‘Antioxidant’ is a classification of several organic substances, including vitamins A, C and E, selenium (a mineral), and a group known as the carotenoids.
OXIDATION AND FREE RADICALS
When you slice an apple and leave it on the bench, oxidation turns it brown.
It happens to all cells in nature, including the ones in your body.
Other real-life examples of oxidation include plastic that has become brittle and powdery with age and sunlight and a rubber band that has lost its ‘ping’.
Oxidation is vital for some biological processes. For example, oxidation of sugars and carbohydrates is the primary way we turn food into energy.
But not all oxidation is desirable. When a complicated molecule is broken apart by oxidation, it sometimes releases a new molecule called a ‘free radical’. ‘Free’ because it is not bonded to another molecule, and ‘radical’ because it is electrically charged. This charged particle can oxidise other molecules in a kind of
chain reaction. It means that one oxidation event could hinder the function of a large number of molecules that were supposed to do something else (like block a virus or repair damage to an artery wall).
Numerous studies indicate that increased production of free radicals causes or accelerates cell injury and leads to disease.
THE EFFECT OF ANTIOXIDANTS
Antioxidants (also known as ‘free radical scavengers’) have the ability to stop the damaging chain reactions that free radicals start.
While the body naturally produces antioxidants, it’s sometimes not enough to deal with all the free radicals on the loose. Free radicals are generated by the toxins in some of the foods we eat, the drugs and medicines we take, the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Deep-fried foods, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides and air pollutants all have the potential to create more free radicals than our bodies can naturally deal with.
So in this modern life, nearly everybody needs to consume more antioxidants to counteract free radical damage.
When you follow the Ministry of Health’s advice to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, you’re compensating for the effects of environmental and lifestyle toxins. Evidence suggests that naturally occurring antioxidants in fruit and vegetables are better than supplements.
Ideally you should have a mix of antioxidants – such as vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene – to neutralise free radical assault.
ANTIOXIDANTS YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE HAVING
Coffee: Your morning caffeine hit is a valuable source of disease-fighting antioxidants.
Red wine: Your evening glass of red contains several antioxidants beneficial to good health.
Dark chocolate: Eating dark chocolate can boost the level of heart-protecting antioxidants in the blood.
Tea: Green and black (they both come from the same bush). For best effect, drink without milk.
TOP 20 ANTIOXIDANTS
The US Department of Agriculture recently presented a Top 20 list of antioxidants. Keep this list in mind next time you’re shopping.
1. Small red beans (dried)
2. Wild blueberries
3. Red kidney beans
4. Pinto beans
5. Cultivated blueberries
7. Artichokes (cooked)
12. Red delicious apples
13. Granny Smith apples
15. Sweet cherries
16. Black plums
17. Russet potatoes (cooked)
18. Black beans (dried)
20. Gala apples
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