The pollution diet: antioxidant foods to eat if you live in a toxic city

Kim Pearson

A higher cost of living is not the only challenge associated with living in London. The UK’s capital city has also been named as one of 30 UK towns with air pollution exceeding the limits set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Air pollution can have a serious impact on our health, affecting issues including asthma, bronchial diseases, skin problems, mental health issues, cancer and heart disease. In fact, seven million people die each year as a result of air pollution. So, other than fleeing to the countryside, how can we protect ourselves from the effects of poorer air quality?

The good news is that research has shown links between what we eat and our levels of protection against air pollution, so we can make simple changes to our diet to safeguard ourselves from damage.

The key is antioxidants, which protect against the free radicals produced as a result of toxic air particles entering our bodies. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause inflammation, causing issues ranging from disease to premature ageing. The antioxidants neutralise these free radicals to prevent them doing damage, so by ensuring your diet is rich in antioxidants, you can help your body protect itself from air pollution.

The Anti-Pollution Diet: What to Eat

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants so it should be top of your list if you’re looking to combat the effects of pollution. The body cannot produce or store this vital vitamin, so it’s important that you include it in your diet daily. Vitamin C works to recycle vitamin E, as well as being essential for collagen synthesis.

EAT: Chilli peppers, blackcurrants, oranges, kale, kiwis, broccoli

Vitamin E

You are unlikely to be deficient in vitamin E, but it’s a good idea to be aware of its importance if you’re looking to up your protection against air pollution. Vitamin E is fat soluble, so eating good quality dietary fats supports absorption. Oil sources of vitamin E, such as olive oil, are best consumed as salad dressings rather than as cooking oils, as heating oils to high temperatures damages them.

EAT: Olive oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, avocado

Omega-3

Studies have linked Omega-3 fatty acids to the reduction of inflammation and oxidative stress caused by air pollution. They’re also essential for brain and heart health, but many of us aren’t getting enough, as food sources are limited. If you don’t eat a diet rich in Omega-3, you might want to consider a good quality supplement, particularly if you are a vegan or vegetarian.

EAT: Mackerel, salmon, oysters, sardines, flaxseeds, chia seeds

Beta-carotene

Dietary beta-carotene, found in red and orange fruits and vegetables as well as leafy greens, is converted to vitamin A in the body where it has anti-inflammatory (and anti-ageing) properties. Vitamin A is also key for reproductive health, eye health and a healthy functioning immune system.

EAT: Carrots, kale, spinach, red and yellow peppers, sweet potatoes, apricots

Anti-pollution smoothie recipe

Want a quick fix? (You live in London, of course you do.) Start your day with this anti-pollution diet smoothie...

One large handful of mixed berries (can be frozen)

One tablespoon flaxseed

Half an avocado

One scoop berry protein powder, like FreeSoul’s Vegan Berry Protein Powder

Unsweetened almond or coconut milk

Optional booster: NutriAdvanced Berry Flavoured Superfood Powder

Blend in a smoothie maker and drink immediately.