Current thinking suggests that antioxidants are the key to slowing the aging process and keeping degenerative disease at bay. Some antioxidants are made in the body, and eating a plant based diet provides many more of them to keep people looking and feeling young and healthy. But research is suggesting that there is a caveat to all this – that antioxidants from food lose their power when eaten with milk protein.
Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals that in turn start chain reactions in the body that can damage or kill at the cellular level and lead to aging and disease. Antioxidants are known to stop these chain reactions. Think of oxidation as being bare metal left out in the rain, and antioxidants as barriers between the metal and water.
Phenols and polyphenols are a range of active compounds found in plants that provide antioxidant benefits.
Several research studies have documented the affect milk protein has on antioxidants. In a study recently published, researchers added a strawberry preparation to yogurt and found this produced an immediate decrease in total antioxidant activity of 23%. When individual compounds were considered, the decrease was greater in all them, with catechin and epicatechin both showing decreases of 60% each. These compounds are behind the healing effects of green tea, and are also found in coffee and cocoa.
Another study published in 2014 tested pomegranate juice with yogurt to determine antioxidant activity during 28 days of cold storage. On the first day of storage, 84.73% of total anthocyanins were bound to proteins from the yogurt, and at the end of the storage period, 90.06% were bound, revealing a high affinity of anthocyanins for milk protein. Anthocyanins are prominently featured in blueberries, red cabbage, grapes and wine, kidney and black beans, egg plant and cherries.
Several studies have highlighted the many health benefits to be had by eating blueberries. In another study, researchers assessed the antioxidant status of blueberries when eaten with water, and with milk protein. They found that when blueberries were eaten with water, the usual high antioxidant level was achieved. But when blueberries were eaten with milk protein, they found virtually no antioxidant activity.
The levels of two other antioxidant compounds found in blueberries, caffeic and ferulic acids, were also similarly reduced. Caffeic acid is found in many other fruits, including apples, peaches, and apricots, and it is also one of the antioxidants found in olive oil and in many herbs. Ferulic acid is found in coffee, spinach, carrots and asparagus, pears, pineapple and citrus fruits, as well as whole grains.
Researchers have also found that milk proteins bind with tea, canceling out its benefits for heart health. They found that black tea significantly improves the ability of the arteries to relax and expand, a sign of cardiovascular health. But when milk was added to the tea, this effect was lost. The researchers concluded that milk protein was responsible for canceling the positive effects of tea’s antioxidants.
What these Results Are Really Saying
There is more to phenols and polyphenols than antioxidant activity. They underwrite the body’s health in many complex ways that are just becoming known. This means that giving yourself the best protection may mean rethinking how you combine foods.
Foods containing these compounds should make up a large portion of the daily diet, and eaten throughout the day. Phenols and polyphenols are rapidly metabolized and have an active time in the body that is short. Some of them are not absorbed into the bloodstream at all, and instead pass through to the colon where they protect colon tissue. Phenols and polyphenols are compounds to be cherished. In many ways, they are your lifeline.
These studies do not seem to be isolated events that can be ignored. Instead, they are a call to make changes if you want the full benefits that come from eating a plant based diet. The bottom line is that no dairy product should be consumed until the body has made full use of the phenols eaten. There should be no combining in breakfast smoothies, lunchtime salads, or with an afternoon piece of fruit.
There are many benefits to be derived from consuming dairy products, and they have a place in the diet. But dairy products should not come on the scene until the short time needed for phenols to be metabolized has passed.