What exactly IS an antioxidant?

Friday, November 7, 2008

I hear (and use) the expression all the time and I know it’s a good thing – but what does it do exactly? Stop us from oxidizing? Doesn’t that imply that we might rust?

I realized that I used the word, but if someone asked me to explain it, I would be left stammering with a blank look on my face. So I decided to research it a little.

Here is the first definition I found:

Antioxidant: Any substance that reduces oxidative damage (damage due to oxygen) such as that caused by free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that attack molecules by capturing electrons and thus modifying chemical structures.

Whaaaaaat? Perhaps I should try again.

Oh, this is much better: Antioxidants are substances or nutrients in our foods which can prevent or slow the oxidative damage to our body. When our body cells use oxygen, they naturally produce free radicals (by-products) which can cause damage. Antioxidants act as "free radical scavengers" and hence prevent and repair damage done by these free radicals.

Okay, so now I think I get it. We’ve got cellular waste products (free radicals) floating around in our system and damaging everything they can get their little mitts on. So we need to get the antioxidants in there to wipe the free radicals out before they get us all diseased up and destroy our most favorite organs. Does that sound right to you? Sounds at least good enough to fool someone who asks me about it, anyway.

Eating foods high in antioxidants (also known as phytonutrients) has many health benefits, including slowing down the aging process (skin, brain, other organs), lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer and boosting your immune system, to help fight against colds and flu. There is also research indicating they can be helpful in the prevention of Alzheimer's Disease.

This now leads to the question of where we might find these important antioxidants. Vitamins C and E, of course, are the big ones. Other than supplementing, where do we get it? I hope it’s in some really good food. So I can feel all virtuous for eating it. Any chance I might find them in Alfredo sauce?

Alas, no. No Alfredo sauce in any of the “superfoods” lists I’ve looked at. But there are lots of other things listed that I actually do like. And a few that I am willing to try.

The highest-ranking fruits are berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries), oranges, pink grapefruit, grapes, apricots, peaches, plums, prunes, raisins, pineapple and kiwi fruit.

The best vegetables are tomatoes, dark green leafy veggies (spinach, kale, etc.), Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, red peppers and carrots.

Kidney, pinto, red and black beans (dried) are also a great source, as are whole grains such as oats, barley and millet.

And let’s not forget the antioxidant properties of tea (green, white and black).

Interesting fact: The antioxidant content of tomatoes is actually increased by cooking, but cooking carrots decreases the antioxidant content.

It is recommended that you get in at least 5-8 antioxidant servings per day. Most of us only manage one or two. So have a couple more cups of tea, a big bowl of strawberries and blueberries (I don’t think adding Cool Whip negates the antioxidant benefits), throw some spinach in your salad and make up a pot of extra-beany chili.

Now follow that all up with a nice glass of red wine and you’re really kicking some free radical ass.


MizFit said...

damn, woman. ANOTHER GREAT POST.

just a reminder.

as always.

feel free to shoutout to yerself in my comments.

Im getting to that "last post the commenter wrote' plugin as soon as Im back from chicago.

happy weekend!

Cyndi said...

Yay, I had a bowl of extra-beany chili for dinner. Take that, free radicals!