Antioxidants are the body’s “knight in shining armor”. They provide the body with tools to neutralize harmful free radical activity that is constantly going on in the body. Our body can usually fight off these destructive compounds by itself; but with the harmful UV-radiation, pollutants, alcohol, pesticides, ect., that we come in contact with our environment, it renders our bodies' ability to fight its own battles almost defenseless. Antioxidants, by their very nature, are capable of stabilizing free radicals before they can react and cause harm, in much the same way that a buffer stabilizes an acid to maintain a normal pH. Free radical production is normal, but without adequate neutralization, they can overpower the body’s ability to fight for itself, and these radicals can cause damage to the structure and function of the body’s cells. There is good evidence that this damage contributes to aging and leads to a host of degenerative illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, just to name a few. By consuming antioxidants, you can provide your body with the “back-up” it needs to fight these harmful radicals. Supplementing is an “OK” way to start, but eating the actual food itself is ideal. Whole foods not only contain the antioxidants themselves, but they also contain other complementary nutrients and phytochemicals essential to maintain good health. Whole foods also provide better insurance than supplements that you’re getting the proper amounts and form of each antioxidant. There are over 4,000 compounds in foods that act as antioxidants. The most talked about and studied are vitamins A, C, and E; the mineral selenium; the carotenoids beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein; and the flavonoids. The list below shows the antioxidants and the best food sources for each one: Vitamin A—Liver, dairy products, fish Vitamin C—Citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, green leafy veggies, strawberries, raw cabbage, and potatoes. Vitamin E—Oils, wheat germ, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy veggies, vegetable oil, and fish-liver oil. Selenium—Fish, shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken, and garlic. Carotenoids—
Beta-carotene: carrots (especially cooked), Beets, sweet potatoes, other yellow-orange vegetables.
Lycopene: tomatoes and processed tomato products (especially cooked), pink grapefruit.
Lutein: kale, spinach, collards, corn, eggs, citrus. Flavonoids—Berries, cherries, red grapes, apples, strawberries, cranberries, tea, wine, cocoa, chocolate, onion, broccoli, peanuts, cinnamon. In Summary: current research shows that there are positive health benefits from consuming a diet high in antioxidant-rich whole foods. Similar benefits from the intake of the same antioxidants in the form of supplements have not been proven to be beneficial. Thus, the recommendations by the US government and other health organizations are to consume a varied diet with a minimum of five fruits and vegetables per day. The keyword being “varied”. Eating various colors, textures, and types of fruits and vegetables will help to guarantee you are getting all the “knights in shining armor” you need!
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