What are the functions of antioxidants?Antioxidants protect various compounds in the body from damage by some very active forms of oxygen, produced by various chemical reactions necessary to maintain body functions. Antioxidants protect cells exposed to toxic environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke, that cause cell damage, damage that can, in turn, contribute to the onset or progression of many diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Should I take vitamin E to protect my heart?In nature’s design, this vitamin is actually a group of substances called tocopherols. They are found in abundance in plant foods high in the good fats almonds, wheat germ, whole grains, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, and in cold pressed or minimally processed vegetableoils. Vitamin E and other tocopherols are powerful antioxidants, as well as vitamins. Like other antioxidants, they protect unsaturated fats from being damaged by oxygen. In humans, they help to protect against cell damage and damage to LDL. Some studies have also shown that vitamin E supplementation is associated with an increase in HDL and a reduction in LDL, and prevents abnormal blood clotting. Studies of various populations show that the higher the consumption of vitamin E, the lower the rate of heart disease.
First of all, get tocopherols from foods like whole wheat and nuts and seeds. Then you may consider a supplement, preferably of E with mixed tocopherols. A good choice is a 200 to 400-lU supplement. Closely related to vitamin E and the tocopherols are the tocotrienols, discovered a few years ago in barley and other whole grains. They lower blood cholesterol and are another piece of the body’s antioxidant machinery.
How about vitamin C and heart disease?Just as vitamin E is present in oils and other fats in plant foods, vitamin C is soluble in water and found in the many fluids of the body where water is the main component. It makes sense that vitamin C and vitamin E complement each other by working in different compartments of the body. For vitamin C, eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables particularly kiwifruits, peppers, tomatoes, oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits, and dark green leafy greens. Supplemental vitamin C may help as well, as it is safe in moderation. But always make your vitamin C supplement a part of a diet high in antioxidants.
What about those yellow pigments found in carrots?A wide array of colorful plant foods contain members of the carotenoid family. Beta carotene is the most familiar to us, but there are actually many different carotenoids in nature. Some foods that are high in carotenoids are
•leafy greens such as kale, seaweed, spinach, turnip, collard greens, and mustard greens.
• red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables such as apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, mangoes, papayas, peaches, red peppers, sweet potatoes, and winter squash.
If you take a supplement of carotenoids, be sure it is not just isolated beta carotene. All carotenoids have to work together. Only a few supplements contain them in combination, so read the label carefully before buying, and look for words such as “mixed carotenes.”
Should I use herbs and spices in my cooking?Yes. In all regions of the earth, kitchen herbs from rosemary to ginger and garlic have been used to flavor foods. Until recently, all we knew was that they helped us to enjoy our food and make it more flavorful. We came to associate sage and rosemary with Mediterranean cuisine, ginger with Indian cooking, and chili pepper with Mexican and Middle Eastern cooking.
But now we also know that all these herbs are extremely high in powerful antioxidants that prevent oxygen in the air from causing food spoilage or rancidity. Ginger added to foods in the hot climate of India helped to preserve food, as did sage and rosemary in southern Europe. Without knowing it, for centuries people were protecting themselves from heart disease and cancer by using these herbs and spices to preserve their food.
Garlic and its relatives in the onion family onions, leeks, and shallots contain powerful compounds that have antibiotic properties, that help control blood coagulation, and that, when combined with the proper diet, help to control blood cholesterol.
Use herbs, spices, garlic, and onions freely and regularly to add a pleasant form of protection to your meals.
Super Foods for your Heart
Can I drink some teas, coffee, or cola beverages?Yes, you may consume some caffeine containing beverages; for example, two or three cups of tea daily. However, as caffeine is a stimulant that can increase heart rate, ifyou have arrhythmia, are prone to rapid heartbeat, or have high blood pressure, you should replace your caffeine beverages with decaffeinated beverages, preferably decaffeinated green tea.
The most common beverages or foods that contain caffeine are coffee, Indian and Chinese teas, mate in South America, and cola nuts, which gave their name to cola beverages. Don’t forget that chocolate and cocoa products contain caffeine as well.
Green teas, and to a lesser extent black teas, are very high in antioxidants. Asian countries that have low rates of heart disease are typically tea drinking countries. If you choose a beverage with caffeine, teas should be your first choice. Teas do not raise blood cholesterol.
Many cola beverages are based on caffeine and natural or artificial sweeteners, and do not contain protective phytochemicals. Recently some caffeine containing soft drinks made from teas and other herbs have come onto the market; select these when you have a choice.
Coffee is not a rich source of antioxidants when roasted. Coffee does not affect blood cholesterol when brewed using a paper or metal filter. When it is made by boiling ground coffee, as is common in some countries, rather than by pouring boiling water over coffee grounds in a filter, it has been shown in some studies to raise cholesterol.