It’s no doubt that you’ve heard about antioxidant nutrients and how good they are for you. But let’s take a closer look to see what these nutrients are and what they actually do.
An antioxidant is a naturally occurring chemical that helps to neutralize free radicals, thereby limiting damage to the body’s cells.
But what is a free radical and why does it need to be neutralized? Some free radicals normally occur during the metabolic process. Others are a result of exposure to pollution, UV light and radiation, cigarette smoke, toxic chemicals, pesticides, and processed or fried foods.
You might remember from your high school science lessons that your body is made up of various kinds of cells. These cells are composed of molecules. Molecules are made up of one or more atoms that are bonded together by electrons. When these bonds become weak and split, they leave a molecule with an odd number of electrons, making it unstable.
An unstable free radical will usually attack the nearest stable molecule, “stealing” one if it’s electrons, creating a new free radical. Once this process has started, a chain reaction occurs, eventually resulting in damage to the cell. While some cells have the ability to recover from this damage, others do not and this can result in premature aging, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
Antioxidant nutrients: What are they and what do they do?
The best way to counteract the effect of free radicals on the body is with antioxidants. Antioxidant atoms remain stable (that is, retain an even number of electrons) no matter what. That means that a free radical can “steal” an electron from an antioxidant and both atoms will remain stable, limiting the number of free radicals in the body.
There are thousands of naturally occurring antioxidants. Some of the ones most crucial to human health and well-being include Vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, selenium, lycopene, lutein, and flavonoids. While some antioxidants are naturally produced, there is not a sufficient quantity to counteract the number of free radicals present within the body. The best way to introduce an adequate amount of antioxidant nutrients is by eating a diet filled with antioxidant-rich foods.
Here are some common foods that are known for their healthful effects on the human body:
A commonly known “super-food” when it comes to antioxidant properties, blueberries are rich in Vitamins A & C and flavonoids like quercetin and anthocyanidin. They can help prevent cancer, fight high cholesterol, and have anti-aging properties.
Rich in beta-carotene, this green leafy vegetable has antioxidant properties known to help fight cancer, aging, and heart disease. It also has a high concentration of lutein, which is known to protect from macular degeneration and cataracts.
Probably the most commonly-known antioxidant is Vitamin C, and everyone knows that oranges are packed with it. Vitamin C is key in keeping our immune system functioning properly and fighting off infections such as the common cold.
Loaded with flavonoids, cherries are helpful in slowing the aging process. They contain quercitrin, another flavonoid believed to be a powerful anti-cancer agent. They’ve also been known to help with migraines and arthritis.
Kidney and Pinto beans contain phenolic antioxidants and have been known to lower cholesterol, blood sugars, and the risk of breast cancer.
Containing the flavonoid curcumin, which is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric can also aid in detoxifying the liver, balancing cholesterol levels, combatting allergies, and enhancing the complexion.
Eggs contain vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy bones and vision. Selenium in eggs promotes a healthy heart and lutein and zeaxanthin protect eye health.
Every day, humans come in contact with various pollutants, chemicals, and other contaminants that are present in our surroundings. While the best way to combat the negative effects these can have on our health is to eat a well-balanced diet rich in antioxidant nutrients, sometimes this is not enough. Taking a daily supplement can boost the healthful effects, but should not serve as a substitute for a healthy diet.