Day in and day out we set ourselves up for the potential of developing an infection or disease. When we’re at work, walking the dog, going for a jog or simply picking up our children from daycare, our bodies are fighting against potential health threats.
Consuming a healthy, well-rounded diet is one step we can all take to provide our bodies with the help it needs to combat these threats. One important area to focus on when looking at your diet is antioxidant consumption.
We hear the term “antioxidants” thrown around fairly often, usually followed by benefits and the importance of adequate consumption of such. In the end, many of us don’t entirely understand why they are important.
We will see labeled juices and sweetened beverages stating that they are “high in antioxidants” or granola bars and/or fortified cereals with health claims such as “antioxidant rich”, but what exactly is an antioxidant in the first place? Let’s take a crash course on what exactly antioxidants are and find ways that you can incorporate more of these “super foods” into your diet.
What Exactly Are Antioxidants?
Scientifically, antioxidants are compounds that have the ability to protect our cells from damage that may be caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. These molecules can be found in the environment, such as cigarette smoke and pollution as well as stress on the body from exercise.
Antioxidants are known to protect living organisms from oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage. Once our cells are damaged, we are more prone to the development of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.
By incorporating foods high in antioxidants, it is theorized that we as humans will experience these protective benefits and aid in better overall health.
What Are The Types Of Antioxidants, And Where Can I Find Them?
There is more than just one type of antioxidant as well as several places in which these molecules can be found in, such as in plants, fruits, and vegetables. They may be disguised as vitamins, minerals, or flavonoids.
Although we may be familiar with the most common four or five different antioxidants, scientists are still uncovering several other forms. Among the most common antioxidants are the following:
Anthocyanins are known for their memory boosting abilities. These antioxidants are known to increase cognitive decline and aid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Look for deep purple and dark blue shades in fruits and vegetables. Great sources would include blueberries, grapes, blackberries, plums, and eggplants.
Lutein is known for it’s potential in lowering the risk of cataract and macular degeneration risks. You can find lutein in leafy greens such as spinach; as well as corn, carrots, and squash
Lycopene is known for its protective benefits for heart disease. This antioxidant is found in fleshy, red produce, such as watermelons and tomatoes.
Vitamin A aids in the development of healthy vision. Vitamin A also assists in the maintenance of strong teeth and skeletal tissue. This compound can be found in most animal products, such as oily fish, dairy products, eggs, and meat.
Vitamin C is known for several health benefits, such as wound healing, tissue growth and repair, and efficient adrenal gland function. You can find sources of Vitamin C in citrus fruits, such as lemons, oranges, and grapefruit and orange and yellow bell peppers.
Quick And Easy Ways To Increase Your Antioxidant Consumption
Now that you know about the various types of antioxidants as well as where they can be found, let’s look at quick and simple ways to include these foods in your diet:
- Toss some blueberries in your cereal or on your waffles in the morning
- Create a trail mix with a variety of nuts to snack on
- Use spinach and red and orange bell peppers in your morning omelets
- Swap out your iceberg lettuce for other dark, leafy greens such as spinach
- Yellow a dessert of low-fat yogurt mixed with strawberries and raspberries
- Freeze grapes and use them as a juicy, cool treat
- Stuff your rice and bean mixture into large orange and yellow bell peppers for a healthy dinner
- Dip your carrots, tomatoes, and peppers in a light ranch dip
- Make a smoothie with a variety of dark colored berries, low-fat yogurt, and your milk of choice
- Add a piece of fruit to your lunch every day, such as an apple, orange, berries, or grapes
What About Antioxidant Supplements?
If you choose to increase your consumption of antioxidants through supplementation, it is important to be mindful of dosages. Similar to other dietary supplements, “more” does not always equal better.
Some antioxidants can be harmful in high doses, so it is important to consult your physician before beginning any new dietary supplementation, especially when you currently prescribed daily medications.
Little research has shown regarding health benefits of supplementation versus whole foods, so adjusting your dietary habits before you take a stroll through the pharmacy aisle at the grocery store might be the better option.
In A Nutshell:
Antioxidants from food have been theorized to exhibit several different health benefits, ranging from boosting immunity to preventing chronic health conditions.
Choose fruits and vegetables that are dark in pigment (think dark blues and deep red and orange colors) as well as various nuts and monounsaturated fats to help increase your antioxidant consumption.
Consuming a well-rounded diet that incorporates both two cups of fruits and vegetables daily is a great start to leading a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to notify your physician if you do choose to begin supplementation of any type of antioxidant, as the supplement may interact with any current medication you may be prescribed.
To ensure you’re getting the most up to date and credible information, locate a registered dietitian in your nearby town and set up an appointment to discuss any nutrition-related concerns you may have.
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