JBK Nutrition Notes: Antioxidants
Antioxidant. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot on food labels and in health headlines. But what does an antioxidant really do, and why do we want them in our bodies?
Antioxidants fight free radicals
Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are unstable molecules in the body. I promise I won’t get too into the weeds, so just hang in here a minute. Free radicals are considered unstable because structurally, they have an unpaired electron. The free radical wants to be balanced, so it tries to steal an electron from another molecule in the cells and tissues in our body. The molecule that is stolen from is now unbalanced and so it becomes a free radical with the same quest to be balanced. This chain-reaction process is called oxidation, and it’s how cells in the body can quickly become damaged and lead to disease. You can see oxidation happen in certain foods, like when a cut apple sits out and turns increasingly brown over time.
What kind of disease?
Oxidative damage underlies a huge range of diseases as it can impact the health of every cell in the body. It has been tied to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and numerous autoimmune diseases. This is also often referred to as expediting the aging process!
Where do free radicals come from?
Your diet, environment, and lifestyle can impact the amount of free radicals into your body:
Aim for balance
While we’ll always have some free radicals in the body (some can actually help the body defend itself against infections and invaders), having too many can have damaging effects on other molecules and tissues in the body. What we want to achieve is a good balance of antioxidants and free radicals to manage any oxidative stress and help prevent oxidative damage disease.
Eat the rainbow
You’ll see antioxidant supplements for sale and labels on products, but the bottom line is that real, whole, colorful foods are the best sources of antioxidants. Think fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices. The following nutrients are known to have high antioxidant content:
Move and meditate
You can also improve your balance of antioxidants to free radicals by practicing regular movement and meditation. While exercise will increase production of free radicals immediately during and after a workout, it will increase antioxidant production over the long term. Meditation and mindfulness practices will help manage physiological stress and reduce oxidative stress.
Help your body help you
Your body is well-designed to keep itself running smoothly, but to do that, it needs your help. Do what you can to avoid diet and lifestyle factors that can increase free radicals within the body, and help your body support its natural processes by providing it with the fuel it was intended to consume: real, fresh, whole foods!