Elizabeth Arnott

Antioxidants? Free Radicals?

Antioxidants?  Free Radicals? What are they, and what do they do? I was so used to hearing the buzzwords "antioxidants" and "free radicals", and how important they are, but I realized that I only had a hazy idea about their meaning, and what to do about them.  Research on the subject made me more and more confused, until I decided to simplify things down to absolute basics.

Antioxidants help fight oxidation, a normal chemical process that takes place in the body every day. This is the same oxidizing process that causes oils to become rancid, peeled apples to turn brown, and iron to rust. Antioxidants protect the body against the effects of free radicals.

It is impossible for us to avoid damage by free radicals. They are formed from exposure to environmental factors such as pollution, sunlight, smoking and alcohol, as well as normal respiration, metabolism and inflammation. 

Free radicals are highly unstable atoms or groups of atoms that scavenge the body to grab or donate electrons, and cause damage to cells, impair the immune system, and open the way to aging, and various degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, and cataracts.  

To prevent free radical damage, the body has a defence system of antioxidants. 

The best way to ensure that your body is adequately protected from free radicals is to eat a diet rich in natural antioxidants.  Antioxidants get used up during their fight against free radicals, so it is necessary to constantly top up your supply by the daily consumption of foods containing flavonoids, carotenoids and vitamins, especially vitamin C and vitamin E. 

Flavonoids occur in spices, seeds and nuts, and in fruits and vegetables, especially onion, kale, broccoli, endive, celery, cranberries, oranges, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, spinach, peas, strawberries, apples and grapes.

Carotenoids are pigments that occur in yellow, red, green and orange fruits vegetables such as carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, kale, beet greens, cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, avocados, cantaloupe melon and apricots. 

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that recharges other antioxidants such as Vitamin E, and is found in citrus fruits, kiwis, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, papaya, cantaloupe melon, broccoli, kale, bell peppers, chilli peppers, and herbs.

Vitamin E prevents oxidation of fats, and enhances the immune response and helps to prevent cataracts.  Zinc and Selenium enhance the absorption of Vitamin E into the body.  Vitamin E can be found in nuts, seeds, dried apricots, papaya, kiwi, spinach, dark green leaf vegetables such as Swiss Chard or kale, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. 

The easiest way to ensure you are constantly topping up your essential antioxidants is to eat plenty of vegetables, and rainbow salads - as many different colours as you can, to provide you with the whole range of antioxidants what are naturally available in food.   Have one main course salad, and one side salad every day, and if you include a green smoothie as well, your body will be supercharged in its fight against free radicals.

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