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Antioxidants and Free Radicals: What’s the Deal?

We throw around the term “antioxidant” a lot, but a lot of people don’t know what that actually means or what antioxidants do for the body.

Well, simply looking at the name says a lot- anti- oxidant.  Antioxidants are basically chemicals that can prevent cellular damage as a result of exposure to oxygen, also called oxidation.  Oxidation is the result of changes caused by cells interacting with oxygen.  As a result of this interaction, cells often die and are replaced by new and healthy cells.  Sounds pretty simple right?  Well it would be if it weren’t for those pesky free radicals!

Free radicals are basically incomplete cells that are constantly on the hunt for the missing molecule (electrons) that will make them whole again.  The problem with free radicals is that they will steal this molecule from other whole cells, making them incomplete, and starting a chain of free radical problems in the body.  When these free radicals steal molecules they end up causing damage to cell structure and DNA, so the impacts can build up over time.

Our bodies are equipped to deal with a small amount of free radicals without any real damage.  The real problem is when we end up with more free radicals than our body can handle.  This often occurs as a result of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors that encompass too much alcohol, smoking, stress, or an unhealthy diet.  What happens when we take on these unhealthy behaviors is that free radicals build up in our bodies and we ultimately experience Oxidative Stress.  Oxidative stress is the result of too much oxidation (and therefore free radical build-up) and it is linked to just about every health problem out there: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s, arthritis.  The list goes on and on.

Antioxidants are the way to combat free radicals and oxidative stress.  To simplify what occurs, imagine that antioxidants have an abundance of extra electrons that they can gift to free radicals.  As a result, free radicals don’t need to attack existing cells to get those electrons, thus prevent the cellular damage.  Antioxidants are basically little gift givers, passing out electrons to whoever needs them.  🙂  The more antioxidants you take in, the better your cells function, which prevents diseases and improves your body’s overall efficiency.

So where can you get these amazing antioxidants?  Well they are found in many different whole foods and the best way to approach adding antioxidants to your diet is to focus on getting a rainbow of foods.   Here are some suggestions of foods to incorporate based in high antioxidant levels:

RED- Tomatoes, Cherries, Goji Berries, Beets, Red Bell Peppers

ORANGE- Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Oranges, Peaches

YELLOW- Lemon, Corn, Pineapple, Yellow Peppers

GREEN- Artichokes, Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Basil

BLUE/PURPLE- Blueberries, Grapes, Plums, Eggplant, Figs

WHITE- Garlic, Onion, Ginger, Jicama, Cauliflower

BROWN- Cinnamon, Beans, Cocoa, Dark Chocolate

So start tasting the rainbow and show those free radicals who is boss!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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