When you breathe, eat or exercise, your body produces potentially harmful molecules called free radicals, which many scientists suspect can contribute to illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants are the super-heroes that help battle free radicals in your body, but in order to get them, you must eat a variety of healthy foods daily.
Free Radicals Can Make Us Sick
Smoke and emissions from cars and factories, pesticides, alcohol and cigarettes are all contaminants that, when they enter the human body, can have negative effects. These are called free radicals, and scientists think they contribute to serious illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, to name a few, according to a 2013 story at WashingtonPost.com.
Antioxidants to the Rescue
Antioxidants are thought to be the antidote to free radicals. Antioxidants come in many forms -- mostly vitamins and minerals -- and they work together inside the body to help keep cells working properly. To get enough beneficial antioxidants, you should eat a variety of foods that contain beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium and the vitamins A, C and E. These are found in many foods, and doctors recommend eating these foods over taking dietary supplements that claim to contain antioxidants.
Foods High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans) and some varieties of meat, fish and poultry. Grapes, kiwi fruit and wild blueberries are a few of the most effective foods when it comes to raising the body's level of antioxidants, according to a study published in the April 2007 issue of the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition." Other star performers include spinach, kale, nuts, tuna and oranges.
How to Get the Most Benefit
You might think that eating large quantities of the foods highest in antioxidants would be the most beneficial, but that's not the case. Because no one understands exactly how each antioxidant works inside the body, it's not clear which job each one performs. Scientists know that antioxidants in general work to counteract the negative effects that free radicals have on our bodies, but haven't yet pinpointed exactly how they do it. This is why doctors and nutritionists recommend eating a variety of healthy foods across the spectrum to ensure our bodies get the most benefit from antioxidants.
- The Washington Post: Health and Science -- Antioxidants Are Beneficial, but Consumers Should Know the Myths About Them
- National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Antioxidants
- United States Department of Agriculture: A Daily Dose of Antioxidants
- Nutrition.gov: Antioxidants and Phytonutrients
- Cleveland Clinic: Antioxidants and Good Food Sources
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