I’m quite certain that over the past few years you have heard the term ‘antioxidants’ & may wonder what are they, what do they do & why we need them. Well, as you know I am quite passionate about helping others learn to eat for health, which is why I am devoting this post to educating you about the multiple health benefits of antioxidants. Antioxidants are natural or man-made substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals, which are unstable molecules produced during food metabolism or when exposed to exercise, or environmental sources such as sunlight, tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells and may contribute to some diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Many experts believe antioxidants can help prevent that damage. Our immune system helps defend against oxidative stress, (which is another reason to keep your immune system in tip-top shape). As we age, these defenses are less effective which contributes to poor health. Numerous clinical studies show that when we consume antioxidants (think fruits & veggies:), we supply our bodies with protection and numerous positive health benefits. There are many antioxidants, but some of the most common are Beta-carotene (Vitamin A), Selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Lutein, and Lycopene. Other sources of antioxidants include nuts, grains, poultry and fish.
Let’s take a look at some of these beauties:
Lycopene is a pigment that gives vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, papaya, blood oranges and watermelon, their red color. Several studies suggest that consumption of foods rich in lycopene is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease (tip: it is better absorbed by the body when it is consumed in processed tomato products, rather than fresh tomatoes).
Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential to good health but required only in small amounts. Plant foods are the major dietary sources of selenium but it is also found in meat, bread, and Brazil nuts.
Lutein is found in large amounts in the lens and retina of our eye & is applauded for its eye health benefits. It may also have potential protection against damage caused by UVB light and a critical component to overall skin health. Lutein is found naturally in foods such as dark green leafy veggies, egg yolks, and many other fruits and vegetables.
Beta-carotene has the ability to reduce free radicals and protect the cell membrane lipids from the harmful effects of oxidation. It is found in dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash.
Vitamin C reduces free radicals before they can damage the lipids. These antioxidant properties fight free radicals that can promote wrinkles, age spots, cataracts and arthritis. Antioxidants in vitamin C also have been found to fight free radicals that prey on organs and blood vessels as well. It is found in many fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, salad greens, strawberries, watermelon, cabbage, and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin E may help prevent or delay cardiovascular disease and cancer & has also been shown to play a role in immune function, DNA repair, and other metabolic processes. It is found in soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, wheat germ, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, corn, seeds, olives, egg yolks, and liver.
So, now that you have a base knowledge of antioxidants, their properties & functions, I ask that you consider these wonderful substances ‘medicine’. Our bodies respond best when we consume a balanced diet which contains the goodness that nature has to offer, so take full advantage of these beautiful, powerful little gems & dine on all sorts of whole foods throughout each and every day!!
Here’s to enjoying the fruits of the earth!