Antioxidants: What are they? What are the Benefits?

antioxidantsWe often hear about foods that we should be eating that are great in aiding weight loss or foods that promote good heart health, but do you know what foods can help stop cell damage? These foods would be the ones that are full and rich of antioxidants.

What are antioxidants? Antioxidants are natural or synthetic (man-made) substances that help prevent or stop cell damage that is caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. These damages caused by free radicals are believed to be a big factor in the development of blood vessel disease such as Atherosclerosis (the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances on the artery walls), inflammatory joint disease, ulcers, heart disease, cancer, and many more. Some vitamins (vitamins A, C and E) and minerals (zinc, selenium and copper) are antioxidants as well.

What causes free radicals? 

Free radicals are something we cannot completely get rid of as the body naturally produces them. They are made through normal processes that happen in your body every day such as burning of sugars for energy and the releases of digestive enzymes when breaking down food or certain medicines. Other factors that create free radicals is the consumption of alcohol, smoking, eating processed foods, air pollution, radiation (UV rays from sun exposure), and the use of industrial chemicals.

Where are antioxidants found? 

Antioxidants should be obtained primarily through your diet and not through supplements. There are many antioxidant-rich foods such as:

Fresh vegetables– Most vegetables, especially the green leafy ones are rich with phytochemicals (plant compounds that act as antioxidants) that can aid in reducing inflammation and in eliminating carcinogens (cancer producing chemicals). Vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, beets, onions, and red bell peppers are all rich in antioxidants!

Fruits- Fresh fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries , oranges, red grapes and cherries are all great choices as they are all full of different kinds of antioxidants to help fight off those free radicals.

Nuts- Hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts are an excellent choice of antioxidant-rich foods as well as being great for overall health.

Other sources include: Herbs and spices such as cinnamon, oregano, ginger, garlic and turmeric; teas and red wine.

Benefits of Antioxidants: 

As mentioned before antioxidants help prevent and stop cell damage caused by free radicals. There are many types of antioxidants that help provide benefits to different parts of the body. For example, flavonoids (found in green tea, red wine, blueberries, etc…) are a beneficial especially for heart health, while the antioxidant beta-carotene (spinach, turnips, beets) is beneficial for eye health. Eating different types of antioxidant rich foods will help ensure that you get many of these health benefits and have added protection for the body against:

  • Eye problems
  • Heart problems
  • Memory problems
  • Immune system problems
  • Certain diseases such as cancer,
  • Atherosclerosis, stroke, ulcers, cataracts, etc.…

Campus Tips: Get all your antioxidant rich foods at our All You Care To Eat location at Hulen/Clement, or at Fresh Plate at Bledsoe/ Gordon where there is a wide variety of delicious fruits and vegetables available every time you eat! Can’t make it to one of those locations? Then stop by at any dining location on campus and get a fruit cup for on the go!

For further reading visit:

Antioxidants-Topic Overview 

Antioxidants and Free Radicals

Antioxidants

Content provided by: Ricardo Blanco, Student Assistant
Hospitality Dietitian Mindy Diller, MS, RDN, LD  mindy.diller@ttu.edu 

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