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What is oxidation and How to protect your cells from it

This spring, I lived in California, and I had the opportunity to attend a very interesting two-month nutrition course at Stanford University. The program was called Food Facts and Fads (“Food: Facts and Myths”) and, as the name implies, was supposed to teach students to understand a huge stream of scientific and pseudo-scientific information about nutrition.

I want to tell you about some of the topics that we discussed.

This article deals with the problem of oxidation, which our teacher, Dr. Clyde Wilson, raised literally in every lesson. What is oxidation? From a chemical point of view, this is a process during which a donor molecule gives an electron to an oxidizing molecule. That is, the donor loses an electron, thereby oxidizing. In principle, in the human body, this process should be balanced by a system to protect cells from damage, but often this system is not able to withstand a huge number of aggressive forms of oxygen, such as free radicals that oxidize (i.e. damage) important components of our cells. As a result, the body experiences oxidative stress, and this is one of the causes of many diseases. Antioxidants are a powerful force that can neutralize aggressive free radicals. More about them and tells my teacher. Below is the text of his article.

I see a profound irony in the fact that oxygen, which is critical for survival, can also cause aging. Oxygen attacks molecules in our body to take electrons from them. This is cool if you need to light a fire: in your oven or in the mitochondria of your cells (and mitochondria are the “energy stations” of cells, their main function is to oxidize organic compounds and then use the energy released during their decay). But you have to pay for the fire. Outside your body, oxygen destroys food molecules, and inside your body that oxygen that you do not spend on energy begins to harm you, accelerating the aging of mitochondria and, as a result, aging of the body as a whole.

How to protect your cells from oxidation?

To protect ourselves from this, we should cook less often at high temperatures, eat more fresh vegetables and herbs, as they contain antioxidants, and also prevent the oxidation of these antioxidants before eating foods. Let me remind you that antioxidants “sacrifice themselves” to oxygen so that it does not attack the molecules of your cells. High temperatures and prolonged exposure to oxygen cause antioxidants to oxidize before they enter your body. And in an oxidized state, they are not only useless, but become hazardous to health.

Unsaturated fats fall into the same category as antioxidants because they have double bonds that are easily attacked by oxygen. The less saturated the fat, the stronger and faster it oxidizes. The most unsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6. That’s why chia and flax seeds (they are rich in omega-3s) get rancid so quickly.

For the same reason, due to oxidation, vegetable oil is much healthier if it was not heated during preparation or preparation. Unfortunately, most often, vegetable oils are not only produced under the influence of high temperature, but also subjected to heat treatment after production to remove odors that appeared during the initial processing. Therefore, it is so important to buy unprocessed oil produced by cold pressing, which is stored in a sealed package.

And again, due to oxidation, it is completely useless to consume antioxidant powders, shakes, bars, and nutritional supplements with omega-3 fatty acids. All of their beneficial substances after processing (read: oxidation) do not bring any benefits, unlike omega-3 and antioxidants consumed with ordinary unprocessed foods.

To protect the natural sources of antioxidants and unsaturated fats from oxidation, they must be properly stored and prepared. For example, do not cook for long and at very high temperatures, and in the latter case use saturated fats for cooking, eat more fresh vegetables and greens (and throw darkened ones), store vegetable oils in a dark place in an airtight package, and chia and flax seeds in refrigerator in sealed packaging.

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