Oxygen, as we all know, is essential for us to live, to aid the metabolic processes and as a dietary nutrient for the production of much needed energy. Oxygen is also instrumental in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins for producing energy.
Antioxidants are defined as molecules which prevent the pathological oxidation of other molecules. To understand their role, it is necessary to understand the term called Oxidation.
What is Oxidation?
Oxidation is a chemical reaction in which electrons are given up. One fact which many of us do not know is that Oxygen is highly reactive; it may sometimes combine with some dangerous molecules (like high molecular weight metal atoms) to form what is called as “Free radicals”. These free radicals are charged toxic oxygen or free radical oxygen atoms capable of initiating chain reactions in cells. There are varieties called peroxide and superoxide.
When there is a disturbance in the balance between the oxidizing elements and antioxidants, it results in a condition called oxidative stress. A surge in oxidative metabolism is the result.
The result is cell damage which may result in its death. The creation of oxidants has its importance for the human body but, like all good things, an excess of oxidation is harmful to the body.
This cell damage by free radicals is responsible for damaging cells and causing several serious disorders and diseases. It is now known that Oxidative damage to proteins, DNA and other molecules may have a particularly damaging effect on the cells of an ageing body and cause diseases like:
- Deterioration of the immune system,
- Deterioration or slowing down of the functions of the brain,
- Heart diseases and
Antioxidants are produced artificially, or available naturally, in certain fruits and vegetables. These are the compounds which have property to combine with and thus neutralize the effects of free radicals. Of course, they are available in the markets as dietary supplements.
Sources of antioxidants
Research and experience tells us that we should have foods rich in vitamins and minerals; but, in this current scenario it is not always possible to ascertain the nutritive values and the amount of vitamins in every food that we eat. Besides, all fast foods cannot have balanced nutrients. This issue has been almost resolved by the introduction of what are called super foods.
Super foods and supplements
Dietary supplements provide your body with the required amount of vitamins, minerals or antioxidants to protect you from a shortage and save you from harmful effects like diseases.
But, just taking dietary supplements is not recommended; you have to supplement your food. Imbalance in the intake of vitamins or minerals has a derogatory effect e.g. an excess of Iron may reduce your Zinc absorption. Supplements also interfere with the effects of antibiotics and other medication which you take.
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In fact, the best benefit is provided by natural foods like fruits, vegetables and other foods called super foods. Some super foods are:
- Grapes: Red, Blue or Purple contain vitamin C, selenium, proanthocyanidin, phytochemicals and anthocyanin; beneficial in Cancer and Heart disease.
- Blueberries: Provide protection to the immune system and has phytochemicals that protect against Cancer.
- Redberries: have ellagic acid and a phytochemical which protect against Cancer.
- Greens: are nutritious and have Potassium, magnesium vitamins A, C, E and calcium.
- Orange veggies, Sweet potatoes Carrots and other orange vegetables are full of Vitamin A and phyto chemicals.
- Nuts are the best with good fats, carbohydrates, Omega 3 and selenium.
- Tea has Phytochemicals, Catechins and antioxidants to prevent cell damages and Cancer.
- Whole grains lower the risk of heart diseases and stroke; provide selenium, phytochemicals and zinc.
- Fish: Provides Omega 3 fatty acids; prevents coronary heart diseases.
- Beans: have many nutrients, Vitamin C, selenium, Zinc, folate, calcium and have antioxidant properties.
Now that you know the health benefits and rich sources of antioxidants, try to include them in your diet as it is possible. For example, you can include fruits and vegetables in various recipes and salads. In particular, recently, paleo diet is grabbing attention of the fitness conscious people. If you want to stay healthier it’s important to modify your diet according your body needs and your lifestyle.