crops we farm today, such as vegetables, fruits, or grains, are different to those that we evolved to consume. They have changed substantially in size and nutritional content to make farming and food production more efficient. Similarly, through selective breeding, we have created most of the animals we eat today. On top of this, we even feed them diets that they did not evolve to eat (e.g., feeding grains to cattle, when they evolved to eat grass). This may lead to the meat containing compounds that may not be part of our natural diet (e.g., lectins). This may cause or exacerbate our health problems.

So, how can we be sure that any of the foods we eat today are good for us? Far worse, how many of them may be unhealthy, no matter what the experts proclaim?

To determine whether any particular food is good for us, we could look at indigenous diets as a guide, but a diet that a particular population evolved to thrive on may not be the same for others. We could have our DNA tested to find out where we came from and then look to consume the ancestral diet of those regions, but this would be a highly unrealistic solution for day to day living in a modern world.

We could use animal models to explore the nutrition and toxicity of food sources. However, given every animal has evolved its own diet and associated metabolism, extrapolation to humans is likely to be inconclusive.

What do we need in food?

An ideal food contains all the essential nutrients that we need for optimum metabolism. This includes fats, protein, minerals, and essential vitamins. Though carbohydrates are a source of energy, they are not considered essential for survival.

An optimum diet should also meet your body’s energy requirements but should not contain excess carbohydrate that will be stored as fat.

Of the essential vitamins that we need to include in our diet, two have the antioxidant capacity, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and Vitamin E.

Many studies performed over the years have looked at the wide range of antioxidants produced by plants such as berries, cabbage, nuts, artichokes, grapes, etc. These studies suggest they have all sorts of health benefits, including lowering LDL cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease, or even killing cancer cells. Yet none of these antioxidants have ever made it onto the essential list. Just because some fruits, for example, produce their own types of novel antioxidants, it does not necessarily mean they are good, let alone essential, for us. It is important to remember that plants evolved for their own survival, not yours! Most of these plant antioxidants are not part of our biochemistry, and our body cannot harness them to actively fight the free radicals generated within our cells during respiration and metabolism.

Introducing the master antioxidant, glutathione

The antioxidant that is key to our good health is glutathione.

Glutathione, in fact, is essential to the survival of every living organism that uses oxygen. It is ubiquitous in nature; without glutathione there would be no aerobic life on Earth. Glutathione is so critical that every cell has the capacity to make its own supply.

Without sufficient glutathione, our cells will succumb to the oxidative stress caused by exposure to environmental toxins (e.g., smoke, pollutants) and the free radicals produced by our cells during respiration and metabolism.

Many health conditions and the aging process are associated with our cells losing the ability to make enough of the immediate glutathione precursor, Glyteine. This lack of Glyteine leads to our cells making insufficient glutathione to protect them from free radicals. When this happens, the affected cells and tissue progressively become damaged due to the consequent oxidative stress, which manifests as symptoms seen in many chronic illnesses.

What are your options for elevating your cell’s glutathione levels?

Eating foods reported to have high glutathione levels or taking glutathione containing supplements will not help because dietary glutathione cannot get inside cells, and inside cells is where it is needed.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) will not help either as it cannot overcome the shortfall in Glyteine production. The only theoretical and clinically demonstrated option for increasing glutathione levels inside cells above basal levels is to supply Glyteine, which will be taken up by cells and converted to glutathione.

Only Glyteine can increase your cellular glutathione to more healthy levels.

One day, Glyteine may well be classed as an essential dietary vitamin for healthy aging.

So, if you are keen to include antioxidants in your diet, spend your money on those that are likely to do you some good. Ensure your diet includes sufficient amounts of the essential antioxidants, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin E and the minerals that are essential for antioxidant activity (e.g., selenium, copper, and zinc) and think about adding some Glyteine available in the form of a beverage powder mix Continual G.

For more information visit www.continualg.com

Health2Wellness

We are nutritionist, health writer's, and food bloggers. Check it out our latest health & wellness articles on fitness, diet, and healthy living.

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