Antioxidants: what they are and what they do

You often hear about the benefits of antioxidants, and how good they are for the body. However, few people know what they are and how they work. Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in the body.  A free radical is a compound that can cause harm to the body when levels become too high. They are linked to conditions such as cataracts, arthritis, heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and even Parkinsons and Alzheimers.

Your body has its own antioxidants to keep these free radicals at bay. However, a certain balance between free radicals and antioxidants needs to be maintained. Free radicals serve as an important function essential for health. For example, your immune cells use free radicals to fight infection. Several factors are known to promote excessive free radicals formation including:

  • Pollution
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • High blood sugar
  • Overexposure from the sun

Fruits and vegetables are most abundant in antioxidants. The USDA recommends consuming at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. It is important to make these an essential part of your diet as this is the best strategy to get your daily dose of antioxidants. There is increasing evidence that antioxidants are more effective when obtained from whole foods rather than in supplement form.

So, next time you are at the grocery store, keep in mind the foods that will help you maintain good health. See your doctor or dietitian for advice. And remember, a healthy body is a happy body!

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