Antioxidants – Nature’s Super Power
Antioxidants are always being touted as a MUST for your diet. But what they do and their importance to our diet and our bodies is a bit confusing. Here’s the lowdown on nature’s super powers.
Every day, our bodies are exposed to oxidation and free radicals. Free radicals are unavoidable. They are spawned from the environment – pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation, herbicides, pesticides, gas fumes, toxic chemicals, etc, etc. But it doesn’t stop there….free radicals can also be formed from derivatives of our bodily functions – metabolism, stress, and some are produced by the immune system to neutralize viruses and bacteria. The most common form of free radicals in the human body is oxygen (I know…that sounds so strange since we couldn’t live without it). The oxygen molecules moving around inside our bodies become electrically charged and try to steal electrons from other molecules, which can lead to DNA damage or extensive molecular destruction.
The accumulation of free radicals can normally be handled and neutralized by our body but when excessive free radicals build up is when damage occurs. And this damage can be devastating and sometimes, deadly. For example, when you cut an apple and leave it out, it turns brown. That is called enzymatic oxidative browning. And that is what is happening in our bodies if we don’t consume antioxidants. Excess free radicals in the body can cause cancer, heart disease, eye disease, declines in memory, and MANY other degenerative diseases. And as with everything else, this accumulation increases with age.
Now here’s where the importance of antioxidants come into play. Antioxidants are the “free radical fighter”. We need them and our bodies love them. They are like a little army in our body, killing and capturing the free radicals. Or in biochemistry terms, they neutralize that electric charge (remember the oxygen molecule) and and prevent the free radical from taking more electrons from other molecules. So you saved the precious molecules in your body, killed the free radicals, and prevented damage. Sounds amazing, right?
What should you eat to make sure you are getting enough antioxidants to protect your body from free radicals? First and foremost, a diet abundant in fruits and vegetables is your best bet. Fruit and veggies are the best sources for antioxidants so make sure to eat 5-9 servings per day to get the benefit of these free-radicals scavengers. Additionally, antioxidants can be found in meat, nuts, and whole grains.
Here are some antioxidants and food sources that should always be a staple in your diet.
- Vitamin A (Beta Carotene) – carrots, peaches, cantaloupe, dark-green leafy veggies, egg yolks, milk, mozzarella cheese
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) - oranges, red & yellow peppers, lemon, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, kale
- Vitamin E (Tocopherols) - green leafy veggies, vegetable oils, egg yolks, almonds
- Lycopene – tomatoes (most abundant), papaya, grapefruit, apricots
- Lutein – dark-green leafy veggies – kale, collard greens, spinach
- Selenium – this is a mineral, not a vitamin but still has high antioxidant properties – grains, onions, milk, veggies (depends on selenium content of soil)
- Resveratrol – this polyphenol (a type of antioxidant) is being herald as a great antioxidant that helps decrease bad cholesterol, increases good cholesterol and protects against artery damage. Its found in red wine and grapes. But easy on the alcohol! Excessive drinking can cause oxidative damage, increasing free-radicals. One glass a night!
Here are some other foods that have serious super powers!
- Acai berries
- Sweet potatoes
- Wheat Grass
Again, making sure to consume a diet rich in fruits and veggies will help ward off many serious diseases as you begin to age. And start with prevention NOW!!!! Don’t wait until it’s too late.
P.S. – To prevent your apple from browning, spritz lemon on it. This antioxidant (Vitamin C – Ascorbic Acid) will prevent oxidation.