Antioxidants are literally the antidote to free radical damage. To clearly understand what we are fighting for, let’s take a look at what free radicals are and what they actually do.
Free radicals are unstable, reactive molecules with unpaired electrons in their outer shell. They snatch electrons from stable molecules around them in order to regain their missing electron. This causes damage to surrounding cells.
When a free radical reacts with a stable molecule, another free radical is produce and a chain reaction occurs. The major danger is when free radicals react with important cellular components such as DNA. Cells may die or function poorly when this occurs. Cellular damage are the common pathway to a variety of diseases, cancer and aging.
Major Free Radical Risk Factors
- Chronic constipation
- Nitrates and Nitrites
- Stress in job or home life
- Lack of regular exercise
- Chlorinated water (drinking, bathing, swimming)
- Excessive intake of sugars, alcohol and/or caffeine
- Poor quality, refined/rancid polyunsaturated oils (including hydrogenated & polyunsaturated fats)
- Inhaling air pollution, toxic chemicals, carbon monoxide
Antioxdants are molecules that can safely interact with free radicals. They donate electrons to a free radical in order to neutralize them. Antioxidants terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged.
Our body can be protected by free radical damage only through diet that is rich in antioxidant nutrients. The three major antioxidants are Vitamin E, Vitamin C and beta-carotene. They are found in colourful fruits and vegetables, especially those with red, purple, yellow and orange hues.
Vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol)
– a fat soluble vitamin present in broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, papaya, red peppers and spinach
– also present in whole grains, fish oils, nuts and seeds, especially sunflower seeds
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
– a water soluble vitamin present in citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, chard, kale, kiwi, spinach, snow peas, sweet potato and tomatoes
Beta-Carotene (a precursor to vitamin A)
– are present in apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, collard greens, green peppers, kale, mangoes, nectarine, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, spinach, squash, yams, tomato and watermelon.
– are also present in egg yolks, liver and grains.
Other foods rich in antioxidants are apples, prunes, raisins, plums, red grapes, alfalfa sprouts, onions, eggplant and beans. Below are minerals that are important antioxidants as well.
– a mineral that protects cell membranes and intracellular structural membranes from lipid peroxidation
– found in brazil nuts, beef, poultry, tuna and whole grains
– a mineral that is important in normal growth and development, the maintenance of body tissues, sexual function, the immune system and detoxification of chemicals and metabolic irritants
– present in oysters, red meat, poultry, seafoods, beans, nuts and whole grains.
In short, antioxidants protect the body from free radical damage and prevent them from turning cancerous or causing various diseases. So let’s protect our bodies and fight free radicals with these rich antioxidant foods!