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Doing Antioxidants The Right Way

Last updated on : February 19 2019

close up of pomegranate

Why Antioxidants

Eating antioxidants might be the solution to many diseases, even aging.

From preventing heart disease to slowing down degenerative diseases, to stopping cancer, to reducing blood pressure - it all points back to antioxidants, and their ability to fight free radicals.

Fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grain products are rich in antioxidant nutrients. Adding these foods to your diet helps prevent the accumulation of free radicals, improves your cellular activity and might just let you live longer.  

Oxidation And Free Radicals

We cannot survive without oxygen. We breathe it daily to sustain a vital process called oxidation - the mechanism our cells use to metabolize fats and glucose into heat and energy.

However, oxidation, as vital as it is, results in waste products called free radicals - formed when weak bonds between atoms split. Free radicals contain an odd, unpaired electron that causes them to react quickly with other compounds, to find an electron to steal.

Although free radicals play an essential role in many biological processes, an accumulation causes damage to our cells. This damage eventually affects our immune system and DNA and if left unchecked can lead to chronic illnesses or diseases of the heart and cancer.

In addition to oxidation, other factors contribute to a build-up of free radicals. These factors include exposure to toxins in pollution, chemicals, and irritants we come across in our daily lives. Smoking and the consumption of junk food can also increase levels significantly.

Luckily the body has natural antioxidants levels that deals with free radicals and the damage caused by oxidation. Eating healthy antioxidant-rich foods supports this process significantly.

Together with a healthy lifestyle, a diet rich in antioxidants is a natural and effective means of eliminating or neutralizing free radicals in our body.

How Do Antioxidants Work

Antioxidants are thought to reduce the energy of free radicals by giving up some of their electrons - thereby causing the free radical to become stable.

Additionally, antioxidants may stop free radicals from forming in the first place by interrupting the oxidation process at particular points.

Different antioxidants provide support to different parts of the body. For example, Vitamin A is beneficial to our eyes, Vitamin C to our immune system, and Vitamin E our skin. There is a vast variety of antioxidants each helping us out in different ways.

Where Can You Find Them

Composition of products containing ascorbic acid

Regularly take foods rich antioxidants - in vitamin A, C, and E and minerals like Selenium, Zinc, and Manganese to ensure you adequately supply your body with antioxidants.

Vitamin A

Find Retinol or Vitamin A (or beta-carotene) in dark green, yellow, and orange vegetables and fruits. Liver, egg yolk, milk, butter, spinach, carrots, squash, broccoli, yams, tomato, cantaloupe, peaches, and grains are other sources.

Vitamin C

This water-soluble vitamin is present in citrus fruits and juices, cabbage, green peppers, broccoli, spinach, tomato, kale, guava, cantaloupe, kiwi, papaya, and strawberries.

Vitamin E

Eat this fat-soluble vitamin in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals. Wheat germ oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, hazelnuts, peanuts, spinach, broccoli, kiwi and mango also contain high levels.

Selenium

Selenium is an antioxidant trace mineral, essential to good health but needed only in small amounts. Good sources come from Brazil nuts, wheat germ, molasses, sunflower seeds, whole wheat bread, and dairy foods.

Herbs

Herbs, such as bilberry, turmeric (curcumin), grape seed or pine bark extracts, and ginkgo provide powerful antioxidant protection. Green tea is a rich source, making it an excellent antioxidant beverage.

Experts recommend a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, although you can try increasing to 7-10 servings for more effect.

Antioxidant Supplements

Many people take vitamin and mineral antioxidants in supplement form, a vitamin C tablet probably being the most common. 

A wide range of supplements are available today, touted to increase your antioxidant levels and to provide your health a boost.

However, studies on the benefits of supplements are mostly inconclusive, and The American Heart Association does not recommend using antioxidant vitamin supplements.

If you decide to take supplements, check your diet first with a trained nutritionist or doctor. Understand whether supplements are required, or are indeed healthy for you.

Lastly, supplements are not a cure for a bad diet, so make sure you remain on a healthy diet whether you are taking supplements or not.

Lifestyle Changes

Planning lifestyle changes with computer and notebook

Adapting to an antioxidant-rich diet is pretty simple. Cut out junk and processed foods and swap into healthy fruits and vegetables instead. Keep your meat intake limited consuming only lean meats and some seafood.

We've put together the pointers below.

Go Organic - Fruits and vegetables are the best sources for antioxidants, but organic is better than commercially produced. Herbicides, pesticides, and different types of fertilizers used in the production of non-organic food could contribute to levels of unacceptable free radicals. Additionally, studies have shown that organically grown fruits and vegetables boast a much higher concentration of antioxidants than those produced commercially.

Eat Fresh - Canned fruits and vegetables come with high levels of sugars and calories. Fresh, or freshly frozen is better and more natural.

Eat Your Colors - There are many foods high in antioxidants, so don't restrict yourself to a few choices. Foods in different color families contain different types of antioxidants with various benefits. Yellow peaches and nectarines help our immune systems. Purple-red pomegranates, plums, and berries reduce inflammation. Carrots are high in vitamin A. Eat foods from all color groups for maximum benefit.

Eat Raw - Eat your fruits and vegetables raw. If you prefer to cook, then do so gently. Overcooking can destroy a lot of the beneficial properties in the food you're eating. Prefer to steam and not boil vegetables as this is gentler, retaining their bright color and bite.

Watch Juices - Drink fruit and vegetable juices sparingly, especially smoothies. These often contain too much sugar fructose and are high in calories, even in a single serving. Additionally, the fruit or vegetable pulp is right for you, and most extracts don't have this.

Breakfast - Eat fruit for breakfast or a healthy grain high in antioxidants.

Snacks - Select raisins or red grapes for a snack instead of sweets. Baby carrots dipped in hummus make for the perfect snack satisfier.

Main Meals - Add a salad to your main meal of the day. Get excited about a broccoli salad for lunch. Or mix up a rice salad with a range of fresh vegetables for dinner. Add string beans, tomatoes, peppers, and red onions. But watch the salad dressing, again too many calories, and often sugar, oil, and fat levels elevate your dressing to junk status.

Dessert - try berries, with or without whipped cream or a chocolate sauce. Berries are high in antioxidants, one of the highest of all fruits.

Beverages - Stop drinking soda and have herbal tea (try Green or Chai) or even a coffee instead. Both tea and coffee contain enough antioxidants for you to benefit. Or take a glass of red wine at dinnertime - compounds in red grape skins are said to be high in antioxidants.

Be Adventurous - A variety of beautiful foods contain antioxidants, try them all and develop some favorites. Russet potatoes, artichokes, and small red beans are some examples.

Plant A Garden - Fruits and vegetables from your garden are a source of pride. You'll eat more as a result, and they'll be fresher and better for you than store-bought food.

Cook yourself - If you're ordering out every night, you're unlikely to eat the whole foods and natural fruits and vegetables for a healthy antioxidant intake. Junk and fast food are bad for you, no excuses.

Doing Antioxidants The Right Way, infographic

Summary

Doing antioxidants the right way is all about understanding what they are and why we need them. Then armed with that knowledge amending your diet to ensure you consume enough. 

Consume fresh and healthy real foods and try to avoid unnecessary supplements in tablet or synthetic form.   

Make subtle lifestyle changes to support a healthier you. Turning these changes and the foods you eat into good daily habits is the way to go. 

However - as always we urge you to consult with your doctor, physician, and a professional nutritionist before embarking on any new exercise or diet regime. Too much of a good thing can be bad for you when it comes to antioxidants. So before you make changes understand what you are doing and consult appropriately with the proper professionals. 

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