Free Radicals, Salad Dressing, and Giant Eagle

by on November 22, 2010

November 2010: Free Radicals, Salad Dressing, and Giant Eagle

So there I was last week, walking up and down the aisles at my local grocery store Giant Eagle. As I passed by the salad dressings, I noticed something really odd. Look at this.

Yes, a salad dressing that increases absorption of Vitamins A and E. Now you all know that to get proper absorption of fat soluble vitamins, you need fat. That’s why you all, like me, hate fat free foods…riiiiight!

So this salad dressing was claiming that the fat in it was good. Now a closer look at the label showed that it had high fructose corn syrup, and the fat was soybean oil…so not good choices there, but hey, at least they are starting to get it! I would never buy this product, but they had some others that were mostly extra virgin olive oil, so kudos to Wishbone – they are at least on the right path now.

I want to talk a little bit today about free radicals, and managing them through Vitamins A and E, and saturated fats.

What are free radicals?

A free radical is created when an atom loses an electron. It goes on a warpath. It tries to rob and steal an electron from other atoms, and sets off a sort of chain reaction. Excessive free radicals can destroy proteins and fats in our tissues and organs, and can also attack our DNA inside our cells. NOT GOOD. This can lead to cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders, and all kinds of other bad stuff.

What causes or creates free radicals?

First of all a little bit is good, it’s fine. Your immune system can use them to attack harmful viruses in our bodies, as well as bad bacteria. I have also seen studies that suggested they contribute to wound healing. The problem is when you have an excessive amount. This can be due to physical stress, cigarette smoking, exposure to toxic chemicals, certain nutrient deficiencies, excess alcohol, and guess what else…..yes, excess polyunsatured fats..the ones that you read are all superfats. The previously mention soybean oil is an example of this. It’s a polyunsaturated that is loaded with excess Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3. These kinds of fats can be very bad.

So what polyunsaturated fats am I speaking of. Well, I am predominantly talking about the kind that is in vegetable oils. If you use them in high temperature cooking, they basically turn into straight free radicals. Remember all of our fat lessons. The less saturated a fat is, the more susceptible it is to oxidation from heat, light, air, etc. So as soon as that vegetable oil hits a medium or high temperature, or is left out in ligh, it goes from being a poor fat, to an absolutely horrible one. There are numerous studies you can find in the Journal of Lipid Research, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and other reliable journals that go deep into this. I recently ran across a study in which healthy male subject consumed 15% of their calories from polyunsaturated fats, which isn’t unrealistic at all given America’s current dietary habits. These men had significant increases in peroxidation (this refers to oxidative damage incurred by lipds/fats inside our bodies). They then did a second study with the same men, and cut the % of PUFAs back to 5% and peroxidation decreased sharply. This study was published in the World review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2003; 92.

There have been other studies that closely monitored free radical formation in diets with high saturated fats vs. high unsaturated fats, and they clearly showed the diets containing more saturated fat were indeed healthier, as Nitric Oxide status was much better in those groups. Overall, they showed more vasoconstriction from the PUFAs and none from saturates.

So what about antioxidants, and specifically the ones I mentioned above, vitamin A and E. Well you have probably heard all about these antioxidants and how they provide many benefits to you. Vitamin A is very important for vision (lack of A leads to night blindness), bone remodeling, protein turnover (high protein diets need more vitamin A), immune system strength, and many other benefits. The key here is to get you’re A from fatty animal sources such as egg yolks, butter and cheese (from grass fed cows especially), and meats. You can get some A from green and yellow fruits & veggies if you consume some fat with it. This is necessary as it’s actually beta-carotene, or provitamin A, until your body converts it to retinol in your body with the aid of fat. Vitamin E is well recognized for contributing to cardiovascular health. I have read many studies in which Vitamin E stopped LDL from oxidizing in your blood vessels after it has hung around to long, thus negating the potential cv damage that can occur as a result. You may remember the Chris Masterjohn interview several months back in which he talked about stopping LDL oxidation as being important in the fight against heart disease. He recommended Red Palm Oil as it has all of the different versions of Vitamin E that can do this. Ever since then, I have used red Palm Oil in my diets for that reason, and many others. You would also be wise to use wheat germ, nuts, egg yolks, and other foods to get your supply of Vitamin E.

So what are we to take from this – how do we maange free radicals and their destructive cycle when present in excess?

  • Do not do a low fat diet. You just can’t absorb many fat soluble vitamins that act as strong antioxidants with this type of diet. It is not healthy in the long run.
  • Eat fresh fruits and veggies. This will work, because you are going to be consuming fat in your diet, so you will get the benefits of all the carotenes, and other antioxidant nutrients that are in fruits and veggies such as Vitamin C and Selenium.
  • Eat fatty meat. Don’t just eat chicken breast. Eat grass-fed ground beef, have a sirloin here and there, eat some grass-fed beef liver. You will find these foods are perfect as they contain good amounts of fat soluble vitamins and the fat to help them absorb properly.
  • Avoid polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and foods that contain them. They are garbage.
  • Exercise regularly. Imposing physical stress on your body, as it adapts and free radical fighting enzymes are stimulated such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase…two biggies in your fight. Now excess exercise can backfire, but I wouldn’t worry unless you are an endurance athlete that likes to run for hours on end. If that is the case, you may have issues.

John Meadows