You may have heard a lot about “superfoods” which are full of antioxidants, but do you know what antioxidants are and how they benefit your health? Here is an overview of their function and where you can find them.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are chemicals which help to protect the body from the effects of free radicals – harmful molecules which have been found to cause damage to cells. This damage causes oxidative stress, which has been linked to illnesses and conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, respiratory diseases and immune deficiency.
Research indicates that antioxidants generally help to minimise oxidative stress by terminating the reaction between free radicals and cells in the body. However, there are different types of antioxidants which serve different functions.
What are the Best Sources of Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are mostly found in colourful fruit and vegetables. In these foods they often come in the form of vitamins, the three major types being beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E.
Sources of beta-carotene and other carotenoids include: Carrots, peppers, spinach, apricots, mango, melon, asparagus, broccoli, pumpkin and sweet potato.
Sources of vitamin C include: Oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, papaya, cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and tomatoes.
Sources of vitamin E include: Nuts, sunflower seeds, spinach, chard, turnip greens, broccoli and carrots.
You’ll get the greatest antioxidant benefits from these foods if you eat them raw or lightly steamed. Boiling them or overcooking them any other way causes them to lose important nutrients.
Zinc and selenium are also beneficial antioxidants you can get from your diet.
Good sources of zinc include: Oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, wholegrains, and fortified cereals and dairy products.
Good sources of selenium include: Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry and fortified breads.
Where Else Can You Find Antioxidants?
Those who are unable to get enough antioxidants from their diet can boost their intake with certain vitamin supplements. If you think you may need to take supplements, you should seek medical advice so you can find out which ones may be best for you and how much you’ll need to take.
How Can You Incorporate More Into Your Diet?
If you want to increase your antioxidant intake, these tips may help:
- Make sure you have vegetables with each meal.
- Try to make your meals as colourful as you can with a variety of vegetables and/or fruits.
- Snack on fruit, nuts and seeds.
Green and black tea are also rich sources, so drinking these regularly can be beneficial.
The good news is, if you eat a healthy, balanced diet containing lots of fruit and vegetables – which everyone should be doing – you’ll already be getting plenty of antioxidants and reaping their benefits.
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