Why antioxidants are vital to your health
Antioxidants have gotten a lot of good press over the past decade or so. The more we learn about them the more we realize just how essential they are to good health. Among the things we know they do: fight disease, boost the immune system, nourish healthy skin, fight the effects of aging, preserve or restore heart health, increase stamina, kick start your energy, and combat cancer. Scientists are still discovering all of the things antioxidants can do.
Why do we age? And, more importantly, why do we have to look old as we age? One theory of aging that is gaining a lot of traction today is the free-radical theory of aging (FRTA). Free radicals are rogue, unstable molecules that cruise around the body. Because the free radicals are unstable and off-balance, they seek to attach themselves to more stable molecules, including the cells of your skin, your heart, your lungs, and other important body areas. But once the free radical gloms onto the healthy molecule, it creates damage. So now you no longer have a free radical, but you do have a damaged cell.
Everybody has free radicals, even babies. The miraculous human body contains many built-in systems aimed at keeping these rogue molecules in check and destroying them. But sometimes the free radicals overwhelm the body’s natural defenses. This can happen when you get sick, you are overly stressed (including being tired), or you do not nourish your body properly. Many foods are just loaded with free radicals, so you could be doing some of this damage with your own fork.
One other thing that can cause the free radicals to go haywire—age. As we get older, our bodies’ natural defense systems get weaker. The FRTA theory states that over time, damage from free radicals builds up and we start to look and feel old. Antioxidants are substances that take out free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules and the very name antioxidant tells us that these substances are “anti” free radicals. Antioxidants wipe out free radicals and, in so doing, may reduce the signs of aging, preserve health, boost the immune system, raise our energy level, and make us feel good.
Seven Good Food Sources of Antioxidants
So now you need to know: just where can I find these antioxidant free-radical-busters? Three of the best known antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, but did you know that there are more than 4,000 compounds that have antioxidant properties in the foods that we eat? That’s right, many foods contain antioxidants. And, no, these foods are not cheeseburgers and Twinkies. There are lots of benefits to eating a healthful diet, and top on the list has to be that you get plenty of natural antioxidants. Here are the big seven antioxidant-rich foods.
All kinds of berries are good sources of antioxidants; Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and cranberries. The best way to eat these are fresh or frozen (frozen is nearly as good as fresh). Strawberry jam or strawberry flavoring don’t count — these have sugar and sometimes chemicals in them. Stick to natural food and eat it as close to its natural state as you can to get the maximum antioxidant punch.
Small red beans are rich in several nutrients including iron, magnesium potassium, copper, thiamin and phosphorus. Other beans with high antioxidant content are pinto, black and kidney beans.
Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts are high in antioxidants. They’re also cholesterol-free and low in sodium. They can be high in calories, so you cannot overdo them. However, adding some nuts to salads or taking a handful of almonds as a mid-afternoon snack is a great idea that gives you an antioxidant kick.
Veggies and More
Berries are the antioxidant king of the fruit world, but most fruits contain lots of antioxidants. Apples (eat the peel), cherries, pears, peaches, plums, red grapes, pineapple, kiwi, orange, and grapefruit are all excellent sources of antioxidants. Broccoli is the standout in the vegetable world, but nearly all veggies contain some antioxidants, with carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, and potatoes particularly high in antioxidant content. Remember; eat the veggies as close to natural as you can. French fries are not a good source of antioxidants!
It is hard to go wrong with a few cups of plain green tea every day. This super-drink contains lots of vitamin C and many other powerful disease-fighting substances. This is an antioxidant cocktail and the best part… zero calories and a boost in hydration.