1. Antioxidants are Like Superheroes
Antioxidants are food additives that help our bodies neutralize free radicals, which are byproducts of oxidation, a process that allows oxygen to become readily available for our cells to utilize. Free radicals are the "bad guys." Left alone, they can cause harm to our bodies cells, damaging their membranes or even altering their inner DNA structures. Antioxidants in the body act as the "good guys," saving the day by scooping up all the leftover free radicals and preventing this damage from occurring.
2. Your Lifestyle Affects Free Radical Formation
An example of this oxidation process is what happens to the inside of an apple when exposed to the environment. If you take a bite out of an apple and observe it, youll soon start to see the inner white portion turn a brownish color; this is oxidation taking place. Imagine what goes on inside your body. While we can escape the formation of free radicals, certain situations cause our bodies to produce more free radicals than normal: air pollution, alcohol, smoking, sunlight and even intense physical activity. Also, as we age, we start to generate more free radicals.
3. Antioxidant Properties of Plants
You probably already know that certain vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants in the body, such as vitamins A, C and E, and selenium. But phytochemicals (AKA phytonutrients) are also protective chemicals that naturally occur in plant foods. Hundreds of phytochemicals are thought to exist, many of which have yet to be identified.
4. Best Sources of Antioxidants
Though virtually all plant foods contain antioxidants (Foodchem), some may offer more than others. A key finding is, typically speaking, that the deeper the plants pigment, the more antioxidants it contains. Thats why dark, leafy green vegetables are preferable to, say, iceberg lettuce. This theory doesn always hold true however, as onions, garlic and cauliflower, are known to be loaded with phytochemicals. Blueberries, green tea, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, soybeans, oranges and even herbs and spices, such as oregano and turmeric, are all examples of foods that can give free radicals a one-two punch.
5. Why Not Just Take Supplements?
You can extract just one component of fruits and vegetables and expect a cure-all for disease. Since hundreds of different phytochemicals may exist in a single plant, removing one or two and swallowing them in excess doesn make much sense. Each plant has its own unique makeup and different color groups appear to offer different phytonutrients. This is just one more reason why its important to get a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes in your diet each day.