What Are Antioxidants And Why Should We Eat Them?
By: Anita Wallak, MS,RD,LDN
What exactly are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. To keep free radicals in check, your body has its own antioxidant defenses. However, your body also gets antioxidants from the food you eat. If antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals then what are free radicals?
To Understand Antioxidants You Must Understand What Free Radicals Are and How They Function
On a consistent basis your body is forming free radicals. These unstable molecules can harm your cells. With that being said, free radicals also serve important functions needed for good health like fighting infections. To function properly, your body needs to maintain a proper balance of free radicals and antioxidants. When this balance is disrupted it can lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Several lifestyle choices and environmental factors are known to promote increased free radical formation leading to oxidative stress, such as:
- Cigarette smoke
- Alcohol intake
- Exposure to environmental toxins & air pollution
- High blood sugar levels
- High intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids like refined vegetable oils
- Exposure to radiation
- Excessive intake of iron, magnesium, copper, zinc or vitamins C & E
- Too much or too little oxygen in your body
- Intense and prolonged exercise
- Antioxidant deficiency which leaves free radicals unchecked
So, back to Antioxidants…..
Dietary intake of antioxidants is necessary for good health but more is not always better. Excessive intake of antioxidants through vitamin supplements can promote oxidative damage. For this reason it is essential to avoid high doses of antioxidants supplements and obtain your antioxidants from eating plenty of antioxidant rich foods. Studies show that foods work better to reduce oxidative damage than supplements. Reducing stress, toxin exposure and alcohol intake, not smoking and eating a healthy, organic, well balanced diet rich in vegetables, healthy fats and fruits is the best way to reduce free radicals and obtain antioxidants. Here is a list of antioxidant rich foods:
- Dark chocolate
- Red cabbage
- Green tea
- Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries & cranberries
Anita Wallak is the founder of Eat Right To Live Right and is a Registered & Licensed Dietitian in the State of North Carolina. She has her MS in Nutrition and has been in the field of nutrition for 20 years. She is a member of Dietitians of Integrative & Functional Medicine and The American Dietetic Association.
Anita works with individuals who are struggling with a variety of digestive issues leading to pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation & more. She teaches her clients how to identify which foods are triggering their symptoms so they can regulate digestion, manage their symptoms and enjoy food again.