A few years ago, hardly anyone knew they existed. Now, antioxidants are all over the news. You’ve probably heard they’re good for you. And that that they’re found in fruits and vegetables. But for most people, that’s the extent of their knowledge. The following facts will help you gain a better understanding of these protective compounds which may just be the key to good health and a long life.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are naturally occurring compounds in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and teas. Your body also makes them on its own.
What Do Antioxidants Do?
Antioxidants protect healthy cells from free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive oxygen molecules generated in the body as the result of normal metabolic processes, like breathing or converting food into energy. They also result from exposure to environmental factors like smoke, pollution and UV sunlight. Free radicals “attack” healthy cells, damaging their structure and DNA. Many scientists believe free radical damage is behind disease and aging.
How Do Antioxidants Work?
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals so they can’t damage healthy cells. It works like this (in a nutshell): Free radicals are “charged” (think of UV sunlight “zapping” cells in your skin). The charge causes them to lose an electron. In a frantic attempt to stabilize themselves, free radicals “steal” electrons from nearby molecules, damaging them in the process. Antioxidants are “extra” molecules in the bloodstream—there for the sole purpose of donating electrons to free radicals, stopping them from bothering healthy cells. You should have a regular supply of antioxidants in your bloodstream, to serve as an army against free radicals.
What Are the Best Sources of Antioxidants?
Vitamins A, C, E, carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and minerals are antioxidants. The best way to obtain them is to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Top antioxidant foods include blueberries, blackberries, cherries, red grapes, Granny Smith apples, carrots, broccoli, green pepper, sweet potatoes, cooked tomatoes, walnuts, sesame seeds, almonds, kidney beans, red beans and pinto beans. Tea is also a rich source of antioxidants called flavonoids. Wine and coffee contain antioxidants called polyphenols.
Should I take Antioxidant Supplements?
Antioxidant supplements (available in pill, powder and liquid form) have been popular for decades and provide a concentrated, isolated source of the protective compounds. Many scientists believe, however, that the dietary, whole food sources of antioxidants are best for health.