Antioxidants are chemicals found in fruits and vegetables that may help strengthen the immune system. They combat the damaging effects of free radicals(atoms that have an unstable chemical structure). Free radicals are missing an electron and roam the body looking for another atom to steal an electron from. This process causes damage to the body’s cells and has the potential to alter the genetic material (DNA) inside the cell, thus changing how the molecule acts within the body and contributes to many chronic diseases.
We are exposed to free radicals from numerous sources; the sun, pollution, pesticides, tobacco smoke, fried foods, alcohol, drugs, medicine, etc. Free radicals are also formed within the body from natural metabolic processes of using oxygen for energy and digesting food. The point is, free radicals are all around us!
The human body has built-in mechanisms to help combat these unstable atoms but antioxidants give an additional boost. Antioxidants are unique in the sense that they can safely donate an electron to free radicals without being damaged themselves. This means, the more antioxidants available, the less chance of cell destruction and mutilation, meaning potentially less cancer, heart disease and certain types of vision loss. Research as to whether or not antioxidant supplementation decreases these conditions is inconclusive, but thus far there is minimal evidence to support these claims. However, fruits and vegetables are an essential component of any nutritious diet and their potential contribution to good health cannot be underestimated. Until more studies are done, look for ways to get antioxidants from their natural state rather than taking a supplement.
To maximize your intake of naturally-occurring antioxidants, include brightly colored fruits and vegetables in your diet (purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues). Eat them raw or only lightly steamed.
There are probably thousands of antioxidants, but here are a few of the main ones.
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Coenzyme Q10
- Lipoic Acid
- Phenols & polyphenols
Here are a few foods that are rich in antioxidants:
apricots, cantaloupe, mangoes, nectarines, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, tangerines
asparagus, broccoli, kale, peppers, Brussel sprouts, avocado, spinach, honeydew, kiwi
tomatoes, watermelon, berries
prunes, raisins, red grapes
onions, cauliflower, beans, beef, poultry, seafood
whole grains, nuts & seeds
Kristen Wright, FNP
Canyon View Women’s Care
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