Since the discovery of vitamins, it has been recognized that antioxidants in the diet are essential for healthful lives. More recently, a large body of evidence has accumulated that suggests supplementation of the diet with various kinds of antioxidants can improve health and extend life.
The importance and complexity of antioxidants in biology is reflected in a medical literature of more than 142,000 scholarly articles. Researchers have found high correlation between oxidative damage and the occurrence of disease.
In much the same way as oxidation causes rust on cars, oxidation inside the body causes a breakdown of cells. If the amount of free radical oxidation in the body is allowed to rise to an unhealthy level, it can result in extensive damage to cellular components and can accelerate the ageing process. More importantly, it may contribute to a wide range of degenerative illnesses and reduce the body’s ability to deal with other problems, including cardiovascular malfunction, eye disease, and cancer.
Additionally, it may result in a compromised immune system, leading to immunological disorders and a lessening of the body’s ability to heal wounds and overcome infections. Some studies indicate possible links to arthritis and similar chronic conditions.
Antioxidants counter these effects by binding with free radicals before they can cause damage. They then convert them into non-damaging biochemical substances, assisting enormously with the reparation of cellular damage. This may slow down, prevent, or even reverse certain diseases that result from cellular damage, and perhaps even slow down the natural aging process.
Research suggests that consumption of antioxidant-rich foods reduces damage to cells and biochemicals from free radicals.
Other antioxidants can be consumed through the diet. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables provides a large supply of these antioxidants, to help eliminate damaging free radicals.
What foods are high in antioxidants?
The highest concentrations are found in fruits and leafy green vegetables, such as carrots, orange and red peppers, spinach, tomatoes, kale, russet potatoes, oranges, plums, blueberries, cranberries, and pomegranates.
Some of the better known include the antioxidant vitamins beta-carotene, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin E. Minerals such as selenium, zinc, glutathione and co-enzyme Q10 may also have antioxidant properties, and so may flavonoids such as cranberry, some amino acids, plus organic extracts from milk thistle and the tree known as ginkgo biloba.
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The truth is, there are many common foods high in antioxidants and you should not just restrict yourself to one particular food source. Why? Well, have you ever heard the expression, “eat your colors, or eat the rainbow?” That refers to the fact that foods are in different color “families” containing different types of antioxidants which have benefits.
For example, the yellow-orange color family of peaches and nectarines help our immune systems. The purple-red color family of foods (pomegranates, plums, berries) helps reduce inflammation. It’s important to eat foods from all color groups to reap the full benefits of antioxidants.
Food and natural supplements may therefore provide the most bioavailable source of antioxidants.
Cooking can destroy some antioxidants and interfere with the body’s ability to absorb them, so eating raw vegetables and fruit, and including sprouts in the diet can help. Steaming vegetables as opposed to frying, microwaving or boiling is also a good idea.
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