What are Antioxidants? Oxidation within the body is similar to how a car rusts. If we don’t neutralize the excess free radicals (harmful chemicals in our body), our body “rusts”, damaging our cells and DNA, speeding the aging process and causing disease. An antioxidant is a substance that stops free radicals from causing damage to cells, hence the name ANTIoxidant. So free radicals (harmful chemicals in our body) cause oxidation (damage to the body) but oxidation can be prevented with antioxidants. The example below illustrates the antioxidant and oxidation effect caused by free radicals.
When an apple is split in half, it begins to oxidize, “aging” the apple faster, turning the oxygen-exposed side brown (left slice). When we add lemon juice (which contains antioxidants), the browning process (oxidation) slows down (right slice).
Factors that cause increased oxidation in the body are:
• Chronic stress
• Direct sunlight
• Eating a diet consisting mostly of processed or fried foods
• Not getting enough sleep on a daily basis
• Flying at high altitudes
• Smog and pollution
• Indoor air pollutants from things such as certain indoor carpeting and paints
• Exposure to toxins, irradiation (x-rays), and toxic metals
Free radicals are not inherently bad - they are necessary for energy metabolism and immune function. When there is an excessive production of free radicals in the body, they can attack healthy cells. The cells become dysfunctional; they die, and this leads to health problems such as cancer, inflammation, heart disease, and the whole gamut of medical problems.
Despite a growing awareness of the importance of antioxidants, experts say that nearly all Americans — even those who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — lack what we need for optimal health. Why? First, produce today is 40% lower in antioxidant nutrients than it was just 50 years ago due to soil depletion. Second, most Americans are not consuming a variety of foods that contain antioxidants, choosing highly processed foods instead. And last, exposure to pollution, toxins and chronic stress have become an unavoidable part of life, and this creates more free radicals than our body was ever designed to process. This is why it is highly recommended to supplement with a broad-spectrum antioxidant.
It's important to understand that there are many different types of free radicals and literally thousands of different antioxidants. The variety of colors in fruits and vegetables represent the different antioxidants. For instance, the red in a tomato comes from the antioxidant lycopene. Herbs and spices are also very high in antioxidants, rosemary, oregano, and cinnamon being some of the highest. Even meat and animal products contain antioxidants. This is why it's important to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, animal products and spices into your diet - to get a broad spectrum of antioxidants. Additionally, many antioxidants have a synergistic effect on each other further strengthening the need for variety. This is also why it's not beneficial to rely on a single "superfruit" as your source of antioxidants.
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