Foodfacts.com noticed there is much talk today about antioxidants and supposedly, how good they are for you. But what are antioxidants exactly? Antioxidant is a collective name for the vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and polyphenols that protect the body from harmful free radicals that cause damage to our body’s cells. They work to prevent damage to our cells by repairing and slowing the damage that free radicals inflict on our bodies.
So what are free radicals you might ask, and where do they come from? Well free radicals are molecules produced by normal cell functions such as when your body breaks down food. They can also be produced by toxic environmental exposures like cigarette smoke, radiation, air pollution, and excessive amounts of alcohol. Our food and water harbor free radicals in the form of pesticides and other toxins as well.
Free radicals damage cells and play a role in chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Antioxidants work by significantly slowing or preventing the damage from free radicals that can lead to cell dysfunction and the onset of problems. When free radicals are on the attack, they don’t just kill cells, they often injure the cell and trigger a chain reaction of destruction of cells around them, damaging the DNA and potentially giving way to the formation of the onset of a disease.
So what can be done to protect ourselves from the dangers of free radicals? The answer simply lies in the food we eat. Fortunately, numerous foods are rich in antioxidants. Consuming a diet containing plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts can supply all the antioxidants your body needs.
Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries rank highest among the fruits. In the vegetable category, beans, artichokes and Russet potatoes are on top. Last, but not least, pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts ranked highest in the nut category.
Even spices, although they are generally consumed in small amounts, are rich in antioxidants as was found to be high in ground cloves, ground cinnamon and oregano .
Currently, there are no government guidelines for consumers on how many antioxidants to consume and what kind of antioxidants to consume in their daily diet. Total antioxidant capacity of the foods does not necessarily reflect their potential health benefit which depends on how they are absorbed and utilized in the body. For now, USDA officials continue to encourage consumers to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables for better health.
Sources: MedlinePlus, WebMD, Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (p.261-265)
Photo Source: Obi-Akpere