Antioxidants vs. Free Radicals

There is a constant battle going on in our body between antioxidants and free radicals. This may mean nothing to you, except you might have heard about antioxidants in a magazine article or somewhere else. But what are they? Why do we need them?

First, let’s talk about free radicals and what they do. When we are exposed to oxygen, this also causes oxidation. Oxidation can cause your body to produce free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that can damage cells and may play a role in many diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and some eye diseases. This is why we need ANTI-oxidants.

Antioxidants can be either man-made or natural substances that prevent or at least delay some types of cell damage. They have been shown to help prevent and sometimes reverse damage done by free radicals. Some examples of antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, and other carotenoids. The best sources of antioxidants are in fruits and vegetables. I wouldn’t suggest taking an antioxidant supplement unless you talk to your doctor first. A lot of these have not been shown to help your body, and some cases have been more harmful than helpful. This doesn’t mean that you’re in danger if you take a vitamin C tablet or something like that. But if something is labeled as an antioxidant supplement, I would be cautious.

So what should you eat to get antioxidants? Red, orange, dark yellow and dark green vegetables and fruits are very high in carotenoids. This is one reason that nutrition professionals always emphasize making your plate colorful! Not only do these foods have a lot of antioxidants, but they are good sources of other essential nutrients as well. Some foods that are good sources of carotenoids are tomatoes, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, mangos, and broccoli. Good sources of vitamin A include colorful fruits and vegetables, whole milk, salmon, and fortified cereals. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, salad dressings, margarine, whole-grain products, seeds, nuts and peanut butter. It is important to get enough vitamin E, but you should be careful about what sources you get it from because a lot of them tend to be high in fat also. Vitamin C has a wide variety of health benefits and can be found in citrus fruits, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and potatoes.

There are many different foods to choose from, so everyone should be able to find enough foods they like to eat! It is recommended to eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables every day. This may seem like a lot, but it can be done! I would suggest snacking on an orange or some strawberries instead of eating chips between meals. Try to eat a fruit with breakfast and more than one vegetable with your dinner. These are simple ways to get antioxidants and other nutrients into your diet. And they are usually low in calories!

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