Free Radicals & Antioxidants

“Free Radicals” and “antioxidants” are words commonly tossed around in conversation and exploited by food manufacturers. But in reality, these concepts are essential to understand in order to maximize the benefit from our foods and to avoid falling into marketing traps.

Free radicals are unstable molecules (due to their unpaired electrons) which do damage to our body’s tissues via oxidation. The damage is done when these free radicals react with/oxidate other molecules within the body. The craziest part is that free radicals cause a chain reaction of oxidation! The continual detriment caused by free radical oxidation has been linked to many chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) makes a great analogy: “In your body, the antioxidant process is similar to stopping an apple from browning. Once you cut an apple, it begins to brown, but if you dip it in orange juice, which contains vitamin C, it stays white.” YIKES! Unhealthy foods like overly processed, fried, or burnt/charbroiled foods are sources of free radical creation. Avoid those for sure.

But there are ways to reduce these free radicals and prevent damage to our body. Cue to those wonderful antioxidants that we all know and love. Antioxidants are naturally found in our foods to help slow these free radicals down. Beware that many food manufacturers will advertise that their foods have high antioxidants. Berries and fruit have been the biggest vehicle for this. Pomegranate juice may provide from vitamins and antioxidants, but it comes at the price of ADDED sugar. It can turn a healthful source of antioxidants into a gut busting drink. Read the labels and try to transition into eating whole fruits and vegetables.

Per the AND: Antioxidants can be found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, some meats, poultry and fish, tea and red wine:

  • Vitamin A and carotenoids are found in carrots, squash, broccoli, tomatoes, peaches, apricots and other brightly colored fruits.
  • Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, as well as green peppers, broccoli and other green, leafy vegetables.
  • Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables and vegetable and liver oil.
  • Selenium can be found in fish and shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic.

To help boost your health, try incorporating more whole (and dark colored) fruits, vegetables, and grains in your diet along with these other sources. They provide the vitamins and minerals to prevent free radical oxidation within the body.

Antioxidants do a body good.

Thomas Ngo 🙂
Dietetic Intern
NASM Certified Personal Trainer

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