The health benefits of antioxidants
Why antioxidants are good and free radicals are bad
Awareness of the potential health benefits of antioxidants to body maintenance is growing. An antioxidant is a substance that prevents damage or destruction by oxidation. Although oxygen is a vital element for our existence; in certain circumstances it can be damaging.
The process in which oxygen combines with another material is called oxidation. For instance, unprotected iron will turn to rust when oxidised, fruits will turn brown, and butter will become rancid. A similar process occurs in the body causing it to degenerate and age, and as we get older more oxidation occurs in the body.
When our cells are exposed to free radicals, this process of oxidisation occurs. Therefore, our ageing process depends on our ability to protect our cells from oxidation. However, this is no easy task; we are exposed to free radicals every day, introduced to the body from toxic chemicals that are either breathed in or absorbed through the skin.
The body’s oxidative reaction occurs due to the exposure to environmental toxins that are present in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the household products we use. And it is these ‘free radicals’ that contribute to the oxidative reactions in the body and cause tissues to damage and can also affect memory and mood, wrinkling of the skin, hardening of the arteries, stiffening joints — the list goes on.
Exposure to environmental toxins dramatically increases the level of free radicals in the body, sometimes beyond what our body can fight on its own. The human body is capable of handling and neutralising a certain amount, but when the system is overloaded the body’s normal ability to cope with them is compromised and become susceptible to premature ageing and disease.
Free radicals can be found in the following:
- Junk food
- Refined foods, such as sugar and white flour
- Processed foods (canned, frozen and ready made meals)
- Colourings, preservatives and food additives
- Chemotherapy or radiation exposure (X-rays, TV and computer monitors)
- Drugs and medications
- Coffee and tea
- Hydrogenated and saturated fat (margarine and oils)
- Fizzy drinks
- Exposure to heat or cold
- Household chemicals
- Tap water
- Cigarette smoke and alcohol
Fortunately there are nutritional approaches to protect the body from free radical damage. Antioxidants are powerful nutrients that have shown to be efficient in minimising the effects of free radicals. Antioxidants are nature’s free radical fighters and occur naturally in plant foods. Therefore, if we are not getting enough variety and quantity of antioxidants, these toxic chemicals will destroy cells leaving the body vulnerable to disease.
The body needs plenty of antioxidants to help destroy free radicals, to promote the growth of healthy cells and protect these cells against premature ageing. Much of the damage can be repaired in a short amount of time by simply providing the brain and body with repeated doses of antioxidants. Eating fruits and vegetables at optimal ripeness and consuming them in less processed forms without removing their skins, provides quality antioxidants.
Organic produce is high in antioxidants as well as being rich in flavour and full in nutrients. It is worth remembering that no matter how healthy your lifestyle is, you will be exposed to free radicals. Therefore antioxidant-rich foods are a must to your everyday diet. To help protect your body, nature has provided us with a wide range of different antioxidants. They are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seeds, beans and many other natural foods. The more antioxidants the body gets, the better it is able to adapt to stress.
Antioxidants can be found in the following foods:
- Whole and unrefined foods
- Natural plants (fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, whole grains, beans, raw nuts and seeds)
- Raw foods
- Cold-pressed oils (olive, canola and flax)
- Free-range meat and eggs
Nutrients that reduce free radical damage
The best sources of antioxidants to fight free radicals are rich in vitamins C, E and vitamins B, flavonoid and beta-carotene. Below is a quick guide to foods that are high in these nutrients, and therefore packed with antioxidants:
- Berries (cranberries, blackberries, blueberries) and citrus fruits are potent antioxidants that promote collagen and reduce wrinkles keeping the skin looking young.
- Carrots and apricots protect the skin against sun’s ray damage.
- Green leaves, vegetables, apples, oranges, cherries, beets, carrots, artichokes and strawberries are rich in the minerals copper, magnesium, and selenium; all needed for healthy hair, nails and bones.
- Bee pollen, royal jelly and bee propolis are complete foods. These powerful antioxidants contain 22 amino acids and vitamins D, K and E, carbohydrates and proteins. A human body can survive on bee pollen alone. This is an energy booster and can help alleviate allergy symptoms.
- Lycium fruits and liquorice flavonoids are high antioxidants which help counteract effect of chemotherapy and radiography (radiation).
- Aloe Vera raw gel (cold-pressed only) contains an abundance of 75 minerals and vitamins including the rare B12 and 12 amino acids which help with digestive and skin disorders. Aloe Vera is a miracle plant and a natural healer.
- Raw nuts and seeds, dark fish, seaweed and avocado are rich in EFA, omega-3, alpha- linoleic acid and selenium. These foods can influence against premature ageing and enhance your memory.
- Chestnuts, papayas, sprouts, squash, sweet potatoes, kiwi, broccoli, cabbage, spinach can help detoxify the liver.
European studies have found that high intake of flavonoid from vegetables and fruits are related to low heart disease and cancer.
Many of these foods improve the functioning of the immune system. When the body is healthy it can cope with free radicals as it has a mechanism into place to ensure their destruction. To achieve a healthy complexion eat plenty of raw food and drink lots of water. What goes into your body reflects your overall appearance!