I hope you all are having a wonderful summer! Today I’m answering a very timely question from Dr. Ann’s Facebook page about antioxidants. Summer brings a lot of delicious antioxidant rich foods. During the summer we are also exposed to a lot of things that can damage our bodies like sunshine and smoke from a bonfire. Confused by all that? Read on and I will explain.
Inside our bodies we continuously have activities going on that help us stay alive and well. Enzymes break down food in our stomach, our blood receives oxygen from our lungs, our kidneys create urine as they clean our blood, and our skin reacts to sunlight by becoming burned or tan (or both). I’m listing just a few examples, at any given time there are hundreds of activities going on in our bodies. Some of these activities have the potential to create free radicals.
So what is a free radical and why do we care about them? A free radical is a type of atom, which are the smallest building blocks in our body. Unlike most atoms, free radicals are very reactive and can be destructive to our cells until they are neutralized. Visualize what happens when you add vinegar to baking soda. The fizzing is a chemical reaction that neutralizes the acid in the vinegar. This type of reaction happens in our body when we have formed free radicals in order to neutralize them. This reaction can be damaging to our cell structure and excessive free radical formation contributes to aging and chronic and degenerative diseases.
Antioxidants play a huge role in neutralizing the free radicals in our body, just like baking soda neutralizes the acid in vinegar. Our body manufactures some antioxidants during normal metabolic processes but not all antioxidants can be made by our bodies. Those must be supplied by our diet. The major antioxidant vitamins that we consume are Vitamins A, E, and C and Beta Carotene. If our bodies do not have enough antioxidants circulating to neutralize all the free radicals we are forming, damage occurs to our cells which can then lead to disease.
There are many other compounds in foods that have antioxidant capabilities. You may see foods containing these compounds advertised as ‘superfoods’. The antioxidant qualities of these compounds are known but there are many more that haven’t been fully researched yet (some examples you may see on packaging are phenols, lycopene, flavinoids and phenolic acids). Don’t be misled by the term ‘superfood’, it is simply a marketing tool to persuade consumers to buy more of a particular item. All fruits and vegetables have antioxidant capabilities and the old advice “eat the rainbow” certainly holds true. Eat all of the delicious ripe fruits and vegetables summer has to offer and know that you are doing your body good.