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Thursday, March 11, 2010

What In The World Are Free Radicals And Antioxidants?

This week I wrote that almonds are an important source of vitamin E, an excellent antioxidant.  We've all seen the words 'antioxidant' and 'free radicals' but what do they mean?  Why are these words important to us and why should we care?  Learning about antioxidants and free radicals makes a good case for eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidants are substances that counteract the damaging but normal effects of oxidation in our body.  Oxidation is the process that causes iron to rust and peeled apples to turn brown.  Oxidation occurs when the production of harmful molecules called free radicals is beyond the defenses of available antioxidants.  Free radicals form inside our body but are also caused by outside influences such as pollution, sunlight, alcohol, smoking and x-rays.  The normal process of aging causes damage to cells over time.  Too much damage by free radicals is thought to play a major role in heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimers and other diseases.  Antioxidants block free radicals. 

So we could just take supplements, right?  Sorry but studies have not yet shown that taking supplements with extra antioxidants is helpful.  Indeed, high doses can cause toxicity.  Nothing is easily fixed by taking a pill.  Moma was so right when she told you to eat your vegetables.  Following is a list of some more common antioxidants and their sources. 

Vitamin E - vegetable oil, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, avocado, wheat germ and leafy green vegetables

Vitamin C - citrus fruits, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, strawberries

Beta carotene - cantaloupe, pumpkin, peppers, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes

Selenium - seafood, beef, pork, chicken, brown rice, whole wheat bread

You can see that some foods contain several antioxidants, besides fiber and other minerals we need to be healthy.  I'm hoping today's post will inspire you to add more fruits and vegetables to your family's diet everyday.  Have a good weekend and Happy Eating! 

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