You hear it all the time: TV commercials and advertisements promote them and food-packaging labels claim to have them. They’re antioxidants, the greatest enemy to free radicals.
While antioxidants and free radicals are buzzwords these days, just what are they and what role do they play in your health?
Read on to find out what the hype is all about.
Getting Free Radicals
Free radicals are damaged cells created when your cells combine with oxygen. Practically 99 percent of the time, healthy cells form, but 1 or 2 percent of the time, cells get damaged in the process. These damaged cells are missing some sort of molecule and wind up being named free radicals. As their name suggests, these cells are loners and are up to no good. In order to find their missing molecule, free radicals attack healthy cells, injuring them and damaging their DNA. When healthy cells become mutated, they begin to quickly multiply and grow abnormally, setting off a chain reaction and setting the stage for disease.
Besides the damage caused during normal cell division, other causes of free radicals in the body include air pollution, cigarette smoke, asbestos, excessive sun exposure, contaminated food or drinking water, toxins, pesticides, and excessive alcohol. Over time, the damage caused by free radicals may lead to a weakened immune system (causing colds, flu, or infection); signs of aging; or chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease.
“Canadians get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close.” - Joe Vinson
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutritious substances that wage war against the free radicals in your body. Different types of antioxidants have different jobs. Some, such as vitamin C, work to prevent and protect from damage caused by free radicals by capturing and neutralizing them. Others, like vitamin E, endeavor to put an end to the cell damage by breaking the chain reaction and repairing damaged cells.
Types of Antioxidants
In the war against free radicals, your body needs a strong defense system. Antioxidants are this natural defense. Important as one source of antioxidants is, your body needs a variety of antioxidants to do the job. You can’t just fill up on blueberries and expect them to take care of everything. Each type of antioxidant targets different body tissues, different cell parts, and different types of radicals. They all work together, so you need to eat a variety of healthy food.
There are two types of antioxidants. The main class is flavonoids and the smaller class is polyphenols. Antioxidants are divided further into various substances including beta-carotene; lycopene; lutein; selenium (a mineral made of antioxidant enzymes); zinc; and vitamins A, C, and E.
Finding the Goods
Many foods contain antioxidants. The main sources are fruits and vegetables; nuts, whole grains, and legumes; and some poultry, fish, and meat. Here’s a list broken down by type of antioxidant.
Beta-carotene is found in orange foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos. It’s also in green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.
Lycopene is mainly found in tomatoes, guava, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, and apricots.
Lutein is abundant in green, leafy veggies such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.
Selenium can be found in rice, wheat, meat, bread, and Brazil nuts.
Zinc comes to you courtesy of oysters, poultry, meat, nuts, beans, seafood, dairy products, whole grains, and fortified cereals.
Vitamin A is in foods including sweet potatoes, carrots, liver, milk, egg yolk, and mozzarella cheese.
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is found in fruits, veggies, cereals, poultry, fish, and beef.
Vitamin E, which some know as alpha-tocopherol, is found in almonds, mangos, broccoli, nuts, carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, sunflower seeds, papaya, and various kinds of oils.
Now that you know about the battle going on inside and how to fight it well, store up on the good stuff and watch free radicals be pushed out of your body!
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