Guest Post: Antioxidants vs. Free Radicals: Help The Good Guys Win!

Photo by F Delventhal on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons attribution license.

This is a guest post by Lori Kennedy of WOW! Weight Loss, the nutrition program available at all WFCC clubs. Find out more at their website, or follow them on Twitter @woww8loss! If you’re interested in getting into a healthy eating groove, you can email Lori directly, too.

You hear it all the time: TV commercials and advertisements promote them and food-packaging labels claim to have them. They’re antioxidants, the greatest enemy to free radicals.

While antioxidants and free radicals are buzzwords these days, just what are they and what role do they play in your health?

Read on to find out what the hype is all about.

Getting Free Radicals

Free radicals are damaged cells created when your cells combine with oxygen. Practically 99 percent of the time, healthy cells form, but 1 or 2 percent of the time, cells get damaged in the process. These cells end up with molecules that have unpaired electrons, which end up causing damage as they try to “steal” electrons from other cells, which damages them in turn; these rogue molecules are called “free radicals”. As their name suggests, they are loners and are up to no good. In order to find their missing electrons, free radicals attack healthy cells, injuring them and damaging their DNA. When healthy cells become mutated, they can begin to quickly multiply and grow abnormally, setting off a chain reaction and setting the stage for disease.

Although a certain number of free radicals exist naturally in the body and are actually necessary for certain biological processes, an excess of free radicals can be deadly. Free radicals in the body can be caused by air pollution, cigarette smoke, asbestos, excessive sun exposure, contaminated food or drinking water, toxins, pesticides, and excessive alcohol. Over time, the damage caused by free radicals may lead to a weakened immune system (causing colds, flu, or infection); signs of aging; or chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutritious substances that wage war against the free radicals in your body. Different types of antioxidants have different jobs. Some, such as vitamin C, work to prevent and protect from damage caused by free radicals by capturing and neutralizing them. Others, like vitamin E, endeavor to put an end to the cell damage by breaking the chain reaction and repairing damaged cells.

Types of Antioxidants

In the war against free radicals, your body needs a strong defense system. Antioxidants are this natural defense. Important as one source of antioxidants is, your body needs a variety of antioxidants to do the job. You can’t just fill up on blueberries and expect them to take care of everything. Each type of antioxidant targets different body tissues, different cell parts, and different types of radicals. They all work together, so you need to eat a variety of healthy food.

There are two types of antioxidants. The main class is flavonoids and the smaller class is polyphenols. Antioxidants are divided further into various substances including beta-carotene; lycopene; lutein; selenium (a mineral made of antioxidant enzymes); zinc; and vitamins A, C, and E.

Finding the Goods

“Canadians get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close.” – Joe Vinson

Many foods contain antioxidants. The main sources are fruits and vegetables; nuts, whole grains, and legumes; and some poultry, fish, and meat. Here’s a list broken down by type of antioxidant.

Beta-carotene is found in orange foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos. It’s also in green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.

Lycopene is mainly found in tomatoes, guava, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, and apricots.

Lutein is abundant in green, leafy veggies such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.

Selenium can be found in rice, wheat, meat, bread, and Brazil nuts.

Zinc comes to you courtesy of oysters, poultry, meat, nuts, beans, seafood, dairy products, whole grains, and fortified cereals.

Vitamin A is in foods including sweet potatoes, carrots, liver, milk, egg yolk, and mozzarella cheese.

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is found in fruits, veggies, cereals, poultry, fish, and beef.

Vitamin E, which some know as alpha-tocopherol, is found in almonds, mangos, broccoli, nuts, carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, sunflower seeds, papaya, and various kinds of oils.

Now that you know about the battle going on inside and how to fight it well, store up on the good stuff and watch free radicals be pushed out of your body!

LORI SAYS: Want to know how your diet stacks up? Are you getting enough of the nutritious foods that you need? For the next 7 days I am offering a FREE 45 minute no-obligation Nutrition and Dietary Analysis. Email me directly to schedule your analysis now. The deadline to take advantage of this offer is Tuesday, September 25, so be quick!