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A rash of articles on anti-oxidants has reminded me of what a failure we humans are at trying to think that we can design “better” nutrients than nature has. Most of these are distilling a recent study on the use of anti-oxidant pills following exercise. Previous studies showed that after vigorous exercise, muscles generated mondo amounts of oxidative free radicals. Because free radicals CAN cause cell damage in experiments in which isolated cells are BATHED in them, scientists concluded that giving anti-oxidants after vigorous exercise would decrease muscle damage and improve exercise tolerance over time. WRONG!! Turns out that if you treat rodents with anti-oxidants after exercise they do worse over time!

As a scientist myself, I know how appealing it is to try and dissect biological mysteries into X + Y = Z. But I also know how complex our bodies are. Block one cellular pathway and another pops up to take it’s place. Sometimes I think we are playing a giant game of “Whack a Mole.” My conclusion has been to try to study whole systems instead of single pathways. The conclusion of the anti-oxidant studies above? Eat whole foods after exercise, not single anti-oxidants.

A few foodsthat offer the highest anti-oxidants:

Berries – Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries are among the top sources of antioxidants.
Beans – Small red beans and kidney, pinto and black beans are all choices rich in antioxidants.
Fruits – Many apple varieties (with peel) are high in antioxidants, as are avocados, cherries, green and red pears, fresh or dried plums, pineapple, kiwi and others.
Vegetables – Those with the highest antioxidant content include artichokes, spinach, red cabbage, red and white potatoes (with peel), sweet potatoes and broccoli. Although the effect of cooking on antioxidant levels varies by cooking method and vegetable, one study showed that cooking generally increased levels among select vegetables.
Beverages – Green tea may come to mind as a good source of antioxidants, but other beverages have high levels, too, including coffee, red wine and many fruit juices such as pomegranate.
Nuts – Walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds are some of the top nuts for antioxidant content.
Herbs – These may be unexpected suppliers of antioxidants, but ground cloves, cinnamon and ginger, dried oregano leaf and turmeric powder are all good sources.
Grains – In general, oat-based products are higher in antioxidants than are those derived from other grain sources.
Dark Chocolate – Done forget that a piece of dark chocolate ranks as high or higher than most fruits and vegetables in terms of antioxidant content.


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