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What are Antioxidants and Why Are They Good for Us?

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Spring is here... apparently. We've had a few cold days lately and so much rain. There also seems to be plenty of colds and viruses still doing the rounds.

When you aren't feeling well it's so easy to slip into less then healthy habits, it can feel like an extra effort to eat well when you just don't have the energy. When I'm home and not feeling tip top it's hard to avoid the temptation to stay indoors for the evening and comfort myself with sneaky treats... meaning I'm moving less and not eating as healthy as I'd like to. If you are following a similar pattern then this combined with all the lovely winter germs still around can lead us to becoming unwell. 

Recently when my son was unwell I asked him what he'd like to eat and he responded, "Something rich in antioxidants". What a clever and sensible child! It's a great idea to make sure you are eating food rich in antioxidants. So what makes antioxidants so good for us?

Antioxidants help to protect us from cellular oxidation by neuralising free radicals. Let's look at free radicals to understand why we want them neuralised.

Free radicals are a natural byproduct of chemical reactions within our bodies. When the cells of our bodies are exposed to oxygen the process of oxidation is the result. Oxidation can result in the cell becoming split and the electron of that atom breaking away. These unpaired electrons, free radicals, seek out other electrons to pair with. At times they are useful for the body as they neuralise viruses and bacteria but if free radicals overwhelm the body we enter into what is known as oxidative stress. Under these conditions free radicals can alter healthy cells adversely affecting our lipids, DNA, proteins and being a catalyst for disease.

Antioxidants are stable molecules that can loan an electron to rogue free radical preventing them from bonding with healthy cells, therefore preventing cells from being damaged.

What causes an over abundance of free radicals?

Some free radicals arise normally during metabolism. However we are exposed to so many things that unfavourably knock our balance of antioxidants to free radicals. Environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, pesticides and herbicides can increase free radicals. Lifestyle factors play a part too as stress, alcohol and cigarette smoke can trigger free radical production.

 

Types of antioxidants

There are several types of antioxidants which are beneficial to us in different ways. Let's take a look at a few...

Flavonoids

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Flavonoids are responsible for giving our fruits and vegetables lovely vivid colours. They have anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Diets rich in flavonoid-containing foods have said to be particularly beneficial for cardiovascular disease prevention. These can be found in citrus and tropical fruits, strawberries, dark chocolate (with 70% cocoa content or higher), onions, tea, kale and many spices.

Beta-carotene

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Beta-carotene is a pigment found in large quantities in orange and yellow fruits and veg. Our bodies convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, which is essential for immune system support, our vision and for healthy skin. 

Vitamin A is beneficial for our eyes in numerous ways; it reduces the risk of developing macular degeneration and vision loss, helps us to avoid eye infections and soothes eye inflammation. 

If you want to avail of some of these benefits get some carrots, sweet potato, spinach, kale and pumpkin into your diet.

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Lycopene

Like beta-carotene lycopene is a member of the carotenoid family. Lycopene is the red/ pink pigment found in tomatoes, guava, watermelon, red cabbage and pink grapefruit. 

Lycopene is hailed for it's many benefits- it aides our eyes health, helps our bodies to fight cancers such as prostate, breast and uterine cancer and is good for our brain. 

 

It's common knowledge that what we eat has such an impact on our health. Keeping our diets varied and with a spectrum of colours seems to be a good way to insure we are boosting our antioxidants numbers. If you are looking for antioxidant rich recipe inspiration check here for our latest recipe on facebook.

 

 


Photo credits: www.nutraceuticalsworld.com