What are antioxidants and how do they help us?
More times than not when your researching what foods are good or bad for you, the advice that you read advises on whats healthy for your heart, skin or stomach. Unless you already knew to research this topic, what it doesn’t tell you is what is right for you on a cellular level. And these would be antioxidants. Although we can produce antioxidants naturally within the body; you can increase the production of the substance by eating certain foods that are high in the product.
What are antioxidants?
An antioxidant is a compound that we can find in small doses in our body naturally and in larger doses in our food. The purpose of an antioxidant is to stop entirely, or at least delay damage to our cells. They do this by removing or ‘cleaning’ our cells from any waste products which are called free radicals – oxidants. (We will talk more about those later). When we digest our food the antioxidants in that food is released and attacks the free radicals in the cells.
What foods are high in antioxidants?
You will find that foods that are high in antioxidants tend to be plant-based; fruits, veg, coffee, tea, and yes the best of all chocolates and wine! Following are the top 10 foods that are high in antioxidants:
– Goji Berries
– Wild Blueberries
– Dark Chocolate
– Boiled Artichoke
– Kidney Beans
As you can see, the majority of the list consists of berries. There are also some foods that are readily available at the supermarket that also contain antioxidants. These include. Tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin seeds, sweet potato, red wine, grapes, broccoli, kale and wild-caught salmon. As well as foods there are also some herbs that you can add to your meals that are known to be high in antioxidants. Many of which you probably use on a day to day basis anyway. Such as:
What are free radicals?
Although free radicals sound like the name of a group of nature lovers from the sixties, they, unfortunately, have a less fun definition. A free radical is a general name for any highly reactive compound within that body that’ll cause damage to the cells.
Scientifically we know them as molecules, atoms or ions that come with an unpaired electron. In other words, a free radical is a molecule, atom or ion that is extremely reactive. The lack of being in a pair makes it unstable and free to lash out and attack our beloved cells. They steal molecules from other essential cells and structures like fats, proteins, DNA and cell membranes. A single free radical by itself may not sound like a lot, but imagine the effect on a larger scale. Eventually, the structures stop working how they are supposed to.
We can find free radicals as a result of outside influences such as smoking or toxins. But, for the most part, they are a result of our normal metabolism, so we can somewhat control them but not entirely.
What can loading up on antioxidants do for your health?
Let’s take a minute and allow our thoughts to wander into our imaginations. Think of free radicals as a pickpocket, all our cells as regular members of society, our belongings as electrons and antioxidants are the police. The pickpockets go around stealing as much of our belongings as they can; your bag and everything in it leaving you with nothing but the clothes on your back. Eventually, you grow weary and hungry, unable to get home and you can no longer function properly. Not a great situation.
However, the same situation but with antioxidants turns out completely different. As before the pickpocket tries to steal your belongings except for this time he is seen by a police officer who manages to interject before he manages to take anything of value. The pickpocket runs off, your bag is on your person if not a little damaged, and the officer goes to help the next person in trouble.
And this is exactly how antioxidants interact with free radicals. They prevent them from removing anything valuable from your cells before it is too late.
Antioxidants can help to improve:
– Your skin: When out in the sun the skin becomes oxidised causing sun damage. Antioxidants, of course, help to reverse the process of skin oxidisation.
– Your immune system: Antioxidants boost the immune system by protecting the cells, cell membranes and DNA from mutating. If this happens, it can compromise the immune system, and it won’t work correctly.
– Your heart: The reparation of cells that are damaged by free radicals in the heart helps to reduce the risk of getting a heart attack. It also reduces the oxidation of the cholesterol that causes plaque to form in the arteries.
The first thing you must be thinking is to overload your system with antioxidants. However, it is essential to know that there still needs to be a balanced dynamic between oxidants and antioxidants in your body. Too much of one can cause more harm than good. There needs to be a 50/50 divide or as close to a 50/50 split as possible, as not to damage your cells further. There are many other fruits, veg, juices, drinks, and seasonings that contain high doses of antioxidants. And, just adding at least one ingredient to one of your meals a day is a great start to introducing these free radical fighters into your diet.
Image Credits –
Featured image: http://www.naturallivingideas.com/antioxidants/