You’ve probably heard a lot about the benefits of eating right for weight loss and performance, but there are more reasons than that to maintain a healthy diet! Due to the ever-increasing prevalence of free radicals and radiation in our lives, antioxidant-rich foods are more important than ever to protect against cell damage and aging.
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are highly reactive particles that “steal” electrons from other particles in our cells, thus damaging them. A free radical particle results from oxidation, which is any process that removes an electron from a previously-stable atom. One way oxidation occurs is when cells come into contact with oxygen, and this happens every time we breathe! This generally results in the breakdown of cells, but it is usually no problem, since the cells are replaced immediately. In today’s world, however, there are many other oxidative stresses that create free radicals, such as:
- Tobacco smoke
- Toxins in food
- Chemicals, such as pesticides
- Natural radiation, such as the sun
- Artificial radiation, such as X-rays
- Some drugs and medications
- Injury, including from excessive exercise
How, exactly, does free-radical damage occur? Atoms are the building blocks of our universe, and a stable atom contains electrons in pairs. By oxidation, however, an atom has an electron knocked free, and that atom becomes what is called a free radical, an atom with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons. Free radicals rob surrounding cells of electrons, damaging the cells. These damaged cells, in turn, steal electrons from other cells, creating a chain reaction. Over time, the damaged cells cannot be replaced fast enough, resulting in mutated, abnormal cells that leave the body more susceptible to aging and disease. This is where antioxidants come in.
Antioxidants and Health
Antioxidants bind themselves to free radicals, contributing the missing electron in each and thus neutralizing them and stopping the chain reaction in its tracks. This slows down cellular damage and helps the body to achieve balance. By providing your body with an abundance of antioxidants, you can reduce the outward signs of aging and possibly even prolong your life by improving your overall health.
Antioxidants and Radiation
The damage that the body suffers when exposed to radiation is also caused by free radicals. This kind of particle is high-energy and acts extremely fast, which is why it can cause much more damage within a smaller time frame. Once again, antioxidants can help to protect cells against radiation by neutralizing the particles before they cause any harm.
“A 2009 study of airline pilots, who tend to be exposed to elevated levels of ionizing radiation, found that those with diets highest in Vitamin C and E, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin (found in pumpkin, papaya and red peppers) and lutein-zeaxanthin (in leafy greens, egg yolks and squash) had fewer biomarkers of cumulative DNA damage.” – Health Magazine, December 2014
This also holds true for patients undergoing radiation therapy. According to the Society of Interventional Radiology, a formulation of antioxidants taken orally before radiation exposure could reduce cell damage by as much as 50%.
Where to Find Your Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Most fruits and vegetables contain some amount of age-fighting nutrients, but there are a few that really pack an antioxidant punch, such as:
- Berries and purple grapes
- Red beans and other legumes
- Bell peppers
Let us lead you down the path of better eating and better health through our nutrition counseling program.