What are Antioxidants and Why Do You Need Them
If you ever read food labels or watch the news then I am sure you have heard the word antioxidant. Antioxidants seem to be all the rage when it comes to our health and nutrition; the latest fad in the food industry - like margarine was in the 1970's. Unlike fake foods invented by manufacturers and pushed on us by the Food and Drug Administration, antioxidants are naturally found in food and they are incredibly good for you.
According the Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, antioxidant means "a substance that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen, peroxides or free radicals". In order to really understand the benefits of antioxidants, we need to understand what free radicals are. You can think of free radicals as bad cells in our bodies. Free radicals are naturally produced by our bodies when we use oxygen. Free radicals also enter our bodies when we are exposed to bad things such as pollution, smoking, and toxins. These free radicals can damage cells, proteins and DNA according to Merriam-Webster's causing heart disease and some forms of cancer.
As you can see, antioxidants are very much needed by our bodies. Just going about our daily lives our bodies produce free radicals. We need to counteract them with antioxidants. If we are exposed to many harmful toxins in our everyday life, the more antioxidants we need. When antioxidants attack the free radicals they are preventing diseases.
Fortunately for us, antioxidants are in almost all of the foods we eat. The more healthy and varied the diet you eat the more antioxidants you will get each day. And no you can't pop a pill to get them. When scientists first discovered antioxidants there were many studies put together to determine whether they could bottle up these wonderful nutrients into a pill form and market it to the public. Because if these antioxidants are so good for us, then the more of them we could get the better, right? Wrong. It turned out that antioxidants in such large quantities are very bad for people and can actually cause diseases, rather than preventing them.
Certain vitamins and minerals are actually antioxidants, like vitamins A, C, and E and minerals such as lycopene and selenium. As long as you eat a rainbow of foods you should get all you need. Keep in mind that the darker the fruit or vegetable, the more antioxidant power there is. So if you are picking out grapes, purple grapes would be a better choice than green grapes because they are darker.
Good Sources of Antioxidants
Here is a quick rundown of foods that provide you the antioxidants that your body needs.
Selenium - meats, eggs, grains, fish, and garlic
Lycopene - think red and pink here - tomatoes, grapefruit, and watermelon
Lignan - grains such as flaxseed and oatmeal
Lutein - think green - leafy green vegetables such as kale
Vitamin A - think orange - carrots, tomatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes, but some green foods such as broccoli provide lots of Vitamin A as well
Vitamin C - it seems almost all fruits and vegetables contain Vitamin C, but particularly citrus fruits
Vitamin E - think oils, grains, nuts and seeds
Polyphenols and Flavoids - think purple foods such as red wine, pomegranates and cranberries
This just lists a few of the many antioxidants in our foods. The study of antioxidants is a relatively new scientific field and I believe they are just scratching the surface of these amazing nutrients. If you make sure to eat a varied diet full of fruits and vegetables, you will be assured of getting all the antioxidants your body needs.