Our bodies contain trillions of cells, each of which is under constant threat of nasty and toxic chemicals called free radicals. Free radicals are oxidized particles that wreak havoc inside our cells. The damage they cause can contribute to cancer, loss of vision, heart disease, cataracts, memory loss and premature effects of aging.
Some free radicals are produced in our bodies as a result of natural functions, such as digestion of food. Others come from the air we breathe, sunlight entering the body through the skin and eyes, the food we eat and even as a byproduct of exercise. We can’t avoid them.
But what we can do is protect and strengthen our cells with free radical scavengers called antioxidants. These particles neutralize and detoxify free radicals so that they can’t cause harm to the cells. It so happens that our bodies themselves make antioxidants, but we also need to consume them in our diets in order to have enough to get the job done.
Interestingly, antioxidants are characterized by the colors of the plants they are found in. For example, the blue/purple colored fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, eggplant and purple grapes contain anthocyanins. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cantaloupe and pumpkin are rich in beta-carotene. Red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, beets and red bell peppers contain lycopene. Every color of the rainbow is represented in the various groups of antioxidants.
Scientists began to learn about these amazing substances in the 1990s, and studies were begun to examine the effects. We learned that people who have low intakes of fruits and vegetables are at greater risk of developing many chronic health conditions than people who consume more of them. Research showed that this is due, in part, to the antioxidants in these foods.
As a whole, all antioxidants tend to have anti-cancer properties. But each one also has its own unique individual biological properties, and targets specific parts of the body, such as the heart, eye, urinary tract, etc.
Studies have not provided convincing evidence that antioxidant supplements reduce disease risk. Rather, consuming them in whole foods provides the protection we need. It is the synergistic interplay of antioxidants along with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other substances found naturally in plant foods that provides the beneficial effects.
In order to assure that you are getting all of the various antioxidants your body needs, simply choose foods with all colors of the rainbow each day. Include three to five cups of fruits and vegetables in your diet every day for optimal health protection.
Try this quick, healthy, and antioxidant-loaded dish:
Ingredianets: Zucchini, red and yellow bell pepper, onion, whole button mushrooms and chopped tomatoes.
How to make it: Chop vegetables into one-inch pieces. Be sure to keep the size fairly uniform, to assure even cooking. Brush lightly with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place into a baking dish or roasting pan and cook uncovered for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven
article bySusie Bond is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist
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