The Big A: Antioxidants

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Let’s talk antioxidants, shall we? I, for one, had wondered for years what in the world antioxidants were. They sounded so refreshing when I would hear about them on a commercial advertising something really fresh, like cranberries. And they sounded so healthy because the commercial was about…well…cranberries. But many curious minds may often ponder what antioxidants actually do.

The cells in our body are made up of millions of molecules, which undergo a lot of stress from our body’s day-to-day survival functions. This natural stress causes our cells’ molecules to become damaged, thereby releasing free radicals. Free radicals are unpaired electrons that get broken off of their original molecule. Once released in the body, free radicals bounce around, damaging other cells and creating a cascade of more and more free radicals. This oxidative damage from free radicals in the body can be the trigger for a lot of abnormalities, such as premature aging, hardened arteries and even an increased risk for cancer.

So where do antioxidants come into play? Well, antioxidants are molecules that can stop this whole chain reaction by donating one of their own electrons to the free radicals. This tames the free radicals and prevents them from continuing to bounce around the body, causing damage. And NO, the antioxidant does not become a free-radical in this situation. It’s a win-win! How perfect!

So where can we get these antioxidants? The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues. The body cannot produce these micronutrients on its own and thus, we must supply ourselves with these antioxidants.

Here are some good sources of antioxidant vitamins:

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon

Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers

Vitamin E: broccoli (boiled), avocado, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds

Hopefully this gives a pretty fair overview of what antioxidants are. There is so much that can be touched on regarding this fascinating subject, but I will leave it at this for now. Feed your body with foods rich in antioxidants. Your future self will thank you.

Charlton Goodwin

Charlton Goodwin works with the Elevate Community Garden in the Saint Andrews area of Columbia, SC. He’s an advocate for wholesome food access and environmental sustainability, and LOVES food. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Health for Rural and Underserved Populations at Mercer University. He has previously earned his B.S. degree in Biological Sciences from Clemson University.

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