Antioxidants are often brought up when talking about health and diets, but what they are and what they do isn't exactly common knowledge. Learning about antioxidants, their benefits and the different foods loaded with them is necessary to shape a healthy diet.

Antioxidants 101

What are antioxidants? They are substances, either natural or man-made, that help protect against various kinds of damage to our cells. The body is constantly going through a natural process known as "oxidation", a chemical reaction that occurs in an act as simple as breathing. Disruptions during this process lead to the creation of free radicals, also known as "oxidants", which are volatile molecules that cause damage to the body's cells. While that sounds mildly terrifying, free radicals are necessary to help our immune system fight off infectious bacteria.

However, our body goes into a state of oxidative stress when free radicals overwhelm the protective defenses our body has in place to keep them in check. During this state, the damage free radicals do to our cells can lead to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis and diabetes. Antioxidants play a crucial role in balancing the free radicals' volatile energy.

Where Are Antioxidants Found?

fresh vegetables such as brussels sprouts, tomatoes and broccoli

Antioxidants can be found naturally in many foods, namely vegetables and fruits. Antioxidants can be classified as vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes or phytonutrients/phytochemicals. Some of the most common antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium, and all carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lycopene and Lutein.

Fruits and vegetables are some of the most abundant sources of antioxidants, so having a wide variety of these foods in your diet is highly recommended not only for their antioxidant content but also other essential nutrients they bring to a healthy diet.

While antioxidants can be taken in pill or powder forms, studies have found that taking high doses of antioxidant supplements can end up increasing the risk of certain cancers and can cause other harm to the body because they transform into pro-oxidants at this level.. Be sure to consult a doctor before taking antioxidant supplements.

Food Sources Of Antioxidants

beets, carrots and sweet potatoes

There are plenty of food sources that are rich in antioxidants, allowing you to shape a diet that works around your tastes while still supplying you with the required amount of antioxidants to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You'll want to have several different sources of antioxidants to fully maximize their potential benefits.

Dark colored grapes; dark greens such as kale, collard greens and broccoli; carrots; squash; sweet potatoes; nuts and teas such as green tea and black teas are all loaded with antioxidants as well as being easy to incorporate into your diet. It's recommended to steam vegetables to preserve as many of the nutrients in the veggies as possible and to load up on a wide variety of nuts, as they provide many of the healthy fats that the body needs.

While much research still needs to be done on the effects of antioxidants combating various diseases that take over the human body, there's no denying that antioxidants are good for your health. What's especially important is to get your antioxidants from a wide variety of sources, as the amazing benefits of antioxidants may only come to fruition if they're working together.

Even though the body does have the capacity to defend itself against free radicals on its own, antioxidants help in the fight to balance out the free radicals and reduce the damage those volatile molecules can do to our body.. Get your antioxidants from natural sources, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with supplements only in select circumstances, to ensure that the work they are doing is positive for your body and your health.

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