We hear nutrition buzz words like antioxidants, free radicals, and oxidative stress all the time… but what do they really mean, and more importantly what does it mean for your health?
Photo by Darren Hester
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals is a chemistry term that describes a molecule that is unstable. A molecule is unstable when it has an uneven number of electrons, and is constantly searching to bond with other molecules to gain that electron.
When an unstable molecule bonds with an existing stable molecule, it “steals” the electron it needs and causes a domino effect by making the once-stable molecule turn into a new free radical.
The term “free” refers to the fact that these molecules are traveling throughout the body looking for a fix (an electron).
Sounds innocent enough, but free radicals are responsible for:
- Accelerated aging
- Destruction of DNA
- Clogging of arteries
- Tissue damage
I should add that our body naturally produces free radicals when it needs to fight off viruses and bacteria. However, most of us have way too many free radicals due to environmental factors like pollution, radiation, smoking or inhaling smoke, pesticides, herbicides, and stress.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are phytochemicals, vitamins, and other nutrient dense substances that fight free radicals. Antioxidants to the rescue!
How can you tell if a food has antioxidants? Colors!
Plants create different colorful pigments to protect themselves from the sun’s UV rays. Plants too can develop free radicals if they are under too much ultra violet sun light. That’s why they develop bright and colorful antioxidants.
Lucky for us, we can eat these colorful plants and fruits and gain the beneficial antioxidants to help us fight free radicals.
Ever notice how all of these “antioxidant superfoods” are dark and colorful like pomegranate, blueberries, acai, etc? Yep, it’s those color pigments that have the antioxidant properties we’re looking for.
Antioxidants act like scavengers for free radicals, giving them one of their electrons. The key is that antioxidants continue to be stable even if they donate an electron. Hence antioxidants have a stabilizing effect, that can repair damage and prevent more from happening.
Antioxidants also improve your body’s immune system, helping you fight off colds and out of control cell reproduction.
Photo by Doug Wheller
How Do You Get Antioxidants Naturally?
I’ve already hinted at this in the previous section, but the trick to getting your antioxidants in naturally is to eat lots of colorful plant based foods.
Think in rainbows. Dark blues and purples, shimmering reds, yummy oranges, delightful yellows, powerful greens.
When you shop at the farmer’s market or grocery store, look for the bright colors. Manufacturers try to lure you in with brightly designed boxes and cans, but if you let your instincts kick in you’ll be drawn to the naturally beautiful colors of fresh organic produce.
Studies have shown that eating more than 5 portions of fresh fruits and vegetables each day can cut down your risk for heart disease and stroke by 25%.
I think these natural antioxidants are working their magick!
Leave a comment
What’s your favorite colorful fruit or veggie? Leave a comment below and let me know!