Did you know that what you’re eating could be causing you to age prematurely?
We’re all aware of the importance of nutrition for optimal health but what we may not realise is that our diet can also play a major role in how quickly the effects of time catch up with us. It has to do with those free radicals we hear so much about these days. They’re associated with all types of health disorders, notably cancer, and for good reason.
Free radicals are molecules that contain at least one atom with an unpaired electron. In stable atoms, electrons come in pairs and this is an atom’s preferred state of being. In fact, atoms dislike being unstable so much that they’ll go to great lengths to ensure their unpaired electrons are paired back up again as quickly as possible. Even if it means pinching electrons from other atoms! When they do this, they turn that atom into a free radical as well. That atom then goes searching for a replacement electron and a domino effect is set up. This domino effect is responsible for the havoc that free radicals cause. It can damage DNA, destroy cells, and cause untold damage throughout the body.
Normally we’re designed to cope perfectly well with free radicals. After all, we produce them naturally as part of normal glucose metabolism. It all works like this:
Free radicals are a by-product of oxidation, and oxidation is an integral part of the process that turns the food we eat into the cellular energy we need to live ie glucose metabolism. That’s why we manufacture our own antioxidants like glutathione. They’re designed to take out naturally produced free radicals by donating an electron and neutralising it before it can do any damage. Antioxidants are unique in that they can do this without becoming a free radical themselves.
The problem arises when we start producing more free radicals than our body is designed to cope with. Eating large meals full of carbs for example produces a LOT of free radicals. This in turn means we require a LOT more antioxidants to keep the free radical population under control. That’s where a healthy diet also rich in exogenous antioxidants is important. These antioxidants come from fresh fruit and vegetables where they’ve been produced by those plants to defend themselves against free radicals. When we eat them, they boost our own supply of antioxidants and help keep free radicals neutralised. Other important antioxidants include Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Minerals like zinc and selenium also act as antioxidants, as do certain herbs like grapeseed extract and aloe vera.
Foods That Promote Production Of Free Radicals
As we’ve mentioned, carbs are one of the biggest producers of free radicals. Essentially, carbohydrates are just complex sugars. We do need a certain amount of them as the end product of carbohydrate metabolism is glucose, the preferred source of fuel for cellular energy. Glucose provides immediate energy and the excess is stored as fat. However, this conversion process (oxidation) produces those free radicals, and given that the average western diet these days is choc full of carbohydrate loaded foods, the inevitable result is over production of free radicals. Carbohydrate rich foods though are great for filling up on. They’re generally bulky, usually taste great, are often cheap to buy, and easy to prepare. That’s why they’re so popular! Think pastas, rice, root veggies, bread, cakes, biscuits and so on. Another culprit we’ve also mentioned when it comes to overproduction of free radicals are big meals. Especially big meals full of carbs like a mound of mashed potatoes, potato chips, rice or pasta, accompanied by a side dish of bread or delicious crunchy bread rolls.
Perhaps you follow that with a slice of cake or a bit of pudding for desert. By now, you’ve probably produced more free radicals from processing all this sugar rich food than is healthy. Not to mention the excess glucose that will likely head straight to fat storing adipose tissues around your middle!
Ultimately, this all accelerates the aging process. Unless we’re also consuming enough antioxidants to deal with the constant over production of free radicals caused by bad diet and over eating, some of them will be slipping through the cracks and destroying other healthy cells.
Eat fewer carbs and a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables. Yes, fruit also contains sugar but they also contain plenty of fibre and the process of digesting that fibre considerably slows down the extraction and metabolism of those sugars. That’s why it’s called ‘slow release energy’ and also why most fruits have a low glycemic index and glycemic load. Fewer carbs equals less glucose metabolism, which reduces oxidation and the production of free radicals. At the same time you’re also producing less excess glucose to be stored as fat.
Eat smaller meals. This will also reduce the oxidative processes and cut back on free radical production.
Start keeping a diary of your daily meals, particularly the portions of carbs, fats, and proteins you’re eating. This will give you a pretty good idea of just how much of your food intake is carbohydrates, and therefore how much sugar you’re eating. Sugar that is processed by oxidation, which produces age accelerating free radicals!