What Are Antioxidants? The Benefits of Antioxidants and How They Can Improve Your Health

Berry Sunday!Written By Becki Andrus

You have probably heard the term “antioxidants” and know that they are good for your health, but do you know why these nutrients are so essential for health and wellness? Researchers are becoming more aware of the benefits of antioxidants and how they can improve overall health.

My goal with this blog post is to help you understand what antioxidants are, why we need to have antioxidants, how they will benefit you, and how to include antioxidants with your everyday eating habits.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are nutrients that can be found in certain types of foods. These nutrients are essential for the body to heal, repair and grow. According to merriam-webster.com, the definition of antioxidant is:

A substance (as beta-carotene or vitamin C) that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen, peroxides, or free radicals.

So, simply put… antioxidants are nutrients that work to prevent bad things from happening inside your body. There are different types of antioxidants found in different foods, but they all work to prevent disease and promote health.

Why Do We Need Antioxidants?

Animal tissue (ie the human body) goes through a process called “oxidation” which is a normal process, but it can be damaging to the cells. This oxidation causes aging, illness, and wear-and-tear on the human body.

The oxidation process is very normal and natural, and the body is constantly replenishing itself by creating new cells and getting rid of the old, damaged cells. Most of the time, the body is able to efficiently manage the old cells, but there are times when some of these cells are damaged and they become “free-radicals.”

Free radicals can lead to unwanted molecular changes, because those free radicals often hurt healthy cells. Studies have linked higher levels of free radicals to diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Free radicals can also occur when you are exposed to toxic substances such as cigarette smoke, high levels of alcohol, pesticides, chemicals, and pollution. And these toxic substances can be found everywhere in our modern world, including in many of the unhealthy foods that people eat.

The problem is that these free radicals can cause a reaction within the body, which will lead to disease and a decrease in health. Some doctors refer to it as a chain reaction, because the free radical cells will begin to take over so that they healthy cells are unable to function as well.

Now, don’t be too alarmed about the free radicals in your body, because they can be cleaned up by providing your body with enough antioxidants. Make a goal to provide your body with good antioxidants so that it can effectively clean up the free radicals and prevent disease.

When you are eating foods high in antioxidants, those nutrients are able to stop the chain reactions that are occurring from the free radicals. Antioxidants clean up the free radicals, and they can even reverse the effects of the free radicals.

The Benefits of Antioxidants

When you are consuming antioxidants on a regular basis, you are providing your body with the necessary supplies and tools that it needs to prevent disease and reverse damage. The human body naturally works towards optimum health, but it is absolutely necessary to provide the important building blocks in order to be healthy.

When you are eating lots of fresh, whole foods you will be getting the antioxidants that your body needs. Consuming these foods provides the nutrition, and the antioxidants will be able to get to work on a cellular level.

As the antioxidants are working in your body, they identify free radicals and neutralize them. Antioxidants also work to reverse the damage that has occurred from the free radicals. As the antioxidants work on the free radicals, they become oxidized themselves—so it is necessary for the body to get rid of them through normal processes of waste removal.

And since the antioxidants have already been used, it is necessary to continually provide your body with new antioxidants so that it can keep working to prevent the disease and damage that occurs from the free radicals.

Antioxidants are able to prevent disease and damage by locating the free radicals before they are able to damage the healthy cells. Neutralizing those free radicals immediately is the best way to stay healthy and avoid serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

How To Include Antioxidants With Your Everyday Eating Habits

There are different types of antioxidants, including vitamin E, vitamin C, flavonoids, beta carotene, zinc, and selenium (to name a few). Each of these nutrients work in different ways, so it is essential that you are getting all of them on a regular basis.

Some people turn to supplements and vitamins for their antioxidant needs, and then they choose to eat whatever they want. This is the wrong approach! Some studies have shown that antioxidants found in supplements are not as effective as the natural source from whole foods.

Additionally, these supplements provide people with a false sense of security, so they take their vitamins in the morning and then eat unhealthy foods throughout the day. Remember, that those unhealthy foods can actually promote free radicals in your body, so you need to avoid the unhealthy foods and replace them with health, whole foods that will fight free radicals.

The most effective way to provide your body with these antioxidants is by eating a variety of whole foods. Fresh, raw fruits and vegetables are all very high in antioxidants and other nutrients, and they will provide your body with the building blocks that it needs to prevent disease.

There are many touted superfoods that companies use to market their product, for example acai berry has been a hot topic in recent years. Big business use these hot items to market their products—but many times the juice or supplement is very sub-par compared to eating the real thing (because of the processing that occurs to create the product).

Yes, acai berries contain antioxidants that can be beneficial to your health… but there are also many other fresh fruits and vegetables that contain some of the same nutrients. Stop spending your hard earned money on potions and pills, and choose to spend it on fresh produce instead. You will be able to get the same antioxidants by eating a variety of whole foods each day (and it’s much cheaper)!

Be sure that you are eating a variety and whole foods, and eat them in the most natural form possible. For example, only eating acai berries all day long is not healthy because your body needs a good balance of different foods in order to get the different nutrients that are available.

Include more fruits and vegetables with each meal. Add fresh fruit or a green smoothie to your breakfast every day, munch on raw veggies as a snack, have a big salad for lunch, serve several types of vegetables with your dinner (or make the vegetable the focus of your dinner.

High Antioxidant Foods

Here are some foods that are high in antioxidants, this is not a comprehensive list but will give you some good ideas about the types of foods that contain these antioxidants:

Vitamin E sources: seeds, avocado, walnuts, almonds, wheat germ, and leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens, chard, etc)

Vitamin C sources: citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, mandarins, etc. Also, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and strawberries

Beta-carotene sources: Think orange-colored fruits and vegetables… carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, peppers, apricots, and squash. Also, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.

Selenium sources: brazil nuts, oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and walnuts.

Are you noticing a trend here… many of these antioxidants can be consumed by drinking a green smoothie daily or eating fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal! So, next time you drink down your green smoothie or eat a big, fresh salad—remember that you are providing your body with a high amount of nutrition to fight those free radicals and keep you healthy and well!

Photo credit: mischiru

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