Eat your antioxidants, and get them from food, not supplements!

Posted on Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Written by Laura Harvey

We’re all used to being told to eat our fruits and vegetables, to get enough fibre, and drink 8-10 glasses of water a day. Recently though, we’re being told to eat foods rich in antioxidants. Now you might think“ oh yes, of course!” But do you really know what an antioxidant is, or why they are considered so good for you?

Basically, antioxidants are micronutrients that protect your body from harmful reactions. Antioxidants can be Vitamins A, C and E, minerals such as selenium, and plant chemicals such as flavonoids and carotenoids. They’re found in a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread, cereals and pasta, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, garlic and green tea.

We all know how important oxygen is for our body and that it is absolutely vital to our survival. However, oxygen also has a dark side. Oxygen is extremely reactive and can become part of very dangerous molecules called free radicals. Think of free radicals as a bully in your body. This bully forgot his lunch money, and this is making him incredibly unstable (in actuality, the free radical is missing an electron). So, to stabilize himself, he’ll go and steal lunch money (an electron) from a nearby molecule. The free radical is now stable, however, the molecule he stole from no longer is because they’re missing their lunch money (an electron). Therefore, that molecule will go and steal from a stable molecule nearby, and a chain reaction occurs. Normally, our bodies can handle these free radicals with the help of antioxidants. However, if enough antioxidants are not available or the free radical production gets out of hand, healthy cells can be seriously damaged. Eventually, an accumulation of oxidative damage is what leads to many degenerative effects of aging and to disease, especially heart disease and cancer. In fact, free radicals have been linked to the development of at least 50 diseases!

So just how do antioxidants help prevent the damage caused by free radicals? Two antioxidants, Vitamins C and E, can stop free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, thus stopping the stealing of electrons, and ending the chain reaction of free radical production. The antioxidants don’t become free radicals themselves (even though they’re missing an electron), because they are still stable in either form. Antioxidants also have the ability to completely stop the chain before it begins. So now that you have all this antioxidant information, it’s time to put it to good use! As I mentioned, antioxidants are naturally occurring in so many foods, but here are 5 of the best antioxidant rich foods:

Berries: blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries contain an antioxidant that can help prevent cancer!

Broccoli: broccoli is packed with fibre, helping to reduce your cholesterol levels. This nutritious vegetable contains the phytonutrient sulforaphane, which may help lower the risk of many types of cancer.

Garlic: garlic’s health benefits have been praised for centuries! Not only does one clove of garlic contains vitamins A, B and C, selenium, iodine, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium, but it is useful for decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol, and may help prevent cancer!

Green Tea: green tea has been shown to prevent, heart disease, and high cholesterol, and may help to prevent cancer!

Tomatoes: tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful anti-cancer agent! Tomatoes are the best source of this agent.

Now you may think that it’s just as beneficial to take an antioxidant supplement, such as a Vitamin E supplement, however, this is not the case. Supplements sometimes contain way more of a nutrient than you actually need. This can cause negative side effects, especially if you already have an underlying condition. In the end, try and choose fresh, natural sources of antioxidants whenever possible! This CTV article helps explain this phenomenon based on a recent research study performed on mice to draw insight on why some vitamins might spur cancer.

It’s quite easy to start incorporating more antioxidant-rich food! Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Make a mixed bean salad as an appetizer
  • Add blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries to the top of your cereal
  • Opt for green tea instead of coffee
  • Choose fish at least twice a week
  • Sprinkle almonds and sunflower seeds on a salad or add it to granola
  • Make a salad with kale, spinach, and dark leafy greens

Remember these tips and food choices next time you’re looking to bump up your antioxidant intake!

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