We often hear the term ‘free radicals’ or ‘oxygen radicals’… these are not ‘free radicals’ rioting in the 1960’s!!  Rather, these are unstable and reactive molecules that damage DNA, tissue or other metabolic functions in the body.  Unfortunately, even our normal metabolism produces free radicals in abundance.  It is generally accepted that free radicals are involved in the physical and mental decline observed with aging and numerous disease processes.

Ever see a fresh slice of apple turn brown within a few minutes?  The ‘browning’ of the apple slice is an example of oxidation or ‘free radical’ damage and may be prevented by covering the slice in some lemon juice or dipping the slice in orange juice.  It’s likely the vitamin C in the lemon or orange juice that keeps the apple slice looking fresh.  These same processes are duplicated as a part of the body’s metabolism and illustrate our need for antioxidant-rich nutrients to help reduce oxidative stress to our cells.

We can think of antioxidants as ‘putting out the fires’ of oxidation.  Common foods often contain antioxidant-rich sources of vitamin C, E and many flavenoids like those in dark chocolate and black tea and carotenoids found in colorful fruits, veggies, nuts and spices. These work on the outside of the body’s cells & help reduce oxidative stress and promote healthy tissue or repair.  

However, the most effective antioxidants are actually enzymatic systems working inside the body that help buffer oxidative stress.  One such system, called catalase,  is so effective that just 1 molecule of catalase converts 6 million molecules of hydrogen peroxide to oxygen & water in 1 minute!

The following foods are excellent sources of antioxidants to use in our diets:

  • Colorful fruits and veggies, leafy greens, citrus, cocoa, teas, nuts, seeds and berries
  • Vitamins A, C, E, B-vitamins, folate, quercitin, bioflavenoids
  • Trace minerals such as selenium, chromium
  • Veggies: artichoke, cabbage, broccoli, kale, asparagus, carrots, butternut squash, garlic
  • Grapes and grapeseed extract
  • Beans, berries, fruits, peppers
  • Spices: clove, cinnamon, oregano
  • Herbs: sage, thyme, basil, oregano, pepper
  • Grains: hemp, popcorn, barley, oats, quinoa
  • Nuts: walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanut butter
  • Coffee, cocoa/dark chocolate, wine

Therefore, our nutrition plays a critically role in determining the level of free radical damage, or other words,  the degree of protection from oxidative stress that a person experiences in their cells.  We should consume foods high in antioxidants to support the protective functions of the body’s enzymatic systems as well as the direct benefits of the antioxidants themselves.