The way to good health

The good news is you don’t have to eat neurotoxins and carcinogens (cancer causing agents) to get your omega-3 fatty acids – there are perfectly safe plant sources (see page 9). But there’s much more to plant foods than that.

Free radicals are unstable molecules generated by normal bodily functions and such things as cigarette smoke, pollution, ultraviolet light and stress. They are linked to cancer and other diseases as well as the aging process.

Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E are the body’s main defence against free radicals and are found in abundance in plant foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Antioxidants in plants also protect EFAs against deterioration, which is another reason why plant sources are superior to fish EFAs.

Most people know that certain fats are more likely to ‘go off’ when exposed to air and fish oils are one of these, giving off a characteristic ‘fishy’ smell as they oxidise. Antioxidants help slow this decaying process by acting as a fall guy, taking the damaging oxygen hit rather than the fat. Plant sources of EFAs such as nuts and seeds possess their own antioxidants (in particular vitamin E) which give this protection. Yet another reason in favour of plant oils.

The three amigos of the antioxidant world are beta-carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E – plus the mineral selenium. Neither meat nor fish are good sources, the best being plant foods – fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

In the largest and most comprehensive analysis to date on the antioxidant content of foods, cranberries, blueberries and blackberries ranked highest amongst fruits. Beans, artichokes and russet potatoes topped the list of vegetables. Pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts were the top nuts and ground cloves, cinnamon and oregano ranked highest among the herbs and spices. As a general rule, brightly-coloured vegetables such as sweet potatoes, red cabbage and tomatoes are high in antioxidants.