Beauty Foods & Antioxidants

Superstar MD Sonal Parr is here to talk about the science behind all things Ballet Beautiful spanning some of our favorite subjects — beauty, fitness, health!  Sonal is on the faculty of Weill Cornell Medical College.  She is a forward thinking internist specializing in osteoporosis, holistic medicine and nutrition.  New Yorkers look for her UES medical practice opening in April of this year!

Mary Helen asked me to talk about anti-oxidants so let’s get started by talking about the bad guy: the “free radical.”  Free-radicals are byproducts of turning food into energy in our bodies.   They are also found naturally in some foods and can be created as a result of sun exposure (more on the importance of sun protection later!).  Free-radicals are capable of damaging cells and genetic material by stealing electrons from them.  So what does this mean?  It might sound insignificant and overly scientific but the loss of an electron can radically alter the structure and function of cells and DNA. Altered cells mean wrinkles, cancer, inflammation and a slew of other health problems.

Anti-oxidants are the good guys that keep free-radicals in check. On a technical level an “anti-oxidant” is a molecule that can wipe out the excitable, unstable free-radical by giving it an electron. This process can end the reactions that can cause inflammation, heart disease, aging and cancer. There are hundreds of substances found in delicious, every day foods that can act as anti-oxidants. Some familiar examples are vitamin Evitamin C, and beta-carotene.

So the real question is can anti-oxidants truly make us healthier or more beautiful? The short answer is yes — and it’s easier than you think!  My cardinal rule: eat food not pills.  Scientists have studied the effects of high doses of anti-oxidants such as vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C given as supplements and few if any of them have shown a benefit.  It seems that when you suck these molecules out of their natural environment and concentrate them into a “super”-pill the beneficial effect is diminished.  In fact, high-doses of beta-carotene has been shown to increase lung cancer in smokers!!

But in contrast to taking isolated super-doses of molecules, eating anti-oxidants in their natural form (i.e. food) is absolutely associated with better health. People that consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other natural anti-oxidants have been shown to have less cancer, heart disease, and maintain a more youthful, glowing appearance.  I love knowing that one of the keys to achieving natural beauty and better health is only as far away as your next meal or snack.

So how do we get more anti-oxidants?  The table above lists foods high in a few of the more well-studied anti-oxidants.  There are many more anti-oxidant sources but in general, plant-based foods with lots of color are your best bets. Make your grocery list and your dinner plate colorful, fresh and bright. You’ll fight free radicals and build beauty from the inside out.

Health Tip: For those of you busy people who are always on the go, make sure you always have a stash of almonds around—in your purse, your desk, your gym bag.  They have lots of vitamin E and protein and they satisfy hunger. 

*The information above is not medical advice. As always, check with your doctor before making changes to your diet*