Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food. – Hippocrates
Our bodies are nothing short of miracle. They work day and night. Non-stop. We take them for granted until the day things don’t go that well any more. While we travel, work, prepare food, workout, and sleep, our cells constantly fight invaders, regenerate, renew, and produce the energy we need. That’s a lot of work! Antioxidants help protect our cells. They are chemicals in food that repair cell damage caused by free radicals – think “evil villains” trying to do harm – and oxidation.
What Are Free Radicals?
Scientists now believe that Free Radicals are causal factors in nearly every known disease. They are highly unstable molecules that are missing an electron. Therefore, free radicals are very reactive substances trying to stabilize themselves by stealing electrons from healthy molecules. By doing this they create new free radicals, causing a chain reaction through the body called oxidation or oxidative stress. Oxidation (as in rusty car or in a cut apple turning brown) damages healthy tissue, cells, and even DNA. Not really what we want, is it?
Free radicals are formed naturally in the body as a by-product of energy production but also when inflammation or infections are present. Their production is increased by smoking, alcohol, trans fats, air pollution, stress, unhealthy food, excessive sunlight, and toxins like radiation and asbestos. A certain amount of free radicals is, however, necessary for the body to function properly. They help fight infection and control the blood flow. It’s as always about finding the right balance.
Oxidation is thought to play a key role in a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. LDL (a lipo protein) oxidized by free radicals may, for example, cause coronary artery blockage.
Free radicals are both cause and effect of the hyper-immune response that comes with food and environmental allergies and autoimmune conditions (Bauman, 2015). Detoxification can help with getting rid of toxins and up the supply of antioxidants.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that nuteralize free radicals by donating an electron to them. They are the nutritional equivalent of a best friend: As loyal protectors and nurturers of cells they help fight disease and promote good health. A lack of antioxidants may cause cell damage, inflammation, and as a consequence disease may develop.
Vitamins like A, C, E, K and minerals like zinc, copper, maganese, iron, and iodine are examples of powerful antioxidants. Phytonutrients like carotenoids, flavonoids, and reseveratrol, are also important antioxidants. Think: The colors of the rainbow so pretty …!
Variety and abundance are key as different antioxidants perform different functions in your body. Some antioxidants (like alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10 and glutathione) are made in the body, while other come from a healthy, whole foods, plant based diet.
Food Sources of Antioxidants
Blueberries, raspberries, acai berries, strawberries, pomegranate, citrus, kiwi, and peaches are examples of fruits containing antioxidants. Spinach, Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, carrots, squash, broccoli, yams, sprouts, and onions are good sources when it comes to vegetables. The various colors in fruits and vegetables are plant pigments that protect the plant and your health when you eat them. Nuts and seeds like sesame seeds, pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts, as well as herbs and spices, like ginger, cinnamon, garlic, tumeric, and rosemary are more good dietary souces for antioxidants.
It is super important to increase foods high in antioxidants while at the same time decreasing the exposure to free radicals. Reduce inflammation, cell damage, aging, and disease by making healthy eating a habit!
Maximize the effects of whole, fresh, colorful, organic foods:
- Stop smoking: Cigarettes and nicotine contain toxins that increase free radicals (a lot!)
- Move your body: Moderate, daily exercise may help with with the production of antioxidants
- Sleep more: A good night’s rest is critical in providing a healthy environment for happy cells
- Limit sugar: Refined sugar and grains increase oxidative stress and require more antioxidants to counter their effects
- Stress less: Relax and regenerate to avoid free radical formation
Foods high in antioxidants also support the body’s detox systems, help rejuvenate, and if eaten regularly make sure that the body stays healthy and vibrant. Why not start with eating healthy today? Make being healthy a priority!
In vibrant health,
Bauman, E. (2014), Foundation of Nutrition, Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
Bauman, E. et al (2015), Therapeutic Nutrition, Part 1, Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
Chun, Y. Retrievved from http://articles.mercola.com/antioxidants.aspx.
Packer, E. | Colman, C. (1999): The Antioxidant Miracle, John Willey & Sons Inc., American Heart Organization (www.heart.org)