Health And Diet: What Are Antioxidants And What Foods Are Rich In Them?

A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables has been found to greatly increase antioxidant protection against harmful free radicals produced by harmful environmental factors.

Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. These are unstable cells that steal components from other healthy ones. Antioxidants restore cell integrity by donating the missing components. Environmental factors such as pollution and UV radiation disable the body's ability to neutralize free radicals. This speeds up the natural oxidation process, which can damage and possibly destroy healthy cells if not checked by antioxidants. This leads to health problems, such as the increased risk of infection in immune cells that have been damaged by free radicals.

Doctors have conflicting opinions whether or not to supplement food intake with these antioxidants in tablet form for maximum benefits. Medical doctors concede that a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables is adequate to ensure our antioxidant intake. However, nutritionists point out that, according to statistics, and despite recommendations, Americans do not eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure an adequate supply of antioxidants. They also report that produce is processed with pesticides, artificial coloring, and chemical additives to slow spoilage. While the jury is still out concerning the debate "˜to supplement or not to supplement', it is agreed by all that maintaining a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is greatly beneficial to the immune system.

The most studied antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and the mineral, selenium. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene are just a few of the many others that occur naturally in the foods listed below.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that is essential for the body's immune system. It has been proven to block the conversion of nitrates into harmful cancer-causing chemicals within the body. Nitrates are found in processed meat and other foods. Vitamin C helps maintain healthy eyes, teeth and gums, as well as bones, muscles, and blood vessels. It is critical to the development of collagen, which is the sticky substance between the cells that maintains the elasticity of the skin. Good food sources are citrus fruits, green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, cabbage, and potatoes.

Beta-carotene is the most studied out of over 600 known carotenoids. Medical research proves that foods rich in this antioxidant help reduce the risk of lung cancer. Beta-carotene reduces night blindness and aids weak eyesight. It is found mostly in orange foods like sweet potatoes, squash, apricots, pumpkins, mangos, and green foods like collard greens, spinach, and kale.

Studies have shown that vitamin E prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and protects arterial walls, making it a strong proponent of heart and cardiovascular health. Vitamin E occurs naturally as d-alpha tocopherol in vegetable and fish-liver oil. Other sources include seeds, whole grains, nuts, wheat germ, and green leafy vegetables.

Selenium is not an antioxidant. However, this mineral contributes greatly to the body's neutralization of free radicals by working closely with vitamin E to inhibit the oxidation process. Selenium has been proven to promote the health of the prostate, lungs, and colon, while maintaining a healthy immune system. Major food sources of selenium are rice, wheat, and brazil nuts.

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