We’ve all heard that antioxidants are beneficial to our health, but what exactly are antioxidants, and why do we need them? Instead of just taking the benefits at face value, we did some research. Read on to learn about the amazing power of antioxidants!
The Issue: Oxidation
In order to understand antioxidants, we must first understand what they’re fighting against. Oxidation refers to oxygen’s interaction with any type of cell. Think of guacamole turning brown after being left out at a party, or a cut on your hand becoming inflamed and then eventually healing. The process of oxidation is completely natural and necessary in maintaining a healthy body, but there are times when oxidation can kill or damage some cells, which then turn into free radicals. Free radicals are NOT nice.
The Effect: Free Radicals
Free radicals is the term used to describe the damaged cells that result from oxidation. These so-called “free” molecules have an odd (or unpaired) number of electrons. These electrons go on the hunt to steal other electrons from healthy atoms in the body in order to stabilize their molecular makeup. But by stealing electrons from healthy cells, free radicals set off a chain reaction of electron thievery. This process injures cells, damages DNA, and opens up the body to diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and many more.
While the body can naturally fight off normal amounts of free radical formation, external toxins like air pollution and cigarette smoke generate excessive amounts. This is where antioxidants come into play.
The Solution: Antioxidants
Antioxidants are natural chemicals, such as a vitamin, mineral, or other nutrient, that can donate electrons to counteract free radicals.
Since antioxidants can safely give those greedy free radicals valuable electrons, antioxidants help to stop the devastating chain reaction which leads to compromised health. The body is equipped with a defense system of antioxidants, but many essential antioxidants must be supplied via a diet with lots of antioxidant-rich foods.
Now that you know what antioxidants are, here’s how you can make sure you’re getting an ample amount on a daily basis. Focus in on these particular foods to acquire some of the most helpful forms of antioxidants out there.
We’ve also listed a few smoothies for each antioxidant, because we love drinking our vitamins!
Some of the best sources of lutein are spinach, kale, collard greens, zucchini and watercress.
Some of the best sources of selenium are brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, oats and mushrooms.
Beta-carotene ultimately converts into vitamin A in the body, so some of the foods that provide straight vitamin A are the same foods rich in beta-carotene (sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, butternut squash, cantaloupe).
Oxidation and the formation of free radicals are inevitable parts of life, but the damage they cause can be lessened and even reversed, thanks to the dietary superheroes known as antioxidants. As you can see from the foods and smoothies listed above, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the more abundant your body will be in antioxidants!