By Julie Alvira, MD, MBA
Our bodies are machines that work all the time converting food into energy. From these natural processes and the chemical reactions involved, free radicals are generated. But free radicals are not just generated in the way mentioned. According to Harvard University, they can also be generated in the food a person eats, the air they breathe, and by the sunlight’s action on the skin and eyes. In summary, they are just cells that are damaged during all these natural and other processes and then are called free radicals. Once they become damaged, they hunt for healthy cells and try to injure them by attacking their DNA. After this kind of attack––called free radical damage––the injured cell can cause a basis for disease. Not just one cell is damaged, many are! It’s a chain reaction. A common example is cigarette smoking, which produces lots of free radicals.
Thankfully, the body has a free radical defense system. It involves the help of antioxidants. These are substances that act as defenders with certain chemical behaviors and properties (Harvard, 2015). Up to a certain point they can deal with huge radical attacks but sometimes the body cannot stop and that is when we can develop diseases. Since we can absorb (to a certain point) these defenders from food, then it is a good idea to add them to our healthy eating plans. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics educate us in that the most important antioxidants are the following:
Vitamin C: the best known because it protects the body from different types of infection and damage to cells. It is also known to assist in collagen production and helps with the absorption of folate and iron.
Vitamin E: confers great protection to the body against cell damage and assists vitamin C with protection.
Carotenoids: there are a variety of them but the most well known are beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene.
Let us take a look at different kinds of foods that we can add to our eating plans so that we can benefit from the power that antioxidants can confer to our health.
Foods with power
Berries: it is known that berries are jewels and inside this group we can find the best ones to be blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
Grapes: not only have antioxidants but also phytonutrients that can range from the carotenoids to the famous resveratrol. Even melatonin had been found in grapes. The better ones are purple, red, and blue grapes.
Legumes: the most powerful are lentils, edamame, and kidney beans.
Most citrus fruits: including but not limited to lemon, lime, and grapefruits.
Vegetables: Kale and spinach offer almost the same antioxidant power as berries but we can also cite artichokes, okra, Brussels sprouts, and bell pepper. Let us not forget tomatoes and their high content of carotenoids and sweet potatoes, which are also low in sodium, fat, and very low in calories.
Nuts: the first one is walnuts and then we can mention pistachios, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts. According to a professor at The University of Scranton, walnuts have twice as much antioxidant power as any other known nut. In addition, nuts contain proteins, minerals, and fiber.
Tea: green and black tea.
There are many countries that have different exotic fruits and vegetables that are a known to confer antioxidant power such as: dragon fruit or pitahaya, mangosteen, and acai berries.
Important note: While foods can confer antioxidant power, the body usually does not absorb all of it because of the concept of bioavailability or the absorption of them by the body which is ruled by internal and external factors. Try to practice variety, balance, and eat them at different times in the day. And remember to practice moderation.
Julie Alvira, MD, holds an MBA in healthcare management. She is the owner of AJBodysculpt and is a fully bilingual health and wellness writer and speaker. She is also available for health and fitness coaching. View her fitness videos on YouTube: AJBodysculpt and her podcasts through Spreaker app.