You hear the words all the time. Free radicals, oxidative stress, disease. What exactly does it all mean and what can I do to combat it?
The body’s inability to counteract the harmful effects of free radicals in the body. An imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects, thus contributing to cellular damage. Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in many diseases and neurodegenerative disorders.
So, what are free radicals then?
The free radicals we are speaking of are oxygen containing molecules that contains one or more unpaired electrons, making them unstable and highly reactive. These unstable oxygen molecules interact with other cell components and steal their electrons in order to become stable. This situation sets off a chain reaction of the now unstable cell component molecule to stealing an electron from another molecule. Free radicals typically alter lipids, proteins and DNA, damaging the cells and contributing to many diseases.
What generates free radicals?
Free radicals are natural by-products from chemical reactions in the cells. Contributing factors are refined processed foods, pollutants in the air, alcohol, tobacco smoke and pesticides.
How can we fight back against these free radicals?
Antioxidants keep free radicals in check. Antioxidants are molecules that prevent free radicals from stealing molecules and causing damage by giving an electron to a free radical without destabilizing itself. That’s pretty cool! Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body. Just like fibre helps to clean up waste from the intestines, antioxidants clean up free radical waste from the cells!
Best Sources of antioxidants:
Think bright colored fruits and vegetables along with raw nuts and seeds. These foods help build up immunity and decrease inflammation caused by free radical damage.
Sweet cherries, raspberries, cranberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, pecans, walnuts, prunes, green tea, red and green peppers, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, raw nuts and seeds are foods high in antioxidants. Other important vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and flavonoids that support our immune system and help combat free radical damage are vitamins A, C, E, selenium, quercetin, lycopene and beta carotene.
Below is a limited list of good sources of each of the above; however, eating a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, along with regular exercise, quality sleep and stress coping tools are all key to a healthier you!
Vitamin A: Sweet potatoes, carrots (cooked), pumpkin, apricots, butternut squash, red peppers, tomatoes, paprika, chili, cayenne.
Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, wheat germ, almonds, olive oil, olives, pine nuts, spinach, avocadoes, broccoli, quinoa
Vitamin C: All berries, broccoli, kale, jalapeno peppers, kiwi, citrus
Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna (cooked), sunflower seeds, asparagus, egg yolk, chia seeds, spinach (cooked)
Quercetin: Apples, all berries, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, greens, asparagus, tomatoes, raw nuts and seeds.
Lycopene: Red fruits and vegetables. Cook your tomatoes with olive oil to increase the lycopene content.
Beta Carotene: Carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, squash, cantaloupe, red and yellow peppers, apricots.
Remember to shop locally, support your local farmers and choose organic as often as possible.
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