For the last decade we have heard repeatedly how important antioxidants are for us, and every other day we learn about another new superfood claiming magical powers – maybe because there seems to be always some emerging research in this field.
But what’s funny to me is that most people don’t even know what an antioxidant is.
So What Is An antioxidant?
An antioxidant is a vitamin, mineral, or other nutrient that may protect and repair cells in the body against damage caused by free radicals. A free radical could occur for many reasons, including exposure to pollution, tobacco smoke, chemicals, or an unhealthy diet.
Which Foods Are Rich In Them?
Various antioxidants are found in a variety of foods.
Here’s just a few.
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: spinach, sweet potato, tomatoes, apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, kale, mangoes, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash
Vitamin C: bell peppers (red, green, or yellow), strawberries, tomatoes, berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, nectarines, orange, papaya
Vitamin E: broccoli, carrots, chard, red peppers, spinach, mustard and turnip greens, nuts, sunflower seeds
Zinc: oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals, dairy products
Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry and fortified breads, other grain products
What Do Antioxidants Do ?
With all the research to date, sometimes it does seem that antioxidants are good for everything including the kitchen sink. But from what I could find, most studies suggest that antioxidants can help reduce the risk for certain cancers and heart disease — but even this is still not 100 percent conclusive. And specifically vitamins C and E, zinc, and beta-carotene may decrease the risk of age-related eye disease as well.
Health Benefits of Antioxidants
Antioxidants benefit your health by cleaning free radicals out of your bloodstream. They have a range of health benefits; some studies have shown that antioxdants reduce the signs of aging by minimizing wrinkles and preserving the texture of the skin. They can even protect your skin from sun damage, and reduce the incidence of sunburn.
Although antioxidants aren’t proven to treat any conditions, research has shown that antioxidants have also been implicated in the prevention of a number of degenerative, age-related disease, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cognitive impairment
- Immune dysfunction
- Macular degeneration
Different antioxidants benefit different parts of the body. For instance, the beta carotene found in carrots can help maintain eye health. The lycopene found in tomatoes can contribute to prostate health. The flavonoids found in tea, cocoa and chocolate are good for your heart, while the proanthocyanidins found in cranberries and apples can aid in the maintenance of the urinary tract.
In order to ensure that you get plenty of antioxidants in your daily diet, the USDA recommends that you eat a varied diet, with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and six to eleven servings of grains, including at least three servings of whole grains.