We have all been encouraged to eat foods rich in antioxidants for optimal health and wellness. But what are antioxidants?
Oxidation is a natural process that occurs in our body when we convert what we eat into energy. When oxygen is metabolized, it creates highly unstable molecules called “free radicals”. Free radicals can attack and damage healthy cells – a major factor in the development of problems such as cancer and heart disease and accelerating the aging process.
Eating plenty of antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, is one of the best ways to prevent oxidative stress. They are our first line of defence against free radical damage. They are natural compounds capable of stabilizing or neutralizing free radicals before they cause damage.
The best antioxidant sources are in the skin of fruits and vegetables (especially those with bright, distinctive colours). Some antioxidants are also found in beverages, notably wine and tea. The most common antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, selenium and lycopene.
So, the best way to improve your diet is to brighten it up and eat a rainbow of at least five to seven portions of fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidants are also available as dietary supplements. However, there is increasing evidence that antioxidants are more effective when obtained from whole foods.
This is better than taking a supplement alone, or with a limited amount of other substances or, even worse, one that is synthetically produced. Furthermore, some supplements at high doses can actually increase the risk of cancer in some individuals. It is important to remember that to be effective, protective antioxidants and phytonutrients from vegetables, legumes and fruits need to be consumed consistently throughout our lives from an early age.