The Importance of Antioxidants in the Diet

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The Value Of Antioxidants

antioxidant foodsMost people know about antioxidants and the fact that they are vital to good health and nutrition. It appears that as scientists study and discover more about antioxidants, the more important they become.

Antioxidants have wide ranging abilities, including their role in preventing heart disease to their ability to slow down the aging and degeneration of the brain and the eyes.

Antioxidants function in a relatively simple manner. They carry out their effects by neutralizing a group of harmful and highly reactive compounds known as free radicals.

Neutralizing Free Radicals

Free radicals are produced as part of the normal body function, including our normal breathing and living processes. Normally, the body’s natural defenses are able to neutralize free radicals to make them harmless. But anything that dampens these natural defenses will weaken their ability to destroy harmful free radicals.

Factors that weaken such body defenses include environmental pollutants, excess exposure to UV radiation and excess intake of alcohol.

When free radicals are not neutralized, they have the potential to cause damage in the body. They have the capacity to damage cell structure and prevent proper function of cells.

There is recent research that indicates that free radicals play a role in the aging process and may contribute to a number of conditions such as cancer and heart disease.

Vitamin supplements that contain antioxidants like vitamin C can be of value, however, nothing can take the place of a healthy diet. Foods have been found to contain more than 4000 compounds that are rich in antioxidants.

Healthy Diet With Antioxidants

Consuming a healthy diet is an important way to gain the benefit of these many antioxidants. As well as the well known antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E, there are numerous healthy foods including fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods that also contain plenty of other forms of antioxidants.

Only just recently, scientists are finding out about the significant role these lesser known antioxidant play in maintaining a healthy body.

Let us take a look at a few of the major antioxidants found in the diet.

 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is the most well known and studied antioxidant vitamin there is. Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid, and it is a water soluble vitamin that is found in all fluids of the body..

It is believed to be a part of the first line defenses of the body that fights infection and disease. Because it is a water soluble vitamin, it is not stored in the body and therefore must be consumed in adequate amounts on a daily basis.

Whole foods that are rich in vitamin C include:

  • citrus foods like oranges and grapefruits
  • green peppers
  • green leafy vegetables like broccoli and cabbage
  • strawberries
  • potatoes.

 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a vitamin which is fat soluble and is stored in the liver and various other body tissues. This vitamin has been the subject of lots of research relating to its many effects, including its role in slowing down the aging process to its effects in healing sunburn.

Vitamin E is indeed an essential antioxidant, and getting the recommended daily amounts of vitamin in the diet is important. Dietary sources that contain vitamin E include:

  • wheat germ
  • almonds, Hazelnuts, peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • whole grains
  • vegetable oil
  • Spinach, Broccoli
  • wheat germ oil, Sunflower oil, Safflower oil, Olive oil

 

Beta carotene

 

Beta carotene is an important nutrient. Interestingly, it is responsible for giving flamingoes their characteristic pink color, which they get from the shrimp in their diet. Beta-carotene is the most commonly studied carotenoid, with over 600 carotenoids having been discovered so far.

In nature, beta-carotene provides protection for fruits with dark green, orange and yellow skins, against the harmful effects of UV radiation. Scientists believe that this nutrient has similar protective functions in the human body.

Whole Foods that contain beta-carotene include:

  • carrots
  • sweet potatoes
  • squash.
  • Broccoli
  • collard greens
  • kale
  • tomatoes
  • cantaloupe
  • apricots
  • peaches.

 

Selenium

Selenium is one of the key minerals in a healthy diet. Research has been conducted relating to its effects in preventing cell damage. Scientists perceive that this function in preventing cell damage possibly has a role to play in preventing cancer, and selenium is being researched for it potential properties in preventing cancer.

Getting the right amount of selenium you need in your diet is important, as large amounts of selenium supplements can be toxic. For this reason, it’s a good thing that selenium can be easily consumed in the diet.

Whole Foods that naturally contain selenium include:

  • fish
  • shell fish
  • red meat
  • whole grains
  • garlic
  • poultry
  • eggs

Additionally, vegetables that are grown in soils that are rich in selenium also provide good sources of selenium.

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