While most of us associate radiation exposure with having CT scans or x-rays done at either medical or dental visits, unless someone has an accident when they are away, vacation and radiation don’t seem to go together. However, if you are flying the friendly skies, exposure to cosmic rays at very high altitudes can be more than you would imagine. In fact, a cross-country round trip flight can expose you to nearly as much radiation as a chest x-ray! The problem with radiation is that it leads to DNA damage, by way of oxidation or free radical formation. DNA damage raises our risk of developing all different types of cancer. No need to cancel your travel plans though, rest assured that there is something that you can do to protect your cells… eat nutrient-rich food, high in antioxidants.
Studies involving airline pilots have shown that high intake of dietary antioxidants were associated with a significant decrease in cumulative DNA damage. It is also important to note that while foods rich in antioxidants were shown to be very protective and significantly reduced DNA damage, multivitamins or antioxidant supplements were not effective. As I remind my students on a regular basis, whole plant foods are highly superior to processed foods fortified with isolated nutrients or supplements. These individual nutrients do not function alone when naturally occurring in food, rather they work in concert, with hundreds of other phytonutrients, as essential instruments in a large symphony enabling us to strengthen our immune defenses and achieve and maintain optimal health. The positive impact is magnified when a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are enjoyed together, as their phytonutrients work synergistically.
When a good friend and her daughter were preparing for a recent trip to Romania earlier this month, I made them a special care package of snacks to protect their cells from the ionizing radiation exposure associated with their plane flights. There were several key foods that I wanted to include, but knew that I had to choose items that were shelf-stable, relatively light and easy to consume.
Greens are the overachievers when it comes to protecting our DNA and bolstering our immune system, so I packed two sources of greens rich in chlorophyll, kale chips and seaweed. Oranges not only provided vitamin C, a well-known antioxidant, but also caffeic acid, which has been shown to reduce cellular damage caused by gamma-radiation. Brazil nuts were an easy choice as they are not only high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, but also are one of the most concentrated sources of the mineral selenium, which naturally increases the level of antioxidant enzymes in cells and stimulates DNA repair.
Although often neglected, staying well hydrated while traveling is very important and green tea is wonderful beverage to consume on the flights. Green tea is a great source of EGCG, a superstar antioxidant protecting cells from free radical damage. Asking for a slice of lemon to squeeze into the green tea will boost the nutrition even more. No need to use hot water, as cold-brewed tea may have the highest level of antioxidants, since those sensitive to heat remain active. I also found some green tea gum, sweetened with xylitol (a sugar alcohol that does not promote cavities like sugar, or destroy critical gut bacteria, like some artificial sweeteners).
If you often get cold on flights as the air temperature in the cabin dips, you might want to bring along a little container of the dry mixture I put together for my friend. The ingredients that I was sure to include are off the chart in terms of their antioxidant power, and have also been shown to be quite potent against radiation damage, namely rosemary, turmeric, garlic and ginger.
I made my broth mix with nutritional yeast, which contributes great flavor and is a source of all nine essential amino acids, several b vitamins, selenium, zinc, iron and specific phytonutrients, associated with enhanced immunity and cancer prevention. I also added powdered ginger and turmeric, both well known for their ability to offer significant protection for our cells, and a generous amount of Kirkland (Costco) brand Organic No-Salt Seasoning, which brings together a plethora of antioxidants from 21 different herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables and packs a spicy punch. I actually keep a little container of this mixture in my office, and sometimes when I work late grading assignments, I add some plain dry oatmeal to the hot broth for a savory meal on the fly!
Now, back to vacation plans… the next time you head to the airport, be sure that you have packed yummy snacks that “love you back” and keep your cells happy, healthy and strong!