What are antioxidants and free radicals? Free radicals (don’t you just love the name of these things?) are molecules in our bodies that have lost an electron and as a result are considered to be unstable. Free radicals affect other molecules in our bodies causing damage to DNA. It is suggested that free radical damage may lead to cancer. Sounds like an enemy to me.
Enter the superhero to fight these villains: the Amazing Antioxidants. Antioxidants can help prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals. How, you ask? They neutralize the free radicals by providing the lost electrons to the molecules, stabilizing those molecules and avoiding further damage. In addition, antioxidants can help the body eliminate the free radicals. In general, free radicals are bad; antioxidants are good. Now what do we do with this information?
The first conclusion is to get more antioxidants into our bodies. I think. How much we need is unclear, but I have observed that antioxidants have made it into the marketing world. Labels on all kinds of food and condiments, such as ketchup, claim their use of antioxidants to encourage us to use their products. In general, however, antioxidants are found naturally in fruits and vegetables and also contained in some meats, poultry, fish, nuts and grains. Some suggestions are yellow and orange vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin); green and leafy vegetables (turnip greens, spinach, kale); and some other fruits such as strawberries, cranberries and plums. Other famous veggies containing antioxidants are broccoli, red and green peppers, and tomatoes. No wonder the ketchup bottle claims to have antioxidants in there! Antioxidants are also a component of some vitamins, such as vitamins A (found in liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, egg yolks and mozzarella cheese), C (found in fruits, vegetables, cereals, beef, poultry and fish) and E (found in almonds, many oils, mangoes, nuts, broccoli and other foods).
Antioxidants can be overdone, however. Clinical trials for the use of antioxidants in preventing cancer have recently been found to be inconclusive. Like all suggestions for health and nutrition, it is recommended to consult with the professionals. Talking with your doctor is the most important step in health care you can take. Perhaps your oncologist can suggest a nutritionist to serve your particular needs if you are interested in incorporating antioxidants into your food regimen. The bottom line: use common sense. This article and others like it are simply small puzzle pieces toward your overall health research, not the solution to the entire puzzle. Grandma was right when she said: “eat your vegetables!” I guess she knew more about free radicals and antioxidants than I realized.