Sandy Zobell is a registered dietetic technician who has worked at Deaconess Medical Center for 18 years. She is a nutrition educator who is part of a team of nutrition professionals responsible for the clinical nutrition care of patients. Q: You hear a lot these days about free radicals and anti-oxidants. What are they and how do they help fight heart disease?
Sandy: Free radicals are toxic side products that are produced when your body uses oxygen or is exposed to environmental contaminants such as cigarettes, sunlight and pollution that harm the body. In excess, they can damage healthy cells. Antioxidants are the nutrients in our foods that act as free radical "hunters" and repair damage done by the free radicals.
These powerful substances may play an active role in limiting the start and progression of heart disease by helping to protect the lining of your heart.
Q: What foods are rich in anti-oxidants and how many servings should you try to eat in a day?
Sandy: Fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains are the best place to get antioxidants. Think colorful! Some of the better sources include: berries, cherries, red grapes, plums, avocado, tomatoes, red and black beans, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, sweet potatoes, walnuts, almonds and pistachios. Many spices and herbs are amazing sources such as: cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and turmeric. Green tea, red wine and fruit juices such as grape, berry and pomegranate count too.
No one food or food group should be your sole focus. It's best to include a wide variety of foods as part of a healthy well balanced diet. Shoot for five to ten servings of a combination of fruits and vegetables daily.
Q: Is there a way to tell if a food is rich in anti-oxidants?
Bottom line = eat a variety of foods to include fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains.
Beware, "rich in antioxidants" is currently a marketing buzzword. A food that is labeled "high in antioxidants" can be misleading and a common marketing scheme. To carry this label, a food only has to contain 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, or selenium.
Q: Red wine has been in the media lately as a source of anti-oxidants- what is your take on that?
It is those powerful antioxidants – in particular, resveratrol – in the red wine that studies have shown could potentially help the heart. The dryer red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah have the higher antioxidant "boost".
BUT, don't forget, these antioxidants are also found in colorful fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains… PLUS you get the fiber too!
The American Heart Association and National Heart, Blood, Lung Institute recommend that alcohol use be an item of discussion between the physician and patient. There is no justification for non-drinkers to start consuming wine as a preventive measure considering that several well-proven therapies exist: exercise, eating healthfully, maintaining a healthy body weight, smoking cessation, blood pressure control and cholesterol lowering management.
In a nutshell, this quote from the American Heart Association Journal Circulation puts this topic in perspective and that is: "patients are not advised to drink FOR their health, but rather to drink - moderately – TO their health".