Antioxidants have gained popularity in recent years. Chances are that you’ve heard about them, and you are aware that they are associated with good health. But like most people, you are still unsure of what they really are, and why they are such a big deal.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances that come from the food that we eat, and also from within our own bodies. The purpose of antioxidants is to protect us from harmful compounds known as free radicals. They create a balance within our cells for optimal health. Simply put, antioxidants are the good guys who team up to defeat the bad guys.
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are compounds produced within our bodies during the breakdown of nutrients from the food we eat as they are converted into energy. Sometimes free radicals come from smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, long exposures to the sun, and pollution.
Why are Free Radicals Harmful?
Free radicals, in uncontrollable amounts, can damage cells in our bodies. The body normally has a system in place to destroy free radicals. But sometimes, it fails to keep up with high amounts of free radicals. High amounts of free radicals cause a condition known as oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is harmful to health because it is a major contributor to diseases such as cancer, heart diseases, obesity, diabetes, liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.
Where Do Antioxidants Come From?
The body is capable of producing its own antioxidants to fight free radicals. However, there is another source. When people talk about antioxidants, they usually refer to the powerful substances found in certain types of food.
The main kinds of antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium, and zinc. Such nutrients are important for preventing free radicals from harming the body.
There are many good sources of antioxidants. Powerful antioxidants can be found in green tea, cruciferous vegetables, berries, turmeric, cinnamon, dark chocolate, and extra virgin olive oil. Colorful fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants, as well as other beneficial nutrients.
Ways to Incorporate Antioxidants in the Diet
Here are a few ideas you can include antioxidants in the diet:
How about adding fresh or frozen berries to your oatmeal for your next breakfast?
Have a small tangerine or orange to go as a snack.
Lightly steam vegetables such as broccoli, peas, and carrots.
Cut up slices of colorful bell peppers to go along with your hummus or ranch dip.
Find the darkest chocolate you can enjoy occasionally.
Enjoy some green tea to keep you warm.
Toss in a handful of kale or spinach into your fruit smoothie.
And remember that yes, antioxidants are a big deal!