The Importance Of Antioxidants In Your Diet
Antioxidants play a vital role in our health.
They are the natural components found in certain foods that help neutralise the damaging free radicals in our bodies.
Free radicals occur naturally in our bodies, but they accelerate the ageing process and cause diseases by attacking the fats, protein and the DNA in our cells.
They can be found in a variety of sources such as air pollutants, ozone, cigarette smoke and industrial chemicals. In modern life, it seems all but impossible to avoid them.
When free radicals overwhelm our body’s ability to neutralise them, they attack the body itself and cause significant damage to living cells and tissues. Damaged DNA cells stagnate, and this accelerates the ageing process, causes wrinkles and weakens the immune system. And that’s only the beginning.
Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, heart problems, and degenerative eye conditions are just a few of the life changing diseases that can be attributed to the damage caused by free radicals.
How do antioxidants work?
Harmful free radical molecules contain unpaired electrons, which is unusual since electrons usually come in pairs. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals either by providing the extra electron needed to make the pair, or by breaking down the free radical molecule to render it harmless.
This stops the chain-reaction of free radical formation, and benefits our health by boosting our immune system. Since antioxidants are used up in the process of free radical neutralization, a diet rich in antioxidants is essential to ensure a constant supply. Research has shown that a diet rich in antioxidants can prevent and protect the body from disease, therefore getting a regular supply of antioxidants into our body is very important.
Types of antioxidants
There are thousands of antioxidant compounds that are found in several forms, including vitamins A, C, and E, the plant-derived polyphenols found in colourful fruits and vegetables, and also the element selenium, found in nuts and broccoli. All of these compounds have the ability to neutralize the harmful molecules in our cells.
They are found in many types of vegetables, fruits, and grains, and it is vital that we get the recommend amounts in our diets. If you aren’t getting the daily recommended amounts of these compounds you should supplement your diet with a multi-vitamin. However, never rely on an artificially produced supplement for all your antioxidant needs since as always, there is no substitute for the real thing.
Foods containing antioxidants
The best antioxidant sources are fruits and vegetables, as well as many other products derived from plants. Fortunately, there are several tasty foods that contain the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene.
The list below categorizes the foods into groups to help you identify them. Be sure to vary your food choices to ensure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals that you need, and bear in mind this list is not exhaustive:
- Vitamin C is mostly found in citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits. Other great sources of vitamin C include tomatoes, red peppers, green peppers, yellow peppers, pineapple, and dark green veggies.
- Beta-carotene rich foods include carrots, red and yellow peppers, broccoli, sweet potatoes, mangos, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin E is contained in many vegetable oils, nuts, brown rice, legumes, whole grains, and dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach.
- Selenium is found in some seafoods, Brazil nuts, poultry, dairy, whole grains, onions, garlic, and wheat germ.
Other antioxidant-rich foods you should eat regularly include blueberries, raspberries, apples, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, eggplant, and legumes like red kidney beans or black beans. Antioxidants also found in green tea, black tea, red wine and dark chocolate.
Remember, it’s important that you get plenty of variety. You should try to include as many fruits and vegetables with different colours as possible when you do your shopping and plan your meals.
Why? Because this is the best way to make sure you receive the biggest range of beneficial antioxidants. Simply remember to include a wide selection of colours in the foods that you buy and you can be sure you are getting a wide spectrum of antioxidants. Usually, the presence of colour indicates there is a specific antioxidant in that particular food.
Copyright © Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd 2015. Written by Geoff Lyth