The term antioxidant has been used in health language since as far back as most of us can remember. Most of us know that antioxidants are important and necessary for good health, but many of us are also unsure what they are exactly and why. As summer is an ideal moment to load up on these nutrient rich molecules for preventative and restorative health care, I thought it was a perfect time for a reminder about the necessity of a diet rich in antioxidants.
Just as the name infers, antioxidants inhibit the oxidation of other molecules combining with other molecules they were not meant to. They do this by fighting or neutralizing what are called free radicals. Free radicals are incomplete electrons that are looking to steel electrons from other molecules, thus creating a chain reaction (molecules steeling from molecules) and ultimately damaging cells and DNA.
Although the body produces its own supply of antioxidants to help breakdown and remove these free radicals, the amount of free radicals in the body is directly related to the environmental and dietary toxins one is exposed to by synthetic chemicals, pesticides, harmful ultraviolent rays, pollutants in the air (such as cigarette smoke, car exhaust, etc.), chlorinated water, etc. We each come into contact with thousands of these toxins on a daily basis and it is virtually impossible to avoid exposure. However, as long as our antioxidant count is higher than our free radical count, we’re on the right track to staying healthy despite our daily interaction with toxins we can’t escape. Dietary antioxidants, which function a bit differently than the ones we produce ourselves, neutralize these free radicals by feeding them the electrons they are seeking in other molecules and thus preventing or halting the harmful chain reaction.
Free radical cell damage has been attributed to many health problems and diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, vision problems, arthritis, diabetes, kidney and lung damage, and even induced aging. The reality is that just about every disease or early degeneration is related in part to the damage caused by free radicals.
So where can we find these dietary antioxidants? The answer lies in the abundance of fruits and vegetables we have available to us containing antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, selenium, lipoic acid, and many others. Great vegetables and fruits that are harvested and available locally during the summer months include:
Green Leafy Vegetables
Spinach, all types of lettuce, arugula, swiss chard, kale, watercress and collard greens are example of succulent greens that are rich in antioxidants. These whole food sources can also be obtained in a greens powder supplement, packed with a condensed amount of their nutrient rich power. Another great option is to enjoy a daily greens juice which is an easy way to consume more greens in a day then you likely would eating them in their whole form.
Peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage and carrots are all great choices for providing the antioxidant nutrients our bodies need. Some fall and wintertime winners to keep in mind as the seasons change are artichoke hearts, sweet potatoes, asparagus and brussel sprouts.
Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and just about any other berry are probably your richest source of fruit-based antioxidants with the added benefit of being low-glycemic foods that don’t throw your blood sugar off. Even more powerful then these well-known berries is the goji berry. This superfood contains an abundance of carotenoids. They also contain antioxidants vitamin c, e, and selenium. They are said to contain more beta-caroten then carrots and 500 times more vitamin c then oranges.
Nuts contain many nutrients including Vitamin E and are therefore considered great sources of antioxidants. Some researchers say that walnuts in particular have double the amount of antioxidants as other commonly consumed nuts and that only a handful are needed per day to reap their benefits.
Red, black, pinto and kidney beans have been studied and sited as high-octane sources of antioxidants. They are also a great filling protein source and excellent combined with a summer salad.
One more important recommendation in relation to getting the most antioxidant value from your fruits and vegetables is to first and foremost buy organic (said to contain 30-50% more nutrients then non-organic) and secondly, look for the freshest sources available. Co-op markets, farmers markets, or home grown fruits and vegetables are your best options as grocery store inventory typically has a much longer travel and shelf life, decreasing the nutritive value of the food.
Summer is a wonderful time to stock up on the antioxidant power of plant foods to stay healthy and disease free year-round.
 Mercola, J. (2011, May 6). How this normal body process can contribute to more than 60 diseases. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/05/16/all-about-antioxidants.aspx
 Hari, S. (1995, March). Free radicals: a major cause of aging and disease. Retrieved from http://www.consumerhealth.org/articles/display.cfm?ID=19990303172533
 Cavazos, M. (2011, June 14). The benefits of antioxidants in goji berries. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/244417-the-benefits-of-antioxidants-in-goji-berries/
 portal.acs.org (2011, March 27). Walnuts are top nut for heart-healthy antioxidants. Retrieved from http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_026930&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=3529b4a2-ffe9-436c-965a-6726c996a207
 Davis, J. (No date) Antioxidant superstars: vegetables and beans. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/antioxidant-superstars-vegetables-and-beans
Published On: August 10, 2012