Antioxidants and Omega-3 Fats: Functional Foods to Boost HealthBy Hilary Parker, WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD Looking for your meal ticket to health? You might be wise to go for some omega-3 fatty acids served up with a side of antioxidants. The good news is, it can be as tasty as it is healthy — think grilled salmon and vegetables, drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by a nice glass of red wine. “People who eat a plant-based diet are the healthiest people on the planet,” says Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RA, LD, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. “Eat at least five cups of fruits and vegetables every day. Use olive oil instead of butter. Eat plenty of seafood. These are nutrition recommendations that won’t change.” What is changing is our understanding of how nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are responsible for the health-promoting properties of functional foods — and what you can do to maximize their effectiveness. Antioxidants: Vitamins, Flavonoids, and Minerals Plant foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are your best bet to obtain disease-fighting antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E, the mineral selenium, and flavonoids. The protective benefits of antioxidants seem to stem from their ability to protect your cells from dangerous free radicals, which you are exposed to as the result of natural processes and pollutants in the environment. When it comes to cancer-fighting properties of the nutrients in a balanced diet, the whole may be more than the sum of its parts. Many scientists now believe that food synergy, or the way nutrients in the different foods you eat interact with one another, may be responsible for the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. “An important result of research in recent years is less emphasis on any single nutrient, or even any group of a few nutrients, in preventing cancer, with more support for the way that a balanced, plant-based diet provides a bounty of nutrients and compounds that seem to work together to protect us against cancer,” says Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, and nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. “Research shows that much of the antioxidant power of a healthy plant-based diet comes not from the traditional vitamins we focus on, but from a wide range of phytochemicals … these compounds seem to work best together, not on their own.” The benefits you get from eating a diet rich in functional foods loaded with antioxidants go far beyond fighting cancer. Tallmadge says that people who eat foods rich in antioxidants have many health advantages, including:
- less cancer
- lower inflammation levels
- lower heart disease risk
- less Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Try to buy produce that has been picked at full ripeness and maximum color, an indication of the presence of flavonoids.
- Cook your vegetables in as little water as possible to minimize the amount of nutrients lost in the cooking process.
- Aim to eat fish one to two times each week, and choose from a variety of species, emphasizing cold-water fish.
- Make sure you eat fat-soluble antioxidants like lycopene and vitamins A and E, with a little fat, such as olive oil, to help your body absorb the valuable nutrients.