The health benefits of antioxidants and omega-3s
Our bodies constantly experience wear and tear. As a result, they produce substances called free radicals that attack healthy cells. When healthy cells are attacked, they grow weak, making us more susceptible to cardiovascular disease and even certain types of cancers.
To keep our cells healthy and combat free radicals, it’s important to include antioxidant-rich foods in our diet. Not only do they kill harmful bacteria linked to chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, they’ve also been linked to preventing cancer and premature aging. Antioxidants can be found in foods containing nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids, which are typically found in fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, wheat germ and whole-grain products, to name a few.
While antioxidants are chemicals, omegas are fats that cannot be synthesized by our bodies and must be obtained through food or supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids are good fats that have been shown to boost brain activity, elevate mood and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Good fats are not only important, they’re essential. To reduce overall body fat and maintain good health, we need fats in our diet. Foods that are sources of omega-3s include coldwater fish (like salmon and halibut) and seeds (like flax and hemp).
New research supports the importance of a balanced diet, complete with foods containing antioxidants and omega-3s. One study conducted by Harvard Public School of Health reveals that a diet high in whole grains and cereal fiber can help lower the risk of premature death caused by various chronic diseases (“Consumption of whole grains and cereal fiber and total and cause-specific mortality,” March 2015). Participants who consumed an average of 34 grams of whole grains per 1,000 kilocalories per day lowered their risk of premature death by 17 percent versus those who consumed an average of 2.98 grams of whole grains. It’s no coincidence that whole grains are rich in dietary fiber, nutrients and antioxidants.
Another new study, by Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, suggests that a diet including whole grains and nuts can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by half (“MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease,” Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal for the Alzheimer’s Association, February 2015). The diet studied is called the Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, and it has been proved to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems, while also protecting against dementia. This diet includes foods like vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, fish, whole grains, poultry, olive oil and wine—foods that include many excellent sources of omega-3s and antioxidants.
Through targeted formulation, we can help people consume more foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3s. Delicious fruits like blueberries and strawberries, and vegetables like leafy greens and peppers, come into season as summer ensues. Other staples deemed superfoods include dark grapes, nuts, sweet potatoes, whole grains, beans and fish. For ideas on how to make use of these superfoods, visit GrainFoodsFoundation.org and check out the Recipes section.
While it’s essentially consumers’ responsibility to make the decision to revisit their diet and include more foods rich in antioxidants and omegas, it’s the food industry’s responsibility to educate consumers on the importance and urgency of this inclusion. Consumers need to understand that making small adjustments in their diet now may have a profound impact on their future in terms of chronic health conditions and brain health.