You’ve probably heard that antioxidants are really important for your health, but do you know exactly what they do?
There are lots of different antioxidants and some of them are known for giving fruits and vegetables their distinctive colours (yes yes and in red wine too but let’s keep it healthy today shall we). For example, lycopene is found in red fruits & veggies and beta carotene is what gives carrots and other orange & yellow fruits & veggies their colour.
They’re not just there to make things pretty though, although don’t they look nice! The benefits of antioxidants extend to pretty much every area of your health and they can protect you against some pretty scary stuff.
Here’s what you need to know about what antioxidants can do for your body and why you need to make sure you eat lots of foods that contain them!
Fighting free radicals
One of the most important roles that antioxidants play involves free radicals, (not the New Radicals from late 1990’s remember the song – ‘You get what you give’ – loved it. Here’s the youtube link in case you fancy a wee trip to 1998 https://youtu.be/DL7-CKirWZE ).
Back to me, back to free radicals, back to science. When cells use oxygen as they do, free radicals are a natural byproduct. They may be natural but unfortunately, they can be pretty dangerous if they are enough of them in your body. They’re linked to lots of health conditions, including the likes of heart disease and cancer.
You’ll hear a lot about ‘oxidative stress’ in relation to antioxidants. This is what happens when there is an imbalance between the number of free radicals that are roaming around your body and the ability that your body has to cancel out their effects. Antioxidants give your body more power to affect this balance and make free radicals less damaging, super powers really.
The real problems start with oxidization – slightly scary word. This is the same process that helps cuts to heal and turns apples brown when they’re exposed to air (hence the ‘oxygen’ part of the word) but it’s a lot more of a problem where free radicals are concerned.
When oxidized, cholesterol gets a “hit” from free radicals and makes it much more likely to find its way into the walls of your arteries. From there, it sets the scene for plaques to become an issue. And that raises the risk of blocked arteries and heart attacks.
Antioxidants help to give this story a happier ending as in big enough numbers, they can mean that less cholesterol is oxidized.
Cutting your Cancer Risk
Because free radicals are so unstable and volatile (a bit like PMT), they can be very harmful to cells and can damage cell DNA (your basic genetic code). This can encourage them to become cancerous.
Fighting free radicals can also mean that antioxidants reduce your risk of some cancers. Carotenoids in particular, are a great choice and studies are continuing to find anti-cancer qualities linked to them. You’ll find these in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.
Keeping your eyes healthy
Several antioxidants are really important for keeping your eyes healthy. While they won’t help you to see better (I know, how disappointing no super power here then), they can play a role in protecting against macular degeneration and other conditions that can affect your vision.
Carotenoids are important here too. This includes beta carotene (which the body turns into vitamin A) and lutein. Both of these help to protect your eyes against the damaging effects of free radicals, which can otherwise be a factor in your eye health.
Studies have shown that women aged under 75 could as much as halve their risk of macular degeneration if their diet includes plenty of carotenoids, especially antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Carrots, leafy greens, kiwi and honeydew melon and peas are all great choices, along with eggs.
Keeping your Skin Healthy
Tart cherries are a great source of melatonin. We often associate this with sleep, but it can also have antioxidant qualities that protect your skin against the effects of UV rays from the sun. If you do get sunburnt, it also helps skin to heal more quickly by triggering production of new skin cells. Grab your cherries now – oh err!
Protecting against arthritis
Oranges, mangoes, peaches and watermelon are all rich in an antioxidant called beta cryptoxanthin. According to a study from the UK, this antioxidant can help to protect against arthritis and can make you up to 40% less likely to be affected by it. And don’t peaches just look like bottoms – childish I know but hilarious really. Ah my life is so full!
SO, What to eat to get antioxidants into your diet?
Especially at this time of year, there are loads of fruits and veggies which are packed full of antioxidants but you’ll also find them in other foods too. These are some of the foods to eat more of to reap the benefits of antioxidants:
- Red grapes
- Oranges and other citrus fruits
- Melon and watermelon
- Goji berries
- Leafy greens
- Dark chocolate
- Spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and cayenne pepper
- Herbs such as oregano, parsley, basil and thyme
Combining certain foods can make antioxidants even more powerful. Eating raspberries, pomegranates or cranberries with apples or grapes helps to make the antioxidant, Quercetin, have stronger effects against cancerous cells, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition
BUT (that can be a bit complicated so…)
whatever you do, EAT THE RAINBOW, get the colours in and get as best quality as you possibly can.
Till next time