Q: What are antioxidants and free radicals and why are they so important?
A: Free radical molecules are created when molecules are oxidized. Antioxidants stop free radicals, or oxidants, from traveling through your body and ravaging your cells. To better understand this idea, think about how some foods “oxidize” when they hit the air, such as how a peeled apple turns brown, or an avocado changes color once it is peeled.
In our bodies, oxidation can produce free radicals which can in turn cause the same damage to our cells. Antioxidants protect our cells from this damage. Research suggests that adding antioxidants to your diet can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, and may delay the onset of many age-related diseases.
The “major player” antioxidants are vitamins E and C, beta carotene and selenium. Our bodies do not make these nutrients, so we have to add them through the foods we eat, such as blueberries, blackberries, spinach, kale, barley, rye and oats. It’s easy to increase the amount of these foods in your diet just by adding them to other things you eat.
Here are some examples:
· Add fruits to your morning cereal: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are all full of antioxidants, and they are also tasty in yogurt or smoothies.
· Add broccoli, kale, spinach, tomato, green cabbage or green peppers to your salads – they add texture and flavor as well as extra nutrients.
· Remember to eat a “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables – use them with low-cal/low-fat dips and hummus, add veggies to soups, or as toppings for baked potatoes. Add them to pasta and potato salads for more texture and flavor. Fruit salads are a great addition to any meal.
· Apples are a great source of vitamin C and other antioxidants, but be sure to eat the peel, as that is where you’ll find most of the nutrients.
· Tomato sauce is also a great source of antioxidants, and besides being a great addition to pasta, it goes well in soups, with cooked veggies, in meatloaf and added to burgers, and potatoes as well.
· Tea contains antioxidants, and green tea has the highest amount. It should be steeped for approximately five minutes to release the optimal amount of antioxidants.
· Make sure the cereal you eat is fortified so it is rich in vitamin E. Add a little fruit and you’ll have a nutritious breakfast!
· Reach for fruit, veggies, or nuts when you want a mid day snack – you’ll be adding more antioxidants, and nuts are also rich in vitamin E. The protein in nuts will also help give you more energy when you’re feeling a little sluggish in between meals.